Thursday, October 23, 2014

The One Month Mark

I arrived in France on the 23rd of September. Since today is the 23rd of October, this means I've been living in France for one month now.

I still cannot believe that I am actually here. Every morning when I wake up I am so surprised to find myself in this place. When I was back in the US, I used to have dreams that I was in France. This has happened since the last time that I left. Every time that I would wake up from one of those dreams, I felt disappointed as my sleepy brain processed that it hadn't been real.

Life in France takes some adjustment, and there are areas that you would not even imagine would be a problem. But even with those changes, right now is the least stressed that I have felt in a while. Not to say that I don't worry about many of the same things that I worried about while I was back at home. I do still worry. Of course. It is me. But, I know how lucky I am to get to do this, and I don't want to waste this opportunity.

Right now the schools are on a two weeks' holiday for Toussaints giving me a chance to try out some new things. Over the past few days, I got to experience some pretty amazing parts of France.

For one, I went to the Château de Crussol in Saint Péray with some of the other assistants. The Château is the ruins of a castle at the top of a hill not too far from Valence. Even though I've called the place a hill, it is pretty high above the surrounding area. Let's just say that if you were trying to attack this place during the 13th century, you'd hardly have a chance of making it to the castle. There were moments while we were heading up to it where I doubted whether I would actually make it, and since I wasn't attacking the castle, there wasn't the added obstacle of arrows and whatever else people used to use to defend castles.

There was also a picnic involved in our day trip which is why there are donuts and beignets in the pictures above. We stopped by the market to pick up supplies, so we had a wonderful lunch involving sandwiches with cheese and ham, vegetables, apples, and wine. I'll let you guess which one of us decided that we needed to have a dessert as well.

The trip was the perfect way to start off the vacation. A beautiful, sunny day of adventure with a group of some of the best people I've had the pleasure to meet here. If that were the only thing I got to do, it would be more than enough.

Some of my other favorite moments from the break so far have been a Sunday brunch and exploring Chabeuil (the town where I teach). I've written before about how adorable Chabeuil is, so I won't keep repeating it. The middle and right pictures are from a church in Chabeuil.

Other highlights from the week
- Went to a church serve at a Protestant Church near my apartment. There's a Catholic Church even closer, but I thought a Catholic service in French might be more confusing than I could handle.
- Tried two new types of cheeses. My roommate and I have a list going on the fridge so we remember which ones that we've tried and liked. France has a lot of varieties, so the list should be long by the end of the year.
- Ate a duck burger. It is what is sounds like.
- Got my first card in the mail here. I was so happy today when I opened the box, and actually found something in there addressed to me. Thank you so much!

Although Valence has had an unusually warm and sunny fall so far, the temperatures have recently begun to drop. It's probably only dropped into the 50s today, but the wind makes it feel much worse. I've had people warn me about the strong winds that happen here, and I now understand what they are talking about. Walking to get postcards today, I was momentarily worried that the gusts might cause me to take flight. While Mary Poppins might be able to come and go when the wind changes, it probably wouldn't work out so well for me.

I am trying to convince myself that I like cold weather by reminding myself about scarves and boots and soup and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, I haven't been persuasive enough. It might require larger quantities of hot chocolate to fully convince myself.

Still, since I am so happy to be here, I'll be able to handle some cold weather in trade off for all the rest.

I'm looking forward to seeing what another month in France brings! Until later!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Halloween Comes To France

This week my students got an introduction to American culture because we talked about Halloween in all of my classes. Powerpoint presentations have a reputation for being a little boring, but my students did not seem to feel that way this week. By far, their favorite slide was one about candy. They tried to convince the director to let them celebrate Halloween at school. He reminded them that they'll get to dress up for Mardi Gras (which I cannot wait to see!), but the students suggested that they could celebrate Halloween by getting candy. Basically, they just wanted candy - standard international trait of all 8 year olds.

There are still some awkward moments while I'm teaching. Partly because I'm awkward. It happens. Occasionally. But, also, partly because it's odd to knock on the classroom door and walk in to start English. The teachers do have a schedule to let them know when I'll be there, and they are on top of things. Still, they do have to finish up whatever they are working on, and then transition into English time. Which is made more difficult by me standing in the classroom because for the children I'm new and distracting.

I work with 12 different teachers and 13 different classes, so we're all getting used to each other.  The teachers all have different ranges of English skills. Some of them stay up at the front, and I help alongside them for the lesson. Others assist while I do most of the activities and speaking. A few stay in the back of the classroom working on other things during the lesson. Thankfully, all of the teachers have been so helpful so far. I have a break between some of my lessons, and one of the teachers invited me to sit in during French literature time. Listening to the class begin to learn a poem was one of the highlights of my week. Another class wrote a newspaper (in French) which they told me about (Not during an English lesson, so they explained all of this to me in very slow French. I'd like to avoid speaking French with them, but some of them have only just begun learning English and only about an hour a week. Either I speak with them in French, or all we say to each other is hello, my name is... My solution is to tell them that I only understand a little French, so they very patiently explain everything with me while trying to use English when possible.), and the teacher gave me a copy to read. I use the word adorable too often to describe things, but it applies in this case as well.

What I am doing definitely takes a lot of energy, but since I work so few hours a week, I can't complain at all. I've been working about two weeks so far, and I now get two weeks off for the Toussaint holiday. Another thing that I am not complaining about. I'm looking forward to exploring the area around where I live in France. My goal is to do something or try something new every day. So, I'll be letting you know how that goes.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Teaching English in France: Week 1

I went to both of my elementary schools this week. They're in a small town that takes me about 25-30 minutes to get to on the bus (I bought a monthly bus pass!). I wondered what kind of town I would be placed in, and I'm very happy with the one that I got. If you're imagining an idyllic small town in France, this is probably what you're thinking of.

Valence (where I live) isn't too large, but it is nice to have a more restful place to go to several times a week. Right now the weather is still warm and sunny. Hopefully, I enjoy it just as much when it starts to get cooler.

I had some free time after teaching to wander around the town. (While waiting for the bus to arrive. It only comes about once every hour.) The age of the cities in Europe always amazes me. I love how the old parts of the cities are right next to the newer parts.

Back to my experience at the schools.

The schools remind me of a lower and upper elementary. They are right next to each other, and I think that they share some facilities like the gym. I think that most classes have about an hour of English each week. I'll only be in each class for about 30 minutes though. The schools are small, and the atmosphere is much more calm that what I've recently experienced in the US.

I'm so excited about getting to spend time with these teachers and students.

Being the English assistant seems as if it might be the most fun position at the school. It's probably the closest that I'll ever come to being famous. All of the children know who I am, and they all want to talk to me. Everyone wants to be the kid that the teacher chooses to help me find my next classroom after the English lesson is finished.

A few of my favorite parts so far
  • Kids constantly say hello to me when they walk by. 
  • One class sang a song in English to welcome me to their classroom.
  • Some of the younger classes think that I don't understand French at all. It's adorable.
I am impressed by the amount of English some of the classes know. I still have to remember to speak slowly though, use lots of gestures, and keep my words simple. Things get confusing easily. Some of the student are probably under the impression that I live in the Mississippi River since they didn't all get the concept of states. Oh, well.

I already love what I'm doing. Once I get used to figuring out how everything works (And, where all my classrooms are. Even though the schools are small, I can get lost anywhere.) I think that I am going to have a lot of fun.

Oh, and I've finished my first full jar of Nutella. I still haven't had an eclair yet though. That needs to happen soon.

Until next week,

Friday, October 3, 2014

My First Week

I promised pictures earlier, so here they are.

I was so incredibly lucky to get this apartment. Basically, it's perfect.

Except for the lack of hot water for the entire first week that I was here. It is fixed now though, and I had my first hot shower in the apartment last night.

Still, I cannot complain about this place.

That bookcase.

I could stare at it all day.

The family who owns the apartment has all these books. More than I could possibly read, but I am planning to give it a try. There is also a smaller bookcase in the hallway with children's book. Those will be easier for me to start with. So many books. All in French.

If my French reading skills don't improve while I'm here, it will completely be my fault.

Next, the kitchen.

There's plenty of space for me to cook and basically every kind of utensil that I could ever want to use. Including a a yogurt maker and a fondue pot.

I did not expect the apartment to be so nice. Actually, the reason that I chose this place was based on the fact that it had a balcony.

This balcony.

It will get cold here during the winter. Right now though, the balcony is my favorite place in the apartment. 

The view is pretty nice, too. It's been bright and sunny outside on most days so far. Which means that things like this happen.

It isn't very French to sit on the balcony with Harry Potter and a snack, but it is very Elizabeth. During the first few days that I was here, I had some relaxing time doing this.

Then, everything started at once. I met several of the other assistants, and my roommate came on Monday. I think I got lucky on this as well because they all seem like amazing people, and I am looking forward to getting to know them.

I don't want this to turn into a boring recitation of what I did each day this week, so I'm mostly going to skip over the orientation. All of the assistants went to Grenoble, and then, to Autrans in the mountains for training. Parts of it were boring. Other parts were actually helpful. There were over 200 assistants there, so I probably only met a small percentage of them even though it seemed like I met a lot. Although I enjoyed being there, I was glad to get back to Valence when it ended because I was completely exhausted.

Today has been my favorite day so far. The primary (elementary) assistants in my department (la Drome) went to one of the schools to watch a few English classes and try to do an activity with a class.

The first class that we went to was a class of nine year olds. Imagine what would happen if a group of nine foreigners had come into your 4th grade classroom. They definitely stared a lot as we first walked in the door, and they said hello to each person who walked it. So adorable.

Turns out that French primary schools also include preschools. 

So, I got to watch an English lesson with French preschoolers. The teacher starts off with a song in English before each lesson so that they know they are about to speak in English. She brought out a little wolf and a UK flag. They have been learning colors, so she had clothes for the wolf in different colors. So far they know red, blue, orange, pink, and green. Today they learned yellow. After the lesson, they colored wolves in different colors. We got to walk around the classroom to interact with the kids. 

I loved it!

I also got my schedule for classes today. Sadly, I don't have any preschool classes. My kids should range in age from 6 to 10. It's slightly younger than I thought it would be, but I am not complaining at all. I love working with younger children, and I might not have a chance to do this again since I have vague plans to teach high school when I get back to the US.

When I got my schedule, I also found out that I have Fridays free. Three day weekends will give me time to travel around Europe. Since that's part of why I wanted to come to France, I am happy about that as well.

Still, I am slightly nervous about going to meet all of the teachers on Monday and figuring out how everything works at my schools. Today has made me feel better, but I won't know exactly how things will go until I get there.