It’s been almost one month in Côte D’Ivoire. Abidjan is like the anti-thesis to Paris. Both are a huge cities, plenty of people, traffic, business, economics, political summits, you-name-it, they don’t call Abidjan the “Paris of West Africa” for nothing. But while the shell of Abidjan might be similar, life couldn’t be any more different. Let’s take away the facts of wealth and prosperity and focus more on atmosphere, culture, and people.
Literally speaking, Abidjan’s atmosphere is more polluted, but personally speaking I feel like the stress of the city doesn’t exist here. Maybe it’s because I’m living like a rich person. I live in a house with a garden and a pool and a housekeeper (though co-habitating with 7-9 other people). But also maybe it’s because the people are around carry a different spirit. People are open and welcoming. Just yesterday I walked passed a woman cooking and selling her food on the street. I had not eaten lunch. I asked her what she had and she explained and asked if I wanted for takeaway. I told her I wanted to eat it here, at one of the tables nearby. She looked at her two almost full tables. The patrons sitting there scooted over and openly invited me to sit. We chatted, we talked.
Every time I look back at Paris, I start to feel cold inside, a little angry. I close my eyes and see myself back there, sitting on a bench in the park, admiring the trees, the pristine and clean buildings, the well kept gardens and lawns. I close my eyes and see the people all around, all keeping to themselves in their little groups. No one has eyes for the outside. It’s all them, me, us, but nowhere is there ‘you’.
This month in Côte D’Ivoire has helped me start to reflect on myself more. Paris made me feel like Jell-O in a mold, being shaped to fit exactly the Parisian lifestyle, and being shaped to integrate into the very homogenous French society. But here I feel as though I can stretch my limbs out, literally and figuratively. I am no longer bound by the confines of my Parisian apartment and framework of the French job market. I have the power to do what I want and explore my interests, but most of all chill in the pool and hang on the beach (I consider myself very French when it comes to vacationing and relaxing).
My current role in the job market has transformed into full fledged English Professor. I applied and started working for a company called VIPkid, it is a Chinese-American company who provides 1-on-1 video english lessons for Chinese children. Americans are hired to assist the kids in learning to speak, read, write, and comprehend. So far I’m loving it. I love getting to focus on teaching the kids (as opposed to forcing them to eat their vegetables, as in Paris), helping them learn english, and being in charge of how I do the lessons.
I spend most of my morning teaching online, but in the afternoon I give lessons to individuals, here in Abidjan. Right now I work with a couple of kids to help them with their verbal communication skills and pronunciation, but I also have a couple others who want some lessons and I’ve been busy preparing various lesson plans and ideas to help teach the English language.
Onto the topic at hand: “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling.” This is the title of a TED video I recently watched, and it resonated with me. It’s hard to live in a world that is so focused on specialization when it comes to jobs. More and more I reflect on myself and see myself as the “Jack-of-All-Trades.” I don’t consider myself a specialist in anything, instead I like to constantly learn something new, get just good enough at it, then move on (how ENFP of me). When I look at the job market I feel trapped. I’m good at all these different things, but not necessarily one thing. I have the potential to be a specialist, but I don’t want to dedicate 100% of my time and energy to just ONE thing. How am I to do??
Emilie Wapnick spoke to me. Multi-potentialite. Someone who wasn’t born knowing exactly what path they want to go down for their entire lives. I barely knew what I wanted during University, and I still barely know now. But I’m figuring it out. I am outside the traditional framework, but Emilie tells me that it is okay. I have different skills, different strengths. I have the power to harness them, I just have to know how to tap into deeper potential.
This video highlights everything that is wrong with France and the French job culture. Specialization. It is not for everyone. What is the French job culture? SPECIALIZATION! In middle school you take a test that helps you determine whether you should go to traditional high school, or a professional high school to learn a trade. If I was in that position it would have been tough for me. I love certain trades like clothing and sewing, cooking and baking, art and creating. But I also love traditional studies (and I had the grades for it too) like science, literature, economics. If I was faced with that choice, how would I have chosen? There is so much to pursue, but so little time.
In France, after high school, you are expected to either do some sort of training or go to University. If you have the luck (since praying won’t work in secular France), then you will be randomly chosen to have entrance into the school of your choice (except in the case of Grande École). Once at your school and start your studies you slowly begin narrowing down your studies until you graduate full speed ahead down a straight pathway to define the rest of your life. Specialization. Good luck getting a job in human resources without having an HR degree (side note: do we even have HR degrees in the US??).
When I think about Paris I feel squashed. I feel like a machine is attached to my body, controlling my actions. Like an Iron Man suit, built by the surrounding culture to dictate how I must be and what I must do. I try to fight, but it’s exhausting. Unless I conform to how the suit moves me, I will never move forward.
I’ve been struggling with this mentality and idea ever since I arrived to Paris and started waging war against the suit. I know I have the skills, I know I have the potential, but the suit doesn’t want that, it wants conformity. It wants you to take just the right steps in just the specific way so that you can be just like everyone else. So to have left Paris it feels like a breath of fresh air. My body is no longer sore from the fight, I feel creative again, I feel inspired by bold colors and random conversations. I feel more like ME.
There are definitely lots of things I like about France, the bread, the wine, the culture of food, the way everyone takes care of each other as a collective society (transport in common, healthcare, benefits for the poor), etc. But over and over I struggle with this conformity and now more than ever I just wanna say: Hey France! Some of us don’t have one true calling….. and that, that is okay.