A Conservationist Abroad #1

By Emily Sloan, ‘05
This is the first in a series about daily life in a small French village.

I’m flying to France this evening. Not for a two-week jaunt around the country, but for the entire school year. Not as a tourist, but as a bona-fide worker, complete with a visa stamped by the French embassy in Boston. This is the way I prefer to “travel.” Like most Americans, I sometimes take vacations, but I seem to be more frustrated than most people by the unavoidably superficial nature of tourist experiences. I always find myself wanting to get to know real people who live in an area, what they think, how they live, what they eat, what they value, and have found through a variety of experiences during the past few years that living and working in a place is a pretty good way to gain that insight.

SCA knows this. As a Conservation Intern in Washington’s North Cascades National Park last year, I got to know the place in a way I never would have as a visitor passing through. True, I saw many of the same spectacular sights that make the park so memorable—glacier-strewn mountains and turquoise lakes—but I also saw much more. I befriended an intrepid local photographer who invited me on several of his infamous bushwhacking treks to hidden alpine lakes. I saw the Skagit valley’s breadth from the crammed back seat of an ultra light glider, 8,000 feet above the valley floor. I ran long stretches of Highway 20, using its mile markers to measure my distances, and fought the urge to quit all physical activity, crawl inside my government housing, and hibernate as the days grew short and rainy in the fall. I attended potlucks where New Wave farmers defended their right to propagate invasive perennials, played bocce with the trail crew on their days off, hosted movie nights and made blackberry wine for the first time. My time there was not always glamorous and was very often dictated by routine. And yet, and this is what I have discovered in the past few years, the novelty of a fresh perspective keeps even mundane routine thought-provoking. And so I’m heading to France, to teach elementary-level English in a small town in the rolling Vosges Mountains in the northeastern part of the country. In my mind, it’s not a glamorous assignment, but as I’ve tried to explain here, that’s not the point. It should be an engaging and meaningful year, and THAT is what I’m after. It may take me a while to get situated, but I plan on posting messages once a week or so. A conservationist at heart, I will inevitably make note of the environmental issues I see around me. If anyone has specific questions, please let me know. I also hope to share amusing anecdotes and observations as they happen. Thanks for your interest, and I’ll be in touch!