Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dreaming of Paris

Today our French one-year visas arrived in the mail. This was the last hurdle in a project to move to Paris that started a few months ago. 

In fact, it started almost 20 years ago. Ever since Dianny and I met, we wanted to go together to Paris. And after we were there together the first time, we started dreaming of living in Paris. For a year, a summer, a month—whatever; just for the simple pleasure of being there. We're both Francophiles, but more than Francophiles I would call ourselves Parisphiles: we love Paris and when we're there we feel very comfortable. But actually moving to Paris was one of those things you'd dream about and talk about but end up dismissing as crazy. 

We were last there in the summer of 2010. That was our first time with the kids, who apparently also seemed to like it—although it's not clear if it was all those fun merry-go-rounds they rode on, or all the crêpes they had, or just hearing us say all day how great the place is. We remember telling them to enjoy it as much as possible because we didn't know when we'd be back. Who knew we'd be moving there a year later.

One day in March, 2011 the idea of moving to Paris came up again. I don't remember how or why; it may have just come out of the blue, but this time it actually made sense. I had just left my position at Microsoft and was going to start working independently, from home, so there was a lot of flexibility in terms of schedule and location. The kids, Andrea, 8, and the twins, 7 years old, were at a great age to move anywhere and learn a new language without difficulty. The timing was perfect, and we knew this would be a great opportunity for the whole family. We also knew this was one of those things that can't wait till you're retired, or till you get all your ducks in a row, so with a sense of determination and purpose we said, "let's do it!"

The main thing was to find a school for the kids, and since it was already March we knew we needed to move quickly. We did some research and talked to friends who'd lived there, and finally settled on a couple of French-immersion schools: Eurecole, a small private school under contract with the French government, and Ecole Active Bilingue-EAB, also a private school under contract with the French government, which has several campuses in Paris and is recognized by the UNESCO network of associated schools. 

We booked our flight to Paris and scheduled school interviews. We found on VRBO a nice little furnished apartment on the top floor of a building on Rue Prony, very close to EAB, our first-choice school, and next to a beautiful park we had never heard of before, Parc Monceau.

We spent the first few days in Paris fighting jet-lag and getting acclimated. Spring was in full bloom and we enjoyed some incredible weather at the Jardin d'Acclimation, a favorite of the kids from last summer, and the Jardin des Plantes, a beautiful place to spend a day, where the main botanical garden in France as well as the Museum of Natural History are located. The kids also loved the trip to the Parc de la Villette, which included the City of Science and a tour of the Argonaut submarine. We also visited the Jardin du Luxembourg, did a late-night trip to the Eiffel Tower.

The first school we visited was Eurecole, on Rue de Lübeck near Place Thomas Jefferson. To enroll in this school you must be interviewed by the Director (or Headmistress, as they are called there) and the children must be present since they are asked to complete a little task adapted to their age. A decision is made after the interview, and if the children are accepted, you then send in your enrollment paperwork. 

The actual interview consisted in us meeting with the principal in her tiny, cramped office, kids included, while she explained the French school system. The kids were given a blank piece of paper and were asked to draw or color. We thought that was a bit informal. After visiting a couple of classrooms we realized their immersion system consists in putting the few new foreign kids they get each year with the rest of the French kids. At the end of the visit we were told we would be accepted as long as they received all the paperwork within two weeks.

The next day we had our interviews at EAB. The school is
 located in a beautiful building right next to Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement. Their admission process, a bit more formal and thorough, is based upon references from their current school, which we had already sent, evaluation tests, and an interview. So our first impression of this school already was much better.


We expected we'd first meet with the elementary director before the kids did their assessments, but as soon as the director appeared in the reception she said, "Okay, who wants to go first." We had coached the kids on more or less what to expect, and what kinds of questions they wanted to ask, but not about this. Fortunately Daniela said "Me!" right away, and after her went Nicolás, then Andrea, each one taking about 20 minutes to complete their evaluation. Although it was reassuring to know we'd already been accepted in one school, it was a little nerve-racking waiting in the reception while all three got done. 

After that it was our turn to go upstairs. We discussed our goals and their assessments of the kids, which were spot-on, and we got a pretty good sense of the school and their methodology. Each grade has a separate "adaptation" class where they put about 15 new foreign kids, who are taught in French about 75% of the time and in English about 25%, ensuring that all the kids learn at about the same pace. They guarantee that after four months they can speak some French and that by the end of the year they will be speaking French fluently and will graduate to the following grade. We definitely liked this school much better. 

Fortunately all three did great and were offered spots in the classes d'adaptation, so they will be attending EAB starting in September. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Andrea, Nicolás, and Daniela; for a long time your mom and I have been dreaming of living in Paris, and in no small way this is happening thanks to you. 

We need long-stay visas to live in Paris for a year, so we've spent the last month filling application forms, getting ID pictures, gathering all the required documentation, making copies, and so on. Then last week we delivered our applications to the French consulate in San Francisco. Their website said it could take up to a month to process your application, but fortunately we did not have to wait that long, and with our visas approved we can now look for an apartment. 

Paris, here we come!