Vanessa Kristal’s journey from fashion in France to teaching in Marin

Emma Carpenter

“Graduating a year early from high school as a 16-year-old is out of the box in itself. Dropping out of UC Santa Cruz a few years after high school must have been an even bigger nightmare for my parents, yet that’s just what I did before moving from California to Paris, France,” English teacher Vanessa Kristal said.

Kristal, a new addition to the Redwood staff, had a seemingly endless voyage to becoming a Redwood teacher. Her journey has evolved from her love of the French language and interest in ballet. Growing up in Marin, Kristal attended the Marin Ballet school and took French classes in middle and high school, which both influenced her decision to move to France later in her life.

Kristal’s journey began at Tam High School, where she graduated a year early by taking additional classes at College of Marin, and continued taking French courses throughout college at UC Santa Cruz. She eventually participated in a study abroad program through UC Santa Cruz, living with a family in France for a semester.

Although switching locations and moving away from her family was a drastic change, participating in French culture had always been a dream of hers.

“After just a few months in France, I was dreaming and thinking in French. I just completely fell in love with it, and continued speaking fluently in French,” Kristal said.

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Adjusting to her new classroom, Kristal loves having her Aunt Allison close by to her.

Soon after Kristal got a taste of what France had to offer, she decided to move there long term by dropping out of UC Santa Cruz and attending the American University of Paris. Moving back to Paris as a transfer student, she took teaching courses for English as a Second Language (ESL) because she found teaching to be a rewarding profession.

After completing her courses in Paris, Kristal moved back to America where she found a job as an ESL teacher at Brandon college, a language-focused school in San Francisco. Here, she was able to meet new students from different countries every week.

“I would get students from Japan, France and South America, constantly giving me a new mix of faces. For example, I would have a Japanese student who wasn’t accustomed to speaking up in a classroom setting because that’s just not how they would culturally function, and next to the reserved student, I would have a student from Brazil, who wasn’t afraid to shout, and would be bursting with energy,” Kristal said.

Although Kristal’s job was an unordinary experience, she kept finding excuses to leave and return to France. She switched paths again in her 20’s, this time joining a graduate program in Florence, Italy in merchandising and management at the Polymontal Institute of Fashion. After her studies, Kristal searched for a job as a publicist for fashion lines. She became involved in a completely new career, helping fashion designers in promoting their clothing by sending lookbooks to high-end magazines.

Although the fashion scene was satisfactory for Kristal in her younger days, she soon realized the work was not meaningful to her.

Kristal began reevaluating her career and life when her mother passed away from cancer after battling the illness for 10 years. She decided she wanted to make a greater impact on her community by teaching once again in Marin.

“I always thought of Marin’s landscapes as dry and boring, but coming back has awakened me to the spaciousness and proximity of everything here. I just love the fact that I can go to the beach, and a few miles away is a breathtaking hike like Tennessee Valley,” Kristal said.

Kristal enjoying the natural beauty of Marin after years of travel in Europe.

Although it was difficult for Kristal to separate herself from France, she holds fond memories of Marin and has family that lives in the area who have helped her transition back. 

Redwood math teacher Allison Kristal, Vanessa Kristal’s aunt, has always been close with Vanessa, and their relationship has progressed as they have reunited in Marin.

“I think what’s nice about family that you’ve grown up with is that reconnecting is seamless. Even if you haven’t spoken for a long time, when you’re back in the same space, it feels natural to pick up where you’ve left off,” Allison said.

Since Allison was both a Redwood student and teacher, she was able to give Kristal contrasting perspectives about what teaching is like at Redwood.

“The first week on campus I just gave her the lay of the land. I think just knowing a familiar face within the sea of bodies at a populated school acts as a source of comfort, and ensures that someone is looking out for you,” Allison said.

Kristal’s new students have also been supportive, and value her optimistic outlook on life. Senior Angelina Prakash, a student in Vanessa’s Essay Exposition class, respects her flexible and encouraging teaching style.

“I really enjoy being able to relate to teachers who have similar childhood experiences as I have had, and life choices that are not necessarily regarded as traditional. I can tell that Ms. Kristal really wants the best for her students and looks out for them in ways some of my other teachers don’t,” Prakash said.