(This post was originally published on my personal blog, Of Postcards & Ink, between 2015-2016.)
Un bon équilibre. A good balance. The French explanation for their meticulous obsession with two-part essay/presentation structures, perfectly symmetrical garden layouts and the exclusive use of grid paper throughout primary and high school. And as someone who loves indulging in rationalisation, reflection, aesthetically-pleasing designs and shameless OCD-leaning tendencies, there’s something rather comforting and logical about this philosophy. In many ways, it captures the way that my year of exchange feels like it’s been made up of two halves. For me, the halfway point of my exchange has always held significant weight. To me, it symbolised the point at which the time left in Paris effectively clicked over to being less than that which I had already lived and breathed here, with Iris’ visit also demarcating these two semesters, these two halves. The semesters have been foggy mirrors of each other in some senses, as I once again navigated the craziness of Sciences Po’s online enrolment, caught the metro to/from Saint-Germain-des-Prés, put my hand up for various presentations and assignment groups and settled into a weekly routine with church, GBU, social and menial commitments woven through each day and night. Though this time, it’s definitely been with a lot more confidence and ease. As I’ve dived into the second semester (/half) of my exchange, I’ve waded through a strange sensation of familiarity and routine that’s paradoxically still tinged with moments of uncertainty, as I continue to peel back the seemingly endless layers of new experiences that living in a foreign country brings with it. I feel like my heart and mind have grown comfortable with the idea that Paris is home, though at the same time, not home.
I’m sorry for the extreme delay in writing this post – the first few weeks of semester (we’re heading into Week 4 already!) have had me swept up in a storm of juggling readings, my first of three presentations, trying to spend quality time with people here and also people back home (#thanksSkype) and just generally trying to get back into the swing of what it means to have some semblance of a weekly routine.
Despite the necessary onslaught of readings, assignments and the need to train my body/brain to concentrate through multiple two-hour classes in a row again, the beginning of this semester has been as smooth as it could have been. I’m taking three out of my five courses in French this semester (what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger…right?) and I’m thankful for the professors and fellow students that God’s placed alongside me in each of them. One of these courses is on the topic of the State of Israel, and once again, I’m in awe the calibre of the teaching staff here. I wrote a paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last semester in French and my research involved reading as much French academic literature as possible on the subject. What I noticed was that there were two or so dominant French scholars in this area, who had written and published most of the material on this area of geopolitics. And yep, my professor this semester is one of them. Ridiculous! He’s quite an animated character too, with sudden sharp crescendos in his voice and loud claps punctuating his passionate discourse on the topic, who’s also designed our final assessment to be a debate-style simulation of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), for which he wants us to dress up in correlation with the specific political parties that we’ll be representing, haha.
Work has also been going well, with each Tuesday evening after class spent baby-sitting M and T. We’ve filled the hours with everything from French “Guess Who”, clay-painting and hiding toys around the house, to enacting nearly every variation of “Family” and “School” under the sun. There have been a couple of weeks that have been harder than others (read: trying to mediate a 2.5 year old’s seemingly arbitrary tantrums), but it’s also been a lot of fun and it’s warmed my heart to see how much love M (the older sister) has for her younger brother, and how much T looks up to her too. Something that might make you smile is this French word that I’ve learnt through baby-sitting them (which I probably wouldn’t have learnt in any French-studying context, let’s be honest). It’s “caca”, which means…”poo”. As it turns out “poo” is an insult used between siblings that transcends international borders ;) Their parents are both super lovely, and really kindly invited me to stay for dinner in a couple weeks’ time, so that’s something I’m looking forward too!
This semester, I’ve continued going along to the GBU’s Interfac meetings, which have been a source of much encouragement, fellowship and solid training. In particular, a couple of weeks ago, the program involved a talk given by a member of Le Conseil National des Évangéliques de France (the National Evangelical Council of France)’s legal team on the notion of “laïcité” (effectively the constitutional separation of the church and the state) in France and how it affects and shapes the nature of evangelisation on university campuses. Though I’d previously had a vague conception of this situation in France, it was really valuable to look into the actual words of the French constitution/relevant statutes and consider how far the French state has sought to push itself from religion and effectively, God. An important distinction to make though, is that these legal frameworks ultimately hold the State to a standard of laïcité, not society or the people. In this way, the night was a refreshing reminder and encouragement to continue preaching the gospel boldly and faithfully and of the importance of investing in personal relationships with fellow students, as God uses them to begin changing hearts and growing His kingdom.
I’ve also been really thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to spend more time with friends from church (whether they be over coffee, after church, at birthday drinks, at The Paper Kites concert last weekend, or in the time before/after bible study) and for God’s gracious work in these relationships and also in my heart, as I’ve continued to invest in them, shared more of life with them and sought to love them well. Church bible study has also seen us continuing to work through Romans 12 as we consider how we, as a church, can grow in our gospel-centredness in a range of areas, which has been the cause of a lot of fruitful and thought-provoking reflection and discussion.
The coming weeks are continuing to fill up (yes, with uni-related work, but with lots of good things too!) and a couple of things I’m looking forward to include going to see a French musical called “Enigma – L’Ecume des jours” next weekend, our church’s Ladies’ Brunch next Saturday, seeing Alex before she flies back to Sydney, dinner with the family I baby-sit for (as I mentioned earlier), and travels to the south of France with Miri during our mid-semester break (still a little while away in the first week of March). I’ll be sure to let you know how they all go!
Below is an assortment of photos that I’ve taken in Paris over the past few weeks (including some from the last week of Iris’ stay) – still resolutely battling the grey clouds and shy sun! I hope you enjoy them.
Until next time, all my love x
“From the end of the earth I call to you. When my heart is faint, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:2)
I feel like my heart and mind have been a little all-over-the-place over the past few weeks. In being thrown back into a daily and weekly grind that can sometimes leave little room for proper rest and reflection, I’ve been struggling to feel at peace – instead, I’ve found myself, more often than not, beating myself up over a sense that I haven’t been on top of things and feeling weary and burdened by tasks and commitments that are actually blessings and that should offer refreshment. Please pray that amidst the turbulence of my emotions at times and the number of worries, longings and stresses that are competing for my attention might not dilute my experience of the joy and complete satisfaction that is found in Christ. Please pray that I might be diligent and disciplined in the way that I manage my time as well, not mindlessly wasting hours but using them wisely – whether for quality rest, as time spent with friends here, as time spent with loved ones back home, for work, or for play.
Thank God for the incredible gift of His word. I’ve been making my way through Genesis since the beginning of the year, reading one chapter a day, and despite sometimes finding myself wearily opening my Bible at the end of a busy day, it’s done my heart and mind so much good. It’s lifted my eyes from the banality of my own short-sightedness and helped me to look upwards – confronted in these pages by the sinfulness of mankind, but even more than that, the ever-gracious, ever-salvation-plan-working God to whom we belong. Particularly after reading Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom over the holidays, revisiting Genesis been a beautiful reminder of how, indeed, “nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the Book widens and deepens with our years” (Charles Spurgeon).
Thank you, as always, for your prayers, friends! Would love to know how I can continue to pray for you and to hear about what God has been teaching you in this season of life :)