Saturday, December 3, 2011

Some random thoughts on being abroad

It's funny to me how quickly my life here became as normal as my life back home. I spend most days doing simple things such as preparing for school, cleaning my apartment, grocery shopping, making meals, etc... While this is to be expected, it's also for some reason disappointing for me. When I think about what people must think I'm doing, it seems less than glamorous. 

Is grocery shopping in France more glamorous? Not really, but it's fun to have a ton of new stuff to try ;)

Anyway, here are some of my random thoughts on living and working abroad - 

1. Everyone, even complete strangers, has the right to ask you what you're doing in their country when they detect your accent. Or when they realize that you're trying to speak French really fast but are in fact speaking gibberish. When did you come? How long are you staying? Even the man at the bank knows my story.

2. People here also expect you to be doing amazing, exciting things. At school, other teachers will ask, "So what did you do this weekend? Where did you travel to?" Uhhh..the farmer's market? I know I have a lot of free time, but money doesn't grow on trees, people!

3. When French guys ask for your number, they will usually text or call you later that night, or the next day at the latest. And then the day after. They mean business. Being used to American men, my first instinct is still, "Whoa! Someone's seeming a little desperate!" I can't help it! I've been conditioned that way. 

4. Freshly baked bread never gets old, and I mean that in both a figurative and a literal sense. I'm still thrilled each time I leave a boulangerie with a warm baguette. Said baguette also never gets old, because I usually devour it that day. I have imposed on myself a limit of two baguettes per week, lest the boulanger next door realize that he is my own personal crack dealer. 

5. Wine is cheaper than soda at restaurants, so the choice for me is obvious. I'm just tryin' not to break the bank, people. It's called being thrifty (although I don't drink soda, so I'd be getting water otherwise. But we can pretend).

6. One quickly starts to feel like a "local", and recognizes those who crowd the streets on weekends as "tourists". When I just want to get my farmer's market on, and I cannot move through the throngs of people taking pictures or being herded like cattle in their tour groups, I can't help but think, "Damn tourists!". Then I remind myself that I'm only here until May 1, and that yesterday I took a picture of a really cute medieval house. I'm pretty sure locals don't do that.

7. By the time I finish all the necessary paperwork, I will be back in the US.

8. People my age and teachers at my school are surprised to find out that I don't smoke, and quickly follow with, "Good for you! You really shouldn't." Being a smoker here is the norm, one of the few stereotypes that I've found to be mostly true. 

9. Lunch in France is a serious affair. At both of my schools, lunch is from 11:30 to 1:30, and a typical meal for a colleague would be some type of starch, such as rice, with fish or meat, a slice of bread with cheese, yogurt, and a piece of fruit. No lean cuisines here!

These are only some of the things I can think of off of the top of my head. There are many more, but for now, I'll leave you with images of baguette fairies dancing in your heads. 

Only two more weeks of teaching until Christmas break. Berlin, here we come!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

 So I haven't gotten any better at blogging, but that just means I've been busy enjoying myself (and lesson planning) in Rouen! Right? :) Not that I don't have a ridiculous amount of free time, or anything. 

A couple of weekends ago, my friends and I went to the France vs USA friendly soccer match. The energy was high and we had a great time, especially watching silly non-French speakers drink expensive non-alcoholic beer (the stadium is alcohol-free) and think they're drunk. Nice try! It was a bit sad to see my fellow Americans lose the game, though. I've never seen so many French flags waving at one time as when that goal was scored!

 After the game, I met up with my friend Christina and her boyfriend Arnaud and some of their friends for a night out in Paris! I met Christina in 2009 while studying abroad, and she is currently living in Paris - so great to see her! 

The six of us went out to a club as part of her birthday celebration, and stayed out until almost 5 dancing and sipping champagne. It was a great time and I was in great company. Later this month Christina is going to visit Rouen, and I can't wait to show her all the charms of our smaller city :)

The morning after the club (more like afternoon after, as we got to bed around 6am) Christina and I enjoyed an amazingly clear, gorgeous day in Paris and headed to l'Institut du Monde Arabe. It is a combined museum/bookstore/café with tons of information on the Arab world, as you might have guessed, and beautiful artifacts. The view from the rooftop was amazing. It's one of my new favorite spots in Paris, although we were forbidden from ordering hummus on the terrace's restaurant, so hummus-combined-with-beautiful-view-lovers, beware!

The hostess of said restaurant informed us we could sit on the outside patio if we only ordered drinks, but that we must sit inside if we wanted to eat anything. What's more, we must order more than just a hummus platter if we wanted to eat there. What was really confusing is that there were plenty of people with drinks and appetizers on the patio...hmm. We were directed inside to a small café, devoid of any view, where we could enjoy our hummus in peace. Bummer!

That's one interesting thing about dining out in France ; you do not have the right, necessarily, to order whatever you want. There is no going to a restaurant and ordering just an appetizer, regardless of time of day, and there is no splitting meals. You go out to restaurants to eat proper meals. If you want to snack, go buy a pain au chocolat, one of the few "socially acceptable" foods one may eat while standing/walking in the street, and then only at certain times of the day: early morning and 4pm-ish (the hour of the "gouter", or afternoon snack).  The French see eating as a social, shared activity, and mealtimes are rather formal. No eating in cars, no apples when you're feeling a bit hungry. Of course, you can do whatever you want, it's just a matter of whether you like people staring at you while you do it. 

Clockwise from left: Marissa, Alastair, Liz and Maureen
 Ok enough of that rant! I love Rouen more every day, and really feel that it's the perfect size city. It doesn't hurt that I have an amazing group of friends! I can't say enough how lucky I am to have found such down-to-earth, funny and kind people in this program. We gathered in a park yesterday to have a snack, drink some wine, play some cards, and take advantage of what might be one of the last really nice fall days until winter. It was such a perfect day, simple yet so fun. 

We're currently planning our Thanksgiving celebration this week, all taking responsibility for certain dishes. I am in charge of salad and the pumpkin pie! France does not have canned pumpkin (a travesty, as I am a bit of a canned-pumpkin addict from October through December), so I am using an actual pumpkin this year! I am so excited for this culinary adventure :) haha. I'll have to report back on how it goes!
Not a bad view, right? :)

Teaching has been going quite well, for the most part. Sometimes, however, I have this thought that I have virtually NO training to be a teacher, yet here I am trying to teach squiggly 7-year-olds a foreign language. Am I actually going to make an impression? Also, why am I in charge of this class?!? Once I get into the flow of things, however, I enjoy my classes a lot. 

I often feel as if my head is bursting with ideas for possible lesson plans, and I sometimes have trouble actually concretely getting my work done. I just spend hours googling this and that, perusing teaching websites, and suddenly it's 11pm and I have no lesson done. I always have been a procrastinator! It also doesn't help that I've started watching True Blood (an HBO series about vampires...all of the fanatic facebook statuses intrigued me so!) and that that show is an hour long, and sometimes I just can't help but sneak in an episode between lesson planning sessions. I'm only human! (...or am I?! muahahaha)

I am beginning to feel like a parent posting 8903
pictures of her child. Rouen is just so CUTE!
In other exciting news, Marissa, Maureen, Liz and I are going to BERLIN over Christmas break, and will be there during Christmas!!!!! I mentally jump for joy whenever I think about it, imagining the incredible Christmas markets all over Europe, and specifically in Berlin, that will soon be lining the streets. We'll be taking a (looooong) bus from Paris to Berlin, and staying at a hostel for 5 nights, returning to Paris in time for New Years at the Eiffel Tower. 

What is my life?

Also, even MORE exciting news, My darling cousin Allie will be joining us for New Years :-D. I think that ringing in the New Year in Paris is a sign of a great 2012. 

It's time for me to get to lesson planning now, so I have time the rest of the week to focus on Thanksgiving. It's not as easy to plan and make a massive meal when you have to work late on Thanksgiving and again early the next day! Maybe France should think about adopting the holiday ;) I'm sure they'd agree to another day off. 

I'll let you know how that goes. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How is it November already??

So I have been horribly lazy about blogging during the past three weeks, and that stops here! It's been so long that I could probably write a novel right about now, but in the interest of not scaring away my few readers, I'll keep it short and sweet with mostly pictures :)

So my halloween lessons with the kids went very well! Since my classes range in age from 6 to 11, I adapted each lesson to the language abilities of the students. For the youngest, I read a simple book with pages such as, "My pumpkin has TWO scary eyes!!", to teach numbers and body parts. They enjoyed my interpretation of, "My pumpkin can DANCE!!!". One of the fun things about being with the littlest ones is that I can make a fool out of myself and they like it!

For the older kids, it was reviewing halloween vocabulary followed by halloween bingo. Some lucky winners even got reeses peanut butter cups all the way from the US. Sadly, however, halloween does not really exist in France with very few children dressing up and no trick-or-treating to be seen in my neighborhood. From what I've seen, however, Halloween for my friends and family on the east coast this year was not too great either with all that snow!

Vacation started on October 22, and I go back to school this Thursday. Not too shabby! Here's what I've been up to:

Maureen snapping the tops off of green beans
We've been going to the city's Sunday market every week, and this past week we decided to gather materials and have a nice late-afternoon lunch together!

It was delicious and I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday. Especially when everything else is closed! Hopefully it becomes a Sunday tradition.

Japanese bridge in Monet's garden. Hi Maureen, Jordan and Marissa!
We (Maureen, Marissa, Jordan, Liz, Stacey, Loreto, Clare, Julia and I) took a day trip to Giverny to see Monet's gardens, where he painted his famous water lilies. 

It was gorgeous and such a nice day. Good thing, too, because we missed the once-hourly bus from the train station to the gardens, so we decided to walk the 6 km there and back! It took just over an hour each way and was a nice way to see the surrounding countryside. Giverny looks like what I picture when I think of "French countryside". Most of it, anyway!

The only downside to visiting Monet's gardens in late October is that most of the flowers were in the process of dying. Oh well!

Maureen, Jordan, Liz and I visited Paris for one night this past Saturday, and stayed in a structurally questionable hostel in Montmartre. We visited one of my favorite monuments, the Sacre Coeur. It is always bursting with life, regardless of time of day or weather!

Later that night, we met up with my friend Christina, who I met while studying abroad in 2009 and now lives in Paris, and had dinner in a fondue restaurant that serves wine in baby bottles. It was certainly an experience to remember!

Jordan and Liz goin' for it!

Look at that bubbling vat of cheese!!

Other than our couple of small trips, our vacations have been spent mostly wandering about Rouen and continuing to explore all of the little side streets, nooks and crannies. We went to the Musée de Beaux Arts, a 5 minute walk from my home, the Museum of Natural History, which was incredibly creepy and consisted of stuffed dead animals (the closest I'll ever get to a tiger!) and two-headed cat fetuses in jars. A nice pre-Halloween activity, if you ask me :)

 I've been drinking my share of coffee, espresso, and tea - the French love their caffeine. This Marilyn Monroe espresso cup was served to me in a bathtub-themed restaurant, Les Bains d'Bouches (I think that translates roughly to mouthwash?). There were showerheads hanging from the wall, pictures of people bathing, etc... The food was great too!

I am continuing to enjoy the views from my apartment window, completely aware of how lucky I am each time I look out and see Rouen. Now if I could only get time to slow down a bit!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I now have a new respect for all the teachers out there!

 I can’t believe I have been in France for three weeks now! It never ceases to amaze me how time flies. I started teaching officially yesterday, and wow was it challenging. I teach in 7 classes in the first school, though due to scheduling conflicts, I was only really able to teach in 5 this week. No complaints here :) though I'm sure we will have all the kinks worked out by next week.

The “teaching” basically involved simple games, such as “if you are wearing a blue shirt, stand up!” and “My favorite food is…” Sounds simple enough, but with 20+ kids in one room and a (semi) language barrier, things tend to take longer and be more difficult than expected. There was a lot of French spoken both by the students and me, as they are only 6-11 years old and not very advanced. What’s more, the only English they have been taught so far has been with very heavy French accents; their teachers are the first to admit to me that they themselves are not very strong in English. I found out later that after I left my first class, the students freaked out about how they couldn’t understand a word I said, as an American accent speaking English sounds incredibly different from what they’re accustomed to! Apparently “What is the weather today?” and “Waaat eees ze wezher todaaay?” are not created equal.

It’s been a while since I’ve been around so many kids at once, and I forget how silly and fascinating they are, and how crazy they can become when they are all together! At recess, there is a lot of pushing, running, screaming, scratching, climbing and crying – you name it. There is also usually a group of kids circled around me, asking questions, reciting the alphabet, or singing songs to demonstrate their English skills. I often end up finding a tiny hand in mine, as they like to hold hands with me and walk around the playground. It’s adorable, but I was surprised the first time it happened and couldn’t help but think, “Is this allowed?!” Much like the time a little girl in my class tried to “faire la bise”, or kiss both my cheeks, as is the common greeting in France.

I greet fellow teachers, friends, and most of those I’ve met at least once with the double cheek kiss. It was a little strange at first but surprisingly easy to get used to. However, a student had never attempted it with me! I was a little startled, and looked around for signs of shock or disapproval from fellow teachers or other students. Nobody seemed to mind or even notice! Luckily, I am high up enough that not many brave little kids attempt to reach me ;)

As I mentioned before, French teachers are strong disciplinarians. It has been difficult for me to get accustomed to that role, though I have been able to be stern without having to yell. I only have about 45 minutes in each class so hopefully I won’t have to deal with that too much. However, some kids really need to be watched, as I’m sure all the parents out there know!

Yesterday, one such little boy spent an entire class breaking apart all the things in his pencil case – rulers, pencils, and pens (he got ink everywhere), crumbling his erasers. I, the almighty teaching assistant, took everything of his away and, boom! Problem solved! Not. He started stealing various school supplies from the kid next to him, who then proceeded to cry, resulting in a shakedown and searching of the thief’s person and belongings. It was all very CSI.

Today and tomorrow are dedicated to errand running and lesson planning! I definitely have more responsibility in the classes than I had expected (as in, I got to school and the teachers said, “so what do you have planned for today?”), but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I have a few Halloween crosswords to make, and pictures to draw and label, but I think I’ll make it. Nothing can be more complicated than opening a French bank account! Still working on that….

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

...did a 10-year-old just ask me for my number?

Today was my first full day in school! However, I was only observing; next week the actual teaching part will start. That’s when it will get really interesting!

Monday was the first orientation for all of the teaching assistants. I was impressed to learn how many assistants are in Rouen alone, with many more throughout France (I think over 5,000 total). Here, there are assistants teaching English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, and Italian. I made lots of new friends and found out that many other assistants are living quite close to me! During the 7-hour orientation, most of the paperwork we are currently supposed to be submitting to the school district/French government was explained, we met crucial contact people, and learned some teaching strategies. All in all a great day

Anyway, back to TODAY – with the kids! I spent the entire day (from 8:30 to 4:40) at my first of two schools I’ll be teaching at. It was fascinating to first observe the differences between schools in France and America. There are many.
View from the train window during my commute to school

Discipline in French schools is not taken lightly. It is a joke in Europe that the kids in America are in charge of the adults, as it is quite the opposite here. All of the following are my observations from one school, so they are, of course, generalizations.

When a child spoke out of turn, they were yelled at loudly and told to be quiet (as in, we could hear other teachers yelling from down the hall). Rulers were rapped on desks more times than I could count. Ridicule and mockery were used freely, though not by all. If a child asked a question that had already been asked earlier, they’d hear, “If you had been listening before, you would have heard!” and the question would go unanswered. Posture in chorus in no joke, hands by your sides! The children addressed their teachers as "Maîtresse", basically, "schoolmaster". The principal is called le Directeur (headmaster) or la Directrice (headmistress, which was the case today). When she entered a classroom, all the students stood and became quiet until she gave them permission to sit; They addressed her only as "Madame la Directrice". Here, the adults are in charge – end of story.

The students were ages 6 to 11, and I spent 45-ish minutes in 7 different classrooms. There are two 20-minute recess breaks throughout the day, and we have from 11:30 to 1:30 for lunch. Yayy, Europe! However, most of the teachers at this particular school work up until 12:30, some even later.

My very first classroom! Apparently "be there by 8:30" in France means 8:40ish ;) 
Now, more about the kids! The younger children were around 6-7, adorable, and pretty tame compared to the 10-11 year olds, who were quite eager to show off their English. In one class, they were describing colors of animals, such as, “Zee bird ees red!” (The bird is red), or “Zee horse ees bleu!” Not too shabby and endearing to boot! In my Q&A session, one child even asked me what my number was. I thought I didn’t have to worry about those kinds of questions in elementary school!!

In French, a casual/cute way of saying hi is “coucou!” I heard a lot of “Coucou, Hannah!” in the hallway, followed by whispers and giggles. It’s hard for me to get into teacher mode and remind them to respect the rule of silence in the hallway when all I want to do is talk with them! All in good time though. At recess, a group of girls approached me and asked if I’d be coming to their class later. I showed them my schedule and told them to see if their teacher was on the list. She was, and they all giggled excitedly and then scurried away. I had a great albeit exhausting day. I can’t imagine how tired I’ll be when I’m actually doing more teaching!! I can tell I am going to get attached to these kids, though J

I love cooking in my little apartment!
Tomorrow I do not have school as the children never have school on Wednesdays, but Thursday I have a full day at my second school, and Friday is split between the two! Now that I got a lot of the paperwork out of the way on Monday, I can focus tomorrow on doing some more errands and preparing teaching materials. For now, it's time for a yummy dinner and some sleeeeep!

If any of you have ideas on how to teach young kids English, or about American culture, feel free to share them with me!

A bientôt J

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The art of don't say no-ism

Whew! So, I heard from my landlord (or landlady, I suppose...) the next day, and she said I could come meet her, fork over the rest of the money, and the keys were mine!! I am absolutely in love with my little apartment; it is the perfect size for my needs, it’s adorable, I have my own bathroom and shower, I have a great view, and so far, everything works! I also have incredibly nice landlords and neighbors.

I moved in yesterday, and had everything set up in no time - one benefit of having very few belongings. Most of what I needed was already here, but I’ve since acquired a few more things: automatic teakettle, bowls, bread and chef’s knives, and wine glasses (of course!); it really feels like home. My first thought when I finished decorating and sat down on my futon was, “I don’t ever want to leave!”
The view from my apartment window is incredible!

That is only theoretical, of course, as Rouen and Normandy in general have tons to offer. In fact, 2011 is Normandy’s 100-year anniversary, so this year will be packed with festivals and attractions. My brain is swimming with all of the places I want to go, things I want to see, and food I want to taste. As of this moment, my time here already seems to be flying!

My landlords, Mr. and Mme. Schaller, came by yesterday to install a new showerhead, point out the good boulangeries in the area, and help me set up my Wi-Fi connection (in French, it’s pronounced “wee-fee” J). Unfortunately, my connection was strong on the first floor where the router is but I had almost nothing up here on the 4th floor. Hearing of my plight, a kindly neighbor who rents an office next to my studio came by and offered me his Wi-Fi password, as his signal would be much stronger from 15 feet away. How nice! Even more generous was the fact that he actually gave me a copy of the keys to the office and said that if my internet was not working, I could use their computers. Who ever said French people are not friendly?!

Fast-forward a whopping 30 minutes to another semi-knock on my already-open door (we’re currently experiencing an Indian summer, and it’s freakin' hot on the 4th floor!) It was my landlady! She asked me how I was settling in, and I told her how much I was enjoying my new place. She then said, “It’s so nice out, and you’re all alone up here on a Friday night!” (loser much?? Haha), and then asked me to join her family for a barbecue at their house in the countryside. Though part of me wanted to plop down and sleep for hours, alone for the first time in a week, I am currently trying out a principle of not saying ‘no’ (within reason, nothing crazy!) I have a tendency to avoid potentially awkward situations at the risk of losing out. Wouldn’t you know it, it ended up being a great night!

I’ll take this time to say that she invited me at around 6:30pm, just as I was going from hungry to ravenous. Little did I know that dinner wouldn’t start until around 10! Once we got in the car, we hit a little city traffic, stopped at the market to pick up some fruits and vegetables, and then dropped one daughter (age 20) off at the stables to ride while also picking up her youngest (Amélie, age 11). Upon arrival at their gorgeous home, Mr. Schaller and Amélie went for a swim. Mme Schaller asked me if I wanted to swim and offered to lend me a bathing suit, but I decided to temporarily abandon my “don’t say no” policy. Baby steps.

As we were waiting for dinner to start as well as for her other daughter to return home from riding lessons with her two friends, I sat outside with Amélie chatting and going over her English workbooks. My landlords had asked me a few days ago if I would be interested in tutoring Amélie in English, and I readily agreed. Yesterday was a bit of a preview! She is extremely sweet and I’m sure we will both teach each other a lot. As an aside, if you want to hear one of the most adorable sounds in the world, just listen to a child speak French. It gets me every time!

The dinner and wine were wonderful, and of course ended with bread and delicious cheese from the Pays Basque, as well as some fruit. The meal itself lasted a couple of hours, followed by some TV and chatting. Around 11:30, however, I began to wonder if I had unwittingly signed up for a sleepover.

A few minutes later, Mme Schaller indeed asked if I wanted to stay over, saying that her kids’ friends have the habit of doing so on Friday nights. I abandoned my “don’t say no” policy yet again and said that I’d prefer to sleep in my apartment if they wouldn’t mind. It was to be my inaugural slumber, after all! She and Mr. Schaller drove me home, taking a little loop around the apartment to point out the good bakeries and stores in the area. I got in my room a little after 12 and was wiped but so glad that I’ve met such kind people so far. I feel that I already have a sort of ‘home base’ and definitely have people I can go to if I need anything!

Today was another landmark day: I did LAUNDRY! Glorious clean clothes were strung all over my apartment like decorations for a grand festival; I even hung my jeans out the window to dry. I found a nice little Laundromat up the street that’s only a five-minute walk- hallelujah!

Later in the day, I met fellow assistants Emily, Jamie and Liz for lunch in Place Saint-Marc (only about 15 minutes away between the metro and walking) and afterwards explored the centre-ville for a bit! Rouen is great on the weekends, full of life and all sorts of people. Tomorrow there are a couple of really good markets, so I’m going to try to get out there early! Not too early, however. The markets start around 6am, it doesn’t begin to get light here until around 7:30 am. I’m not about to go shopping in the dark! I’m not that hardcore yet.

Well that’s definitely a long enough post for this time. Soon you’ll be able to read all about my classroom adventures – things should get interesting ;)
I didn't know my thumbs could bend that far!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

....from a land where wine is cheaper than diet coke

Today was another day of productivity as I work my way through my to-do list, most of which involves copious amounts of paperwork.

I had a late-morning café with one assistant who just arrived yesterday, and we talked about Rouen, our upcoming orientation, expectations, etc. There are so many people in this area doing the same program as I; I meet new assistants every day!

Side note: now that I write this, I realize that perhaps my day of productivity didn’t really start until after lunch … ;-)

After the café, we both went to the FNAC, which is essentially a giant bookstore/school goods store/electronics store, etc. There, I finally bought a sleeve for my poor MacBook, which I love dearly but have been toting around in my purse like a giant pack of gum, and being about as gentle with it. Now it is nice and cushy! Yet another good thing about having an apartment is that I won’t have to tote extremely valuable (both monetarily and inherently valuable) goods around with me all day long.

We then parted ways and I walked over to the local BNP branch to make an account-opening appointment, only to realize that all banks close from 12pm to 1:30 pm for lunch. How silly of me, trying to bank during lunch! Taking that as I sign, I headed back to my hostel to make a yummy lunch of my own, involving freshly baked bread from my local boulangerie and delicious Camembert.  I’d also like to take this time to point out that the man in front of me at the market bought a baguette, two bottles of wine, and a box of sugar for 5 euro. In case you didn’t get that, the wine he bought was cheaper than a big bottle of coke. I think I know what I’m choosing!!

After lunch, I headed back to the bank, mentally preparing to explain my situation and having practiced specific banking terms before heading out.  I was very happy that, while it is usually necessary to make an appointment for such banking needs, somebody right before me had missed their appointment, therefore clearing a slot for me.

The man with whom I had my appoint may have been the nicest French person I’ve met thus far during my trip (although, truly, most of them have been friendly). He was understanding of my situation and allowed my lease to serve as proof of housing, though a bill of some sort bearing my name would usually be required. There is also usually a charge associated with opening an account, but alas! He waived the charge saying that I might as well be a student, and student accounts are free. Woo!! Free is good. We even chatted about his favorite regions of France and about his young daughters’ travels in England.

I have been finding that if I put forth effort to make conversation with the French people I encounter, they reciprocate enthusiastically (or something like it), much like the woman working at the grocery store today when I asked her to recommend a good shampoo. I’m pretty sure French water is somehow different than what my American head is used to, causing my hair to look like it hasn’t been washed in days. Cute!

…Also, I literally never speak English with them, so that probably helps a lot. I am not here for that! Well, actually, I am. But only in the classroom J

Speaking of kind Frenchies, I have two French (female) roommates in my hostel who are also apartment searching. It’s been so nice to come ‘home’ and be able to talk about the process with them, as well as practice my French. However, I can’t wait to move into my apartment and have a real home of my own.

Tomorrow, I am going to go desperately searching for a laundromat before I get kicked out of the country for being too smelly. Traveling and carrying suitcases around is pretty rough on my limited clothing supply...

Hopefully I will hear from my landlord tomorrow about when I can move in. Friday I go shopping with my contact from my school to buy apartment supplies. Everything is coming together nicely so far!

Now, it’s about time for bed before another busy day tomorrow!

Or… semi-busy J

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Haayyloooo! Guuudddbyee!"

I am writing this from my 12:50 train from Elbeuf to Rouen. I caught the 7:40 bus to the metro to the Rouen train station this morning, and took the train into Elbeuf for the first time. Yay public transportation! Elbeuf was slightly more charming than Google Earth might suggest, but I believe the fact that it’s sunny (yet again!) today makes everything look nicer.

I also met my contact person, Nicole, who is basically seeing me through this whole process. To say that she is nice or helpful is a gross understatement. She met me in her car at the Elbeuf train station, to her office, and then took me to each of the schools where I will be teaching, introducing me to the teachers and the students. She even bought me lunch before I caught the train back to Rouen! I tried to insist that was not necessary, but she would not have it.

I met all of the teachers, about 15-20 between the two schools, and I introduced myself (in French, for now!) to “my” future students. They are no older than 11, some as young as 6 in some classes. I had imagined that I would spend my time in one classroom in one school, and in one classroom at the second school. However, the plan is that I will teach one day per week at each of the schools, meaning a full 6-hour day at each school per week. I will go around to each classroom and spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour in each of 5-9 classes.

This situation would be ideal because it means I only have to travel from Rouen to Elbeuf two times per week; the cost would add up quickly if the commute were several days per week. Also, if the teachers at the two schools accept my proposed schedule, I will be working in one school on Thursdays and the other on Fridays. This would give me a Saturday-Wednesday weekend! I could get used to that J

For the most part the students seemed receptive albeit a bit reserved at first, understandably so. They are excited to have somebody all the way from the U.S, and I hope I can be truly helpful in developing their accents and their confidence in saying simple English phrases. Some of the older students in the second school were raising their hands and demonstrating their English skills. I got many a “Hello!” and “My name is!” as well as colors, numbers, etc. This makes me so excited that they are already enthusiastic. I left to a chorus of “Gouuudd byeee!” in the last class I visited. I have a good feeling so far.

The teachers themselves were incredibly welcoming and happy to have somebody to help them in teaching English. I was worried that they might feel as if I was stepping on their toes, but it was quite the opposite; I even enjoyed a café in the teacher’s lounge while they took their post-recess break.

Back at her office, Nicole called several landlords for me and actually secured me a meeting with one of them for later this afternoon. Though I am confident in my French in casual conversation, a telephone conversation with a landlord is a completely different story! It’s all business, and if they feel that you are unsure of how the ‘system’ works, or sense a naïveté about you, you could get… hoodwinked, to put it nicely!  As I listened to her navigate her way through the conversation, I was immensely glad that she offered to call for me. I would have been lost.

Next Monday is the assistants’ orientation, and Tuesday and Thursday I observe one full day at each school, along with a half-day observations at each school on Friday. The following week, I officially begin my assistantship. This week, however, I continue my apartment search, open a bank account, buy my weekly/monthly/yearly (who knows yet) train/bus/metro passes, and generally get settled. Whew!

Knowing I have somebody to call if I need help is an immense weight off my shoulders. Nicole told me that if I have any troubles at all, or if I am unsure of anything about the apartment, to call her right away. As they say in French, “j’ai de la chance!” - I am very lucky!

I am crossing my fingers about this apartment viewing later, but I don’t want to get my hopes up. I guess I’ll know soon!

Edit: While writing this, I missed my stop to Rouen by 25 mins. Oops! So I got back on a train in the opposite direction and arrived in Rouen in time to see the apartment. It went well enough, we meet again tomorrow to go over all of the paperwork! Wish me luck again! :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

...and the journey continues

Today was quite a long day, but a pretty good one! Bear with me, this is a long post. You might want to get a cup of coffee and get comfy J

I woke up this morning at 7 and began packing my things so I could be out of the FIAP by the 9:30 check out time, and still not miss breakfast. It’s included in the price, after all! I succeeded in all of the above, and started on my journey to the Gare Saint-Lazare. Saint-Lazare is a big train station in Paris that a lot of regional trains run though, including the train from Paris to Rouen.

I got to the train station around 9:45am, and started my trek to the ticket counter. Saint-Lazare is huge, with a lot of staircases both under- and aboveground, so lugging my suitcases and backpack-heavy body around the place was exhausting. I was having trouble finding the ticket counter, as there are different counters for different types of tickets. There is the SNCF office, where I bought my carte 12-25, and then there is a line for tickets for the metro and bus, and then a separate area for train tickets. I asked a man in the “ticket” line (for the metro/bus) where to buy un “billet” (implying it’s for a train) and he pointed to his right and said “Rouen? C’est par là”, indicating that I had just come from the area of the billetterie. I about-faced and headed back in search of a ticket to Rouen.

After walking around and down several flights of stairs, I finally found an automated ticket station that actually sold tickets to Rouen (the window where people might stand was closed), only to realize that I could not buy a train ticket without a France-issued credit card. French credit cards all have a microchip inside, so mine was definitely a no-go.

I went back in the other direction yet again, up lots of stairs, past the man who misled me, and into the area where the actual trains depart. This is also the area where I took a train every day from the center of Paris to my host family’s house when I studied abroad in 2009, so you would think I’d know that regional train tickets were also sold here. Well, I do now!

I bought a ticket, which was 50% off due to my carte 12-25, and boarded the train. Even second class is much nicer than a normal metro, each row with two sets of 3 large and cushy seats facing one another. I’m going to be a nerd now and say that it reminded me of the trains going to Hogwarts J

Beside the fact that I nearly killed a man trying to retrieve my almost 50lb suitcase down from above his head, the voyage went smoothly. However, I was supposed to meet one of my new friends at the Rouen train station when I arrived, but my cell phone had mysteriously stopped sending texts earlier that morning. I later realized (hours later) that while texting is free, it does not work unless I have credits on my phone. But I thought I had €5 worth of credit on my phone reserved for emergency calls? Au contraire, my friend. The lady at Bouygues failed to mention that my precious €5 would expire in 3 days if not used. Glorious! This left me incommunicado from the morning until about 3pm. Live and learn, and read the fine print!

I arrived at my hostel quite successfully, having gotten to the train station, taken the metro to a bus stop, and a bus to my hostel. I usually get lost merely finding the bathroom in a restaurant, so this was quite a proud moment for me!

I opened the doors of the hostel to find nobody at the front desk. I looked around, then hung out on a nearby chair for a while, figuring it was around lunchtime and, being Europe, the receptionist was surely eating lunch and would be back shortly. After about 20 minutes, I looked at my reservation again (another lesson – print out all hotel/hostel reservations!) only to read some more fine print stating that check-in time was from 6pm-10pm. What?! Since when is check-in at 6pm?? “Should I sit here until then?” I wondered. Yes, it was just shy of 1pm, but the thought of lugging my suitcases over more cobblestone roads was just too much to bear.

Enter my savior, la femme de ménage (the cleaning lady).

I greeted her and asked her in French if perhaps there was someplace safe I could store my things until 6pm. She was so kind and said, “Of course! Let me finish here and I’ll be right with you!” Hallelujah! She placed them in a big empty room and locked it up. “Voilà! Tell the owner when you come later that they are in room 4”. Hoping this was not all a big scam but not caring enough to babysit my luggage for 5 hours, I departed for the cobblestone streets of the centre ville!

I took the bus to La Cathédrale de Rouen, which is also a famous painting by Monet. It was as gorgeous as I’d imagined, and there was some sort of festival going on! I saw live dancing and also found a Bouygues boutique, where I bought €35 of credit that will expire in two months. I can handle that!

With my new phone credits, I texted several girls that I knew were already in Rouen, and we planned to meet up. Turns out, I was texting one from literally down the street, so I joined her where she was eating lunch to have a café. Then we met up with two other girls in town and walked around for a bit before deciding to head to their place (a cute vacation rental) for a cheap dinner! We each bought something simple and pre-made at Monoprix (French grocery store), a baguette from a boulangerie (bakery), and, with a €6 bottle of champagne, we toasted to our new lives in Rouen! We then chatted about apartment hunting, as 3/4 of us are still looking, ideas about teaching, and places we hoped to travel. It was a great night, and I think what all of us needed. It’s nice to know I already have friends in an area where I have been less than a day!

I got back to my hostel at the appropriate check-in time, procured my (safe) luggage, and headed down to my room. This is a shared-room hostel, so I could potentially have three roommates. As of now, at 9:30pm, it is just me in the room. However, check-in lasts until 10pm, so I guess I’m not quite in the clear yet… (10pm and still have my own room by the time I’m done writing, yay!)

Tomorrow I will go headfirst into apartment hunting, which is appearing like it is going to be a struggle. The girl who already has accommodation basically took the first place that didn’t require a bank account to rent, and it’s more student/youth housing than an actual apartment. At least it’s somewhere to call home! I hope I have some luck in that department J

So far, I really like Rouen. It’s a cute place, much smaller in Paris, and quite refreshing in that regard! In the center of Rouen, there is a lot of shopping, surrounded by tons of cute cafés and beautiful buildings. I can’t wait to show my pictures! Apparently it rains a ton here (as per my contact woman), so I will save that for a rainy day in the nearby future.

Wish me luck tomorrow!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Three days in Paris...

Today is my second day in Paris, and I am having a great time re-acquainting myself with the city!

Yesterday, after having slept past my alarm and gotten a full 10 hours of sleep (thanks to jet-lag) I was ready to get out and explore! I took the metro to see le Tour Eiffel (of course, I can’t not go see it!) and then walked around the area a bit until I met my friend Christina for lunch. I studied abroad with Christina in 2009, and she’s living here while attending school. I can’t wait to come to Paris periodically to visit her once I get all settled in Rouen!

After lunch, I met up with a fellow Rouen assistant Caroline for some ice cream at Le Berthillion, and we wandered around for a couple of hours and then headed to Saint-Lazare to get our cartes 12-25. A carte 12-25, indicating that one is under 26 years old, can get you train discounts for all trains within France. So, while it would normally cost €25-30 for a train from Paris to Rouen (or the other way around), it will only cost me anywhere from €7 to €12! Yay! While the card itself costs €49, it will more than pay for itself with a few round trips Rouen-Paris, as well as for farther destinations (Bordeaux? Alsace? I am open to recommendations J).

After this, we met up with yet another Rouen assistant and Caroline’s friend of a few years Adam, and their friend Celine (a France native). We had a café at a local…café, and then searched for a good restaurant for dinner. We chose one on Rue Mouffetard, where they served lots of raclette (melted cheese poured on any number of sides); it was a prix-fixe meal, which usually means you get entrée + plat + dessert (equivalent of appetizer + entrée + dessert) for a set price. Our meals were delicious and so rich and filling. I wish I had taken photos! I’ll have to remember for next time. We also shared a delicious bottle of rosé wine suggested to us by our Grecian waiter. We had ordered red, but he insisted that the rosé was wonderful. I usually don’t like pink wines, but it actually was quite good, and was a refreshing accompaniment to our otherwise heavy meals. That didn’t stop me from ordering crème brulée for my dessert option, though ;)

Today is my last day in Paris before I head to Rouen, and I have a lot of paperwork/preparing to do. I have to start looking for banks, as I have heard various pros and cons about all of them. I am also going to seriously start looking for apartments and emailing owners and possible roommates. I have decided to live in Rouen instead of Ebleuf, where I’ll actually be teaching, as it is a bigger city with more to offer. I feel like I might become bored in Elbeuf! What is more, when I mentioned Elbeuf to Celine, Caroline and Adam’s friend, she not so subtly implied that living there would be a regretful decision. Rouen it is!

This whole time, it has been in the back of my mind that in a couple weeks time, I’ll be teaching young French students! I have so much preparation and bureaucracy to deal with that I have not thought too much about what it will be like to be a young teacher (well, assistant) in a foreign country. I don’t want to speculate too much, as every classroom is different, so I will just have to wait and see! Either way, it will be an adventure.

I am also so interested to see how a smaller city differs from Paris. It has, for the most part, been my sole view of France and the French, which is like basing your idea of America and Americans off of New York City and it’s inhabitants!

I’ll try my best to keep you posted on my France adventures, although I’m not sure what my internet situation will be once I leave my Paris hostel. Hopefully it’s not too painful of a process!

A bientôt!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Greetings from Paris...

I have arrived safe and sound in my hostel, and sadly, am ready for a nap! I might do just that and refresh myself before I go find dinner somewhere :)

It's all very overwhelming in the moment, and I can't believe I'm really here. I have a few days before I leave for Rouen, which will hopefully give me some time to figure out my housing situation.

A bientôt!

l'Heure est arrivée!

Tuesday September 20, 2011

I am sitting in terminal 8 in JFK airport, and I can hardly believe that my time has come to fly to Paris!

I have had the most amazing summer – better than any in recent memory. I had a job I enjoyed, I saw my friends often (or lived with them ;) ) and had a great time in general. While I’m sad for this part of my year to be ending, I am also ready for my next big adventure.

I will arrive in Paris around 10:30a.m, ready to begin a new day, and hopefully having slept on my 7.5-hour flight! I am so grateful that I have been to Paris before and therefore know my way around the city quite well. It is leading to much less arrival anxiety. Once I arrive, I spend three nights in a hostel in Paris and then head on to Rouen, where I spend four nights at yet another hostel, and spend time trying to find an apartment and working on the mountain of paperwork that I have to get through!

The assistants’ orientation is October 3, so I have some time to get down to business before I am thrust before a class of expecting, hopefully well-behaved and interested, French elementary students. It’s hard to believe that it’s all so soon!

I was telling my friend Erica the other day that whenever I thought about my quickly approaching trip to France, I would feel such a range of emotions that it was hard to even feel one emotion at once; It’s a mixture of excitement, apprehension, anxiety, wonderment, disbelief, and sometimes even calm. The proportions of each emotion would change from time to time, but very quickly! Right now, the sensation of calm is taking over – but something tells me it’s more the feeling of “calm before the storm”! I have prepared as much as possible, and it’s out of my hands for the next 12 hours. All I can hope for now is a safe flight and an easy journey to my hostel (and a successful check-in, as I have not heard back after my reservation confirmation request…).

I hope some of you who are reading this  (assuming you’ve made it this far down) will have the chance to visit me in good old France.  Once I nail down a place to live, that is!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Summer!

It's officially the first day of summer, although I feel as if it's already flying by!

I am living with my friend Erica and her family for the summer, and working on their orchard. It's amazing to be able to spend every day outside, and a vast improvement from the waitressing I'd been doing for so long. I actually look forward to work every day now!

As I've been quite relaxed and relatively carefree this summer, I had a bit of a reality check yesterday. Around 7pm, while reading on the porch, I suddenly thought "I'm leaving in three months from today!!!"

My gut reaction was nervousness, but not a bad kind. The kind that comes from not yet knowing where I'll be teaching (or living, for that matter), not having received my paperwork in the mail yet (though I'm not supposed to get it until later next month), and just the general feeling of not being physically prepared. Mentally, however, I feel I am prepared. 

I am so excited to get back to France, and this time, have a lot of time to really experience it. I have started making a list of things I want to accomplish while I am there, and I feel that I'll find so many opportunities that I can't even imagine right now. 

For now, though, I am going to try to make the summer last and enjoy every minute. It is one of the first summers where I don't have to work 24/7 on weekends and it's amazing to be able to have fun with friends and family. 

Here's to a long and leisurely 3 months :) and an amazing upcoming year!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To-do Lists

I love making lists, and to-do lists are my favorite. I don't often end up doing every single thing on each day's list, but that's okay. I almost like making them more than I like crossing the items off; finishing everything is just a bonus!

So, I decided to make a list for things I want to do in France. I've been abroad before, and I remember how easy it is to just let time pass and not take advantage of every single day. Some of the things on my list include: 
  • Become a regular at a café, even if I go just to have a café and read or work on my (eek!) lesson plans. It seems like a nice thing to do!
A café I had in Florence last summer. Yum!

  • Keep a journal, as well as of course update my blog. It's amazing how quickly memories fade, but equally amazing how much reading about them can make any day seem like it was just yesterday, and more details come flooding back as a result
  • Buy postcards, write on them, and actually send them. I have so many postcards that I've never written on, and several times, I've even written to specific people but never addressed and sent them. How lazy can you get?! I am going to make sure I have addresses on hand so I can actually use postcards for their intended purpose

I have several more, but that's the gist of it. Is there anything you think you'd have to, or really want to do if you were spending an extended time abroad?
Okay bedtime for me, I have a busy day tomorrow! I'm leaving Poughkeepsie for good and heading back to CT for the summer. I'm excited :) 

Friday, May 27, 2011

This is what I did while waiting for my car to be fixed for 3.5 hours today...

The information comes in irresistible tidbits for this program.

I applied in October 2010.  I found out in early April 2011 that I had been accepted. Then, I waited about two weeks for an email detailing my next steps, which turned out to be filling out some important paperwork, getting passport photos taken, and sending copies of my birth certificate and passport to Paris so I can be properly assigned to a school – with a 10-day notice to have it all in the mail! How very French of them ;)

A couple of weeks after this I emailed the woman in charge, Carolyn, to ask whether I would be teaching elementary school (école primaire), or école secondaire (which encompasses middle school and high school). Everybody in the TAPIF (Teaching Assistantship Program in France) Facebook group seemed to know what age they’d be teaching, so I couldn’t resist asking. I was not sure I had any preference and thought it best not to develop a preference when I could get assigned to any of the three levels.

Carolyn emailed me back about a week and a half later - I can only imagine how many emails she gets every day - saying that my contract was for 7 months in école primaire. I am really happy about this! As I said, I did not have a preference in the matter, but I think I secretly hoped that I’d be assigned to elementary school.  Young kids can be unruly and severely lacking in attention span, but I think the indifference of older students might bother me more.

Plus, high school students go on strike a lot.

So the wait continues! I will find out between late June and (dread) late August where exactly in Rouen I will be teaching. It could be a more urban area and close to a train station (read: easy access to Paris J) or somewhere in the middle of nowhere! Until then I cannot make living arrangements in Rouen, nor can I get a visa, which requires proof of residence. I love planning and making careful decisions so this is a bit difficult for me, but I’ll consider it part of the adventure!

Before I applied to this program, I had never seriously considered becoming a teacher. I had thought about it only as a possible answer to that nagging, “what am I going to do with my life?” question running through the minds of most recent college graduates. I think this will be a great way to figure out if teaching would actually be something I would like to do. I feel like I might enjoy being a college French professor, but I’m not sure yet.

One thing that keeps me considering the latter career is a conversation I had with Mr. Bondurand, who was my European Cinema professor during my semester in Paris.  He was a brilliant man and fluent in many languages. After the interview portion of my final exam, which lasted 30 minutes instead of 15 because I blabber when I’m nervous, he said, “You know, you could be a French Professor”.  I don’t remember the context exactly but his words still stick with me. I regarded his opinion highly and those words had a huge impact on me. He saw (or heard) something in me that I did not, and I am so grateful for his confidence.
There he is, in the white shirt. Salut Mr. Bondurand!

For now I am stalking the TAPIF message boards and reading posts by past assistants, which has become somewhat of a new hobby.

Maybe the word “addiction” is more appropriate here?

The posts have information and first-hand experiences in dealing with every possible aspect of packing, travel, preparation, paperwork, teaching, French life, bureaucracy, etc… You can see how it’s easy to get caught up in reading about it all!

I have also been watching plenty of French films on my computer thanks to Netflix. I want to sound like a native by the time I arrive J It’s also a great excuse to watch lots of movies.

One thing that is certain about French citizens is that they love politics. I really, really do not love politics. I try to keep up on what is going on and read my share of news articles, but I lose interest so quickly. Especially since the online news sources I use (mainly and have great “Food” sections. I can’t help myself! I love what I love, and I love French and food, among other things.

That being said, I feel like I need to take a crash course in both French and American politics and brush up on current events before I leave for France. I can see it now, my  young students asking me, their American assistant, what I think of this or that new policy, and me having no clue what they are talking about.

It is not a far stretch. Eep. Let’s hope I can stay interested enough in some articles long enough to get a general idea of what’s going on in the world. I have, however, picked up no fewer than 6 novels relating to French life and culture, mostly written by Americans who have travelled in France. They are addicting! The list includes

“Lunch in Paris”, by Elizabeth Bard
“Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”, by Mireille Guiliano
“What French Women Know”, by Debra Ollivier
“A Moveable Feast”, by Ernest Hemmingway
“Sixty Million Frenchmen can’t be Wrong – Why We Love France but not the French”, by Jean-Benoit Nadeau
“A Year in Provence”, by Peter Mayle

Somebody stop me! Or at least deactivate my account. 

That should keep me busy until I find out my placement! Or, at the rate I’m going, until I finish all those and then break down and read some political articles.