His name was Emery. Freaking Emery. He was known as the villain boss amongst all English speaking exchange students looking for jobs. We were living in Paris, needed money, and after seeing an enthusiastic poster in our exchange program’s office, we all signed up to be English Language Partners (or “Susies” as they called them) at a local Paris university specializing in computer science.
The first day that all the exchange students arrived at this university in the not-so-charming outskirts of Paris, we entered a room from the courtyard and were handed a info sheet from a big American man. Before anyone introduced themselves, he shouts his first words,
“If you’re not serious about this job, then get out.”
Two people walked out, which I thought was hilarious. It’s not that they weren’t interested in the job, they simply didn’t want to deal with a man whose winning intro one-liner was such. As they exited, waving us goodbye and crossing their fingers wishing us luck, Emery took control of the classroom again.
“I’ve found that urgency is the best way to determine how badly you want something. If you don’t want to work here, then you shouldn’t be here.”
He continued on with his scare tactics by explaining how his program works.
“You submit conversation class topics to me. I approve or deny them. If approved, you must be in the red Susie circle before class.”
He points out the window to a red circle painted in the courtyard, designated as the meeting spot for English students and their Susie.
“If you are late, and I mean one second late, I swear I will fire you.”
I chuckled at the unnecessary intensity and he glared at me. It’s nice to take your job seriously, but you also have to remember it’s a job. And on top of that, it’s a job teaching English, not curing disease. I cringed at the thought that the French students probably thought he was a representation of how people are in the US. I figured that if I could just get through this meeting, I could go on my way, and I wouldn’t have to communicate with him again. Wrong.
Every week, at least one Susie was fired. It turned into somewhat of a reality show about who could have the most ridiculous story with Emery or who could last the longest with this job throughout the semester. I remember making it week by week, surprised that such an extreme man would approve my conversation topics: teaching rap slang while watching Pimp My Ride, playing Never Have I Ever, talking about the future by watching Futurama – he even approved me inviting my American friends who were visiting me to teach a class.
Then I got fired.
And not because I was late. No, I wasn’t late at all. In fact, I was too early. I arrived in the red Susie circle ten minutes early, and met my six students – all six students who signed up for the class had arrived, and so I figured, since I have a brain that works logically, that I could start my class. We walk to an open classroom and I swear I’m not exaggerating when I say that at 6:01pm, I get a phone call from Emery.
“I’m looking at the red circle and you’re not there. Where are you?”
- “I’m already in…”
“What did I tell you? If you are one second late…”
- “Emery, I’m…”
“No, I don’t want to hear your excuses. Students pay a lot of money to come this school and if…”
“And if you don’t want to respect their time and money, then you don’t deserve to be teaching here.”
- “Ok, come to classroom 201.”
“Absolutely not, and don’t bother coming back for your next class. You’re done here.”
And then I hung up, without responding.
He never came to classroom 201. I finished my class, and walked out – not feeling sad, or like a failure, but like I just had a huge relief lifted off my shoulders. I put in some Azealia Banks and walked onto the Paris metro like the baddest b at 20 years old. I went home that night to my chambre de bonne and told my Canadian exchange student friends I was kicked off the island this week. We laughed at how bad the job was, but how it was just another adventure abroad. I just imagine that if it were a movie, it’d be the end scene where the camera pans upward out of the room and lands on the Eiffel Tower. Roll credits.
It was ok. I knew I’d find a job babysitting, going on castings, or working at Roland Garros.
Emery was one of those guys who tried to kind of care, but his approach was, in my opinion, always disastrous. One month in, he sat all of us down who made it at least a month in, and asked us personal career questions. I appreciated the thoughtfulness, and his knowing that this was a job as a means to an end.
“You’re working as a Susie in Paris, but what do you really want to do?”
- “I love languages and I love to travel, and I want to do something in entertainment – I guess something like travel TV.”
“So why aren’t you doing that?”
- “Because I’m in Paris working here because I need the money.”
“If you really wanted to make it happen, you could.”
And in this very one example, he was right. I should be finding every way to do what I want to do as a career – picking up a camera and documenting my life studying abroad in Paris. I started strategically packing all of my university classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so I could travel over a long weekend. I started a 360 photo project of documenting what made each day interesting. I started caring more about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Looks like that experience teaching English in Paris amounted to something.