Other Reflections

Mid-Summer Revelations on Small Town Life

I’ve known since April that I would be an English teacher’s assistant in the north of France for the next year on the TAPIF program. However it wasn’t until the past month that I was informed that I’d be working in a town called “St. Omer,” in Pas-de-Calais. Just 14,000 people, this town is not one that most people visit or have heard of. Yet I’m excited to be there.
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St. Omer’s practically a part of Belgium!
Since college, every time I had a choice, I chose to study or intern in huge metropolitan areas such as Osaka, Tokyo, and Seoul. I love living in mega-cities, because they allow me to meet a variety of people, provide great public transportation and there’s always so much going on. However, I’m looking forward to NOT being in a bustling city for a change.
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View of St. Omer from the apartment of a former TA. The opposite of bustling.
A friend who knows me well commented that “this small town in the north of France fits you very well, you contrarian you!” And I think my contrarian side partly explains why I chose the rainy north of France over the beautiful south of France, a small town over a large city like Paris. However, to be honest, there were a lot more practical factors involved in my decision to pick the northeast as my top choice. Cities like Paris and Lyon are expensive, especially for someone on a teacher’s assistant salary. I was also not confident that I would be picked for placements in these cities and erred on the side of caution by choosing less popular destinations. If I had a say, I definitely would have applied for a spot in Paris! In fact, I was also hoping to be placed in the capital *city* of the region I’ll be in, Lille–also the 4th largest city in France by population….
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…and the 2nd densest city in France…
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…because as this promotional video puts it, “Tout le monde veut aller à Lille!” (Everyone wants to go to Lille!) It’s also conveniently located along the railway to Brussels, Paris, and London. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
My hopes weren’t too high, though, because applicants are told countless times not to expect to be placed into the main city of your academic region. So partially as a result of my low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by my placement in St. Omer.
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It’s not that inconveniently located, I suppose.
I think another thing that sweetened the deal was that St. Omer looks like a quaint European town! In the same way that tourists to East Asia are excited by Buddhist temples, luscious rice paddies, and  exotic foods, which fit their view of the “Orient,” I am also, in my ignorant way, about seeing “Occidental” things 😉
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Aerial view of St. Omer from this promotional video: “
Saint Omer also seems to be quite a casually historic town. Apparently its public library houses one of three copies of the French Gutenberg Bible (the other two are in Paris) and a magnificent copy of a Shakespeare First Folio was discovered there after laying undisturbed for 200 years! It makes me realize that not everything is in mega-cities.
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Back in small town New Jersey (from my Instagram)
Even back at home in New Jersey, I feel like I’ve been finding freelance opportunities that I might otherwise not have found in a bigger place with a more competitive job market. For instance, one of my piano teachers growing up is planning a state-wide music teacher’s conference and has hired me to design a booklet for them! There are definitely professionals they could hire, but I feel like in smaller places, they’re harder to find, so it’s easier to just hire someone you already know. A girl I talked to yesterday who’s studying at Columbia’s journalism program for a year also told me that she’ll probably have to move to a different city to find employment as a journalist, since it’s so hard to find work there without years of experience.
I always associated excitement and employment with big cities, since that is where everyone I know goes. And I’m sure I’ll eventually settle down in a big city. But I’m realizing that smaller places both have their charm and opportunities, so I’m excited to see what the coming year in St. Omer has in store.

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