Friday, February 27, 2009

My first day as a teaching assistant with Speak 14

I started my teaching assistant job today at St. Jean Eudes, a private school in Vire. Before I knew what was involved I would have done this job for free. Now, not so much, but I'm still very excited about it. It's just that now I'm also terrified!

Bernadette, the English teacher who arranged my job, also arranged my transportation to Vire. I take the bus to a tiny town called Brettonville-sur-Odon (just a short ride from Caen), then I meet Claude, a math teacher, at the bus stop there. It's so nice of him to offer to do this!

We arrived at the school at around 1:00, and soon Bernadette arrived. For that afternoon I was to follow her to her classes and teach the students while she observed. Fortunately she had lesson plans that were very simple so I could just improvise with them, because I hadn't prepared a blessed thing. I almost keeled over when she told me that next week, things will be different. Next week I will be teaching three small groups of 10 with students between the ages of 12-14 BY MYSELF!!!!!!

This makes me nervous. Very nervous. Each class is only 50 minutes long, at least, and I think Bernadette will help me plan. All the same, I'm terrified!

Here's how class went today:
First class, 12-13 year olds-- They learned about Kentucky this week, and so after they introduced themselves to me, I had each of them tell me something that they had learned about Kentucky. I corrected their grammar on the board and elaborated on what they told me.

Second class, 14 year olds-- Buuuh. They weren't fun. One boy was kicked out of class for not doing his homework and refusing to participate. This class had prepared questions to ask me, which was fine, because I'm really good at talking about myself in both of the languages that I speak! When they did speak up, they were very nice and asked some good questions.

Third Class, 12-13 year olds-- I want to take them all home. They were just darling. Their job was to tell me things about their city and their school, and they did so at an extremely impressive level for students of that age learning a foreign language. I really hope that they end up being in one of my small groups next week.

I'm stressed out and exhausted, but overall, it was an amazing day. I hope the students are as well behaved next week as they were this week...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Abbaye aux Dames and Strikers

I love Thursdays. I have no responsibilities or obligations on Thursdays anymore, because I have no class and no job. This morning Daniel and I went jogging for about two miles (and stopped because of my stamina, not his), then I slept/read/journaled for awhile, made lunch, and this afternoon I walked to the Abbaye aux Dames. This Abbaye, founded in 1062 by Queen Mathilda (William the Conqueror's wife), is truly a celebration of the faith of women. It isn't as grand or as beautiful as the Abbaye aux Hommes, founded by William the Conqueror, but it was still very beautiful. My favorite part were the little banners made a couple of years ago with saints and women from the Bible embroidered on them.

I then went to the castle to read a little bit as the weather was nice, but I had only delved into a few pages of Second Glance (the first Jodi Picoult book I have ever begun to read) when I heard the chanting, the songs, if you will, of angry men and women. I jumped off the wall I had perched myself upon and ran down the stairs from the castle to see. It was a teacher and student strike against some new policies by Sarcozy. They're pretty bad reforms; they have every right to be angry. I don't always say that about the strikers. Especially when they affect my travel plans.

For pictures of the Abbaye and the strikers, click here. They should be on pages 2 and 3 of that album.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More pictures from my weekend

My class on Valentine's Day with their Fun Dips. Madame Ozouf is in the background. She's so sweet!

Le grand horloge de Rouen (Big Ben de Rouen)

St. Malo

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I went to Rouen today with Mathilde-- she drove us there. SO much better and cheaper than traveling by train, at least for that distance. It was nearly impossible to find a parking spot, but we did, and had a lovely day despite the cold. I had a steak hache with Roquefort sauce for lunch and saw some swans, which is enough to make any day happy. Rouen is where Joan of Arc was imprisoned and burned at the stake; we saw both locations. Notre Dame de Rouen is freaking enormous! The town was so beautiful, so ancient. Most of those Medieval houses are still being used for businesses and housing, which is what I like to see. I'd rather them be that way than for them to be used as untouchable museums.

About Valentine's Day: I gave out Fun Dip Valentines to everyone in my class on Friday. Madame Ozouf, one of my professors, thought that was awesome. She said, "C'est adorable! Je t'embrasse!" and she kissed me on both cheeks in French tradition. How sweet is that? She's so sweet. My classmates loved the Valentines, but as they were Fun Dips they had no idea how to eat them, so I demonstrated so they'd be able to eat them. I hadn't realized until then what a bizarre candy it is.

Also, dear friends, I have been craving Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Just thought I'd throw that out there...

St. Malo-vely

Me: "Je cherche le voie pour St. Malo..."
Conductor: "Malo? C'est pas VOTRE l'eau, c'est MA l'eau!"
Me (thinking): Yes, haha, you're very funny, but my train is about to leave, quit making puns and tell me where to get on the freaking train!"

I no longer have classes on Thursday. I had to drop a class in order to be able to be a teaching assistant, and it was the one class that was keeping me from doing that, and so it had to go. I don't think the teacher wants me or will let me drop the class, but I'm not sure what I should do about that! After explaining this to her I had to leave the class early to go on a weekend trip, for which I felt SO awful because she was incredibly sweet, but I'm here to travel more than I am to go to class, so travel had priority!

And travel I did. I went with four girls (Myra, Miriam, Melanie, and Jenny) to St. Malo, Bretagne. It was about a three hour train ride from Caen. Part of that ride was on at TGV train, which I had never taken before-- those things are fast! We arrived in St. Malo in the evening. It is a beautiful, walled city-- soldiers used to patrol the wall and shoot down pirates with canons. The streets are small, winding, and very old. We explored them for a bit before having dinner at a charming creperie (I had a galette ratatouille). After a looong walk outside of the walls of the chateau, we found our hostel, played some Guitar Hero with one of the volunteers who worked there (Melanie kicked his butt!) and settled down to rest up for the next day.

Yesterday morning we walked from our hostel to the walled part of the city, following the shore (we were along the English Channel). The shore is lined with quaint restaurants and adorable houses, like these teeny tiny ones! We had a great view of the forts, which are on islands outside of the city. When the tide is low you can walk to them, I think. We then walked along the walls of the city, stopping every once in awhile just to gaze at the marvelous scenery. We also walked around the city to see the various historical sites that weren't bombed during WWII (truly a rarity in northern France).

Daniel and Sean came from Caen at around lunch time to spend the rest of the trip with us. We had lunch and then hit the beach! It was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen! The walls were behind us, the forts and the rocks in front, and beautiful sand beneath our toes. Here's a view from the top of the walls. It was such a relaxing time, writing Valentine's Day messages in the sand, climbing on the rocks, playing guitar, and just enjoying the salty air!

Not long after that I had to leave to catch my train, but not before I enjoyed a beignet (donut) with chestnut cream from the carnival by the port. I had to leave early because today I think I'm going to Rouen with Mathilde. Rouen is where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

It was a perfect Valentine's Day weekend. There wasn't lovin' from a personal Valentine, but I was certainly feelin' the love from my new Caen friends! It's so sad to me that so many of these beautiful historical sites were destroyed during WWII, but considering how old they are, it's amazing that they have managed to survive at all. They never disappoint, especially in France.

Friday, February 6, 2009

It was a bad day... but I was rewarded with internet!

Today Robert and I went to the Conseil General du Calvados to see if we could get jobs as teaching assistants. I applied and told them that I couldn't be in Caen until the middle of January, and they said that was fine. If there was a position open, they would let me know, and then I would return in the middle of January. They never called, so I didn't come until a week ago. I went to the office today to see if something came up, and they said, "Oh, you weren't here, so we gave the job to someone else."

Well, had you told me that there was a job to have, I would have returned! UGH. I really, really wanted that teaching assistant job, so much that I would do it for free. But there's always the possibility that something else will turn up. I hope so very much.

So after that I went to The Phone House to see if I could get internet in my room by using a 3G USB key. They said that I'd have to sign up for at least six months or at least find someone to transfer the contract to, so I left, called Emilie, and she said I could transfer it to her. So I went back, and they said that I'd need a Carte de Sejour to sign up with the plan I wanted.

I thought, well, ok, I need my carte de sejour anyway (it replaces my student visa, which has expired, don't try to understand it). So I went to try to find the Prefecture. There are about a zillion buildings that say Prefecture. I went into FOUR before I found the right one.

When I entered the correct building, I was greeted by a snarky looking man who was polishing off a candy bar. He slowly sucked on each and every one of his fingers to get the chocolate off of them, and then without even wiping his hands on his shirt, he took my passport from me. After rolling his eyes, sighing, and making rude remarks in English for several minutes, he finally found my paper work and prepared my carte. All of this took about fifteen minutes when, without his snark, it could have taken about five. That may not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind that I had been running around town for about three hours by this time, trying to get a job and internet, so every minute dragged on, and every minute made me more and more irritable.

He finally gave me my Carte de Sejour, and I went back to the Phone Store for the third time. After tapping on his computer for about ten minutes, Mathieu, my Phone Store helper, told me that the bank card that I have isn't the right kind. He seemed very apologetic, especially since I had gone to the trouble to bring him my Carte, which I didn't have when I saw him earlier that day. But then an idea popped into his head. He showed me a different contract that you must sign for 24 months, but since I was leaving I could terminate it early as long as I paid for six months. That was just like the other one, but this one was 20 Euro/month cheaper, it was faster, and it gives you four months of unlimited internet at the beginning of the contract. Perfect.

IN SHORT: I spent about five hours downtown today trying to get all of this figured out. I am extremely disappointed about the teaching assistant job, but hopefully something will come up. I got internet for 10 Euro a month, and it's very fast. I still haven't heard back about the scholarship.

It was a rough day, but being able to use internet in my room is a luxury that I will never take for granted again!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I can haz scholarship?

Fromage du jour: Grassy Camembert that's gone missing.

Hello there blogosphere! (I wanted to say "Hello there podcast listeners," like Ira Glass, but that wouldn't have made sense. I wish I had a podcast, though.)

I’ve been back in France for about four days. It has been pretty crazy. I live on a diet of almonds, raisins, chocolate, and Camembert. I think one of my wheels of Camembert rolled off of my windowsill… but the guy at the market sold it to me when it was very close to its expiration date so it was no big loss. The older Camembert is, the drier, and the more it tastes like grass.

France is lovely. The weather has been great despite it being February. It hasn’t rained (though it snowed a flake or two!), it hasn’t been terribly cold (especially not compared to Kentucky, so I hear!), and I’ve even seen the sun! That has been such a blessing, especially for the new students who are exploring the town for the first time. My dorm is as ugly and icky as it’s always been, but it’s warm and has been made warmer by all of the oatmeal, hot chocolate, and books that I stashed in every spare corner of my suitcase. There’s also a slight chance that I may get internet in my dorm. It would be expensive, so I have to see if it fits into my budget.

My first night here I went to my friend Emilie’s apartment and she made crepes. You couldn’t ask for a better welcome to France than to have crepes prepared for you by a French girl, especially when they are filled with Nutella and coconut! I introduced her and her friend Leticia to Reese’s. I also brought a jar of peanut butter, but felt that it is just as important to know what peanut butter and chocolate tastes like as it is to know what peanut butter tastes like alone.

Besides being reunited with the familiar faces I have met some new faces that I am very excited about being with this semester. There are two students who occupy what were formerly the bedrooms of Erica and Courtney, and there are a lot of fun Aussies who came here for their international studies program who hang out in my dorm even if they don’t live there.

But it hasn’t been all crepes and Camembert! France wouldn’t be France without hiccups and debacles. Catastrophe de catastrophes, I am not enrolled in the university and I currently do not have a scholarship. The Twinning Committee of Deauville, for some reason, did not think that I was returning this semester, and so until things are worked out with them I am not technically a student. I can’t imagine that I won’t get my scholarship back, and so I’m not that worried. They’re still letting me go to class… for now! C’est la vie—debacles occur, and there’s nothing you can do about it!

That’s all for now, folks. Tune in next time to find out if I’ve found a job as a teaching assistant, if I ever find my old wheel of Camembert, and if I’ve been deported for not being a student anymore!