La vie different: Jackie Parr travels abroad

A woman steps out of the small local boulangerie just as she did every day for the past few years. The weather was perfect, the sky was a brilliant cloudless blue, the Jura mountain air was cooling and just as refreshing. The morning dew sparkled and made the flowers dazzle like the most expensive diamonds. The rapids of the le Doubs river echoed through the picturesque Franche-Compté valley. Though it was 9 a.m. the town and capital of the south eastern  region of France,  Franche-Compté life was calm and without rush. The hustle of the cosmopolitan capital Paris was 4 hours away, but to her it was a life time away.

Jackie Parr became part of France. She had come to work and live her dream. Her family was across the world, but that did not bother her. She was going to miss France and miss the morning trips to the various shops where she met locals who accepted her as their own. However with the economic distress rocking the economies of the European Union budget cuts meant that her job was longer a guarantee and she now had no choice but to return to America. She would never forget her life in France.

“Living abroad makes you realize that there isn’t just one correct way to live,” Madame Jackie Parr, French teacher, said.

Living abroad comes with multiple benefits. It is important to experience new cultures that will give new perspective on life. It is difficult for one to be able to relate and be empathetic if one never lives through that experience themselves. Living abroad is a perfect way to extend horizons and see life through the eyes of another culture. Mme Parr only lived in France for less than 3 years yet she learned so much. Education and politics can be different from our own and there is nothing wrong with that. While that seems to be a simple concept it catches people off guard. People need to live through it to be able to understand it.


Moving to France

” I liked the idea of taking French [instead of Spanish] because for me it seemed further away from home, ” Mme Parr said.

In the 8th grade Mme Parr, like most junior high students decided to take a world language class. The exoticness of the French language drew her attention. On this side of the globe only a few places are French speaking, or francophone, like Québec, Canada, French Guyana, Saint Marten, Martinique and Guadeloupe. French is the dominate language in Africa mainly.

“I was 24 years old the first time I visited France and a student at the University of Minnesota double majoring in French Literature and and Art History. I had missed the High School trip to France. It was awesome,” Mme Parr recalled.

At first, Mme Parr was just majoring in Art History but when the opportunity arose at university to take a world language once again she decided to take French again. She became instantly hooked and took up classes to work towards a second major. A year after her first trip to France she moved there.

I lived off and on in Besançan, Franche-Compté and six months in Paris. I preferred Franche-Compté, Paris is very cosmopolitan and it is very easy to not be immersed in French culture.”

— Jaqueline Parr

“I lived off and on in Besançan, Franche-Compté and six months in Paris. I preferred Franche-Compté, Paris is very cosmopolitan and it is very easy to not be immersed in French culture,” Parr said.

In a city of almost 3 million in the city center and a population density twice that of New York City, Paris is a melting pot of hundreds of people groups and languages. forty percent of Parisians speak English as a second language. Tourism has spoiled the culture of Paris. Parr wanted the real French experience. If she wanted to live a city full of people speaking English with a strange accent she would have moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Of course life in France was not all work. Parr participated in activities with new friends when not in the classroom.

“I took up mountain biking with a friend who introduced me to it,” Parr said.

Franche-Compté is a division, or state of France located in east bordering Switzerland. Franche-Compté contains the Jura Mountains which unlike the Alps which are tall, like the Rocky Mountains, the Jura Mountains are more rounded and green similar to the Appalachians.


Living in Franche-Compté

“I stayed with a friend who hired me to teach English teachers at l’Université de Franche-Compté. English teachers have to take a test to get a better choice on where they want to teach and increase their pay so they can live near family,” Parr said.

One of the best ways to move to a new country and live abroad is to work. Mme Parr decided to be a teacher. Teaching in France and in most European countries is very different to the education system in the United States. For one, teachers are paid higher and the education system is nationalized instead of the federalized system in America.

“I took four literature classed [in France] in French. At first it was a challenge, which I liked. Then one day it was like the lightbulb came on, I understood what was happening,” Mme Parr said.

Imagine taking four of a similar class in a language that is not native. There is much more to learning a language than just learning vocabulary and grammar. To learn a language exposer is needed whether through music, actual human interaction or a combination of both. At first, Mme Parr did not know whether the professor was telling a story about real life or a story from a piece of literature. Language takes time.

Parr married her husband, Allen Parr who is an Englishman, in Besançan, Franché-Compté.

“I couldn’t even translate my own marriage certificate,” Parr said.

In France marriage ceremonies are performed in front of the government, not in a church which is popular in the United States. Being married in France gave her a permanent connection to France.

Photo by Michael Vanlieshout Parr’s many years have strengthened her love for the french language and culture. She finds joy in sharing it with students. “It is really important to me that people realize that just because we do something one way doesn’t mean it is the only right way. Living abroad opens your eyes to multiple ways of living, and that is a big part of the reason why I chose to teach French at Stillwater,” Parr said.

“In 1995 the economy of europe was bottoming out, trying to balance the books and loose debt so they could meet the criteria to join the European Union,” Parr said.

Teachers in France are protected by a tenure. However, because she was an American and not a French citizen she got laid off. It saddened her, but without a job her Visa was no longer valid and Parr had to return to the United States.

“My husband and I want to return to France to retire to Mégeve, France,” Parr said, “We want to be closer to my husband’s family.”

Mégeve is a village in the north of the French province of Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur in the department of Alps-Maritimes. The picturesque village is tucked in a valley between Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the Alps and in Europe that is shared between Italy and France, and the south western border of Switzerland.

“It is really important to me that people realize that just because we do something one way doesn’t mean it is the only right way. Living abroad opens your eyes to multiple ways of living, and that is a big part of the reason why I chose to teach French at Stillwater,” Parr said.

A large part of living abroad is seeing new places and trying new things. The opportunity to do so is one that cannot be passed up if given the chance. Parr stresses that the opportunity to live abroad and experience life from a different way to the one that you are used too. While it is not always easy, especially at first, the benefits and the experiences you take with you for the rest of your life.