Life in France Perpignan teaching

Lockdown in France | An American Expat’s Experience

A month ago, I was celebrating the end of the long school week and planning English club events with my fellow lecturers. As we waited for our students to gather for a pub quiz at a local jazz bar in our tiny French town, we wondered what President Macron was going to announce in his speech scheduled for later that night. As students started arriving we received messages from our friends at home tuned into the discours that Universities were to be closed starting from next Monday and that classes were to move online. We were all shocked to say the least. Earlier that week no one at the uni seemed think that things would be shut down as things were fairly calm in our region. Who knew how long this would last? Would we see each other again before the end of the semester? We speculated and wondered as the night went on. I was glad that the students had a fun moment together before things became more serious.

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Enjoying the sunshine the weekend before lockdown

That weekend my boyfriend and I stocked up on groceries because I knew things were about to get crazy and we didn’t want to end up with no toilet paper like some people back home in the US. We also hung out with some teaching assistant friends one last time. Macron had also advised social distancing during his speech, but in Perpignan, it was just a normal weekend. We avoided the more crowded cafés and settled into one of our favorite spots, a little food market by the river. We shared tapas and sangria as well as our hopes and fears. After that outing, some of those friends went home to the US and others decided to stay in France like me.

Last meal outside before the lockdown

Unhappy with the French people’s disregard to stay at home, Macron announced a mandatory lockdown a few days later on March 17th. In order to leave your house you needed to fill out an attestation, stating the reason why you are going out, the date and time, as well as personal identification information. You could also only go out for reasons like going grocery shopping for essential items, going to the pharmacy, going to work if your job is essential, walking your dog, helping and elderly person or a child, running/ walking alone, etc.  Some things have changed since then and the document is being updated frequently. For example you had to print or hand write it in the beginning, but now there is a website you can use to fill it out on your phone and download a QR code for the police to scan. You can now also walk with the people you are quarantined with.

The document you must fill out to go outside

At the start of confinement people were rushing to return to their home countries. I chose to stay in France. Why? Honestly, the situation seems to be handled much better here than back home. I also have a job here and am teaching online English classes instead of in the classroom. If I went back to the US, I would be unemployed. I also don’t have health insurance in the US and if I were to get sick, I don’t know if I could afford the hospital bills. As a resident and worker in France, I get “free” health insurance (the tax that comes out of our paycheck each month contributes to many social policies). Going to the doctor costs 25€ and medicine is cheap, plus I get reimbursed by the state about 75% percent of those costs. If I wanted to I could pay  25- 50€  a month for a mutuelle, which is like private insurance. However, I am lucky to be in good health and I don’t go to the médecin, very often so I chose to skip the extra insurance. My life is here in France at the moment and I plan on staying for the time being so going back to the US would not make sense for my professional or personal life (my French boyfriend is here too). Lastly, I would have to stay with my family members back in the US and I would not want to expose them to the virus if I got it while traveling internationally.

Perpignan during Lockdown

The first week of confinement wasn’t that bad. We watched Netflix, baked cookies, and started a puzzle. It was nice to have a breather from my busy schedule event though I still had to work from home. Teaching in person is actually exhausting! I love my job, but other teachers will know that you need to put a lot of energy into your lessons so your students will actually pay attention. During the first week of teaching from home, I had fun creating Moodle assignments and using Zoom for the first time. 

Watch this video to see how I teach from home:

During week two is when I realized just how different things are. I was tired and restless, longing to go back to work or just to be outside. I was supposed to go to Paris the weekend before and not being able to travel or visit my friends was hard, but come to think of it now, I’m really lucky that that is what I had to sacrifice. I still have my job and my health and that is enough right now. I also began to realize that teaching online is harder than I thought. Not all students have access to the internet where they are confined and some of them don’t bother to check their emails. I am overwhelmed with the amount of new emails I have everyday and sorting through them all is a task in itself. The worst part of teaching online is grading. If you thought grading before confinement sounded tedious, well grading online is so much worse. Between Zoom speaking exams and reading essays sent by email, I am struggling to stay motivated.

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A selfie at work before confinement

By week three, I’m on “Spring Break. “I’m used to staying inside and I’m having fun blogging, making YouTube videos, trying different exercises videos, and cooking up crazy dishes with food from the organic grocery store and  produce the farmer’s market we got delivered. Going grocery shopping is so much more fun now, besides putting on a mask. It’s the time when I get to see how the weather is changing, soak up a the vitamin D I’ve been missing, interact with another human, and move my legs which are usually curled up on the couch.

Check out my grocery shopping vlog:

A couple of days ago, Macron announced that the lockdown would be extended to May 11. One month down, one more to go. He said he plans to reopen schools (pre-k – high school) on that date should things not get worse and gradually allow other businesses to open like restaurants. Universities will remain online until the summer, so more online teaching for me. Events and large gatherings would also be postponed until later this summer. Even though Macron is not very popular in France, I still think he is doing a good job handling the crisis (there could be improvements though). It’s reassuring to hear a political leader comfort citizens and recognize that this is a global problem and that we are in this together.

Watch a translation of Macron’s speech here:

So what’s next? I’m not really sure. I’m hopeful things will slowly return to normalcy this summer, but when Fall comes around there could be another outbreak. I’m planning on renewing my lectrice d’anglais  contract, but will the Fall semester end up online as well? I also don’t know when I’ll be able to safely fly back to the US and visit my family. For now I’ll just have to be patient.

A rainbow at work earlier this semester

What’s your experience been like during these uncertain times? Let me know in the comments. Thank you so much for reading and be sure to follow my blog for more updates about my life in France!





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