Friday, October 16, 2009

Life as a teaching assistant

Bonjour! So i finally got a phone (with a 2 year contract ahh-this is definitely all becoming very real now!) and opened a bank account. Gradually am starting to get more and more settled, although I still haven't moved into my apartment yet and apparently can't until next weekend. Luckily, one of my friends here has let me stay at his apartment because he has 3 extra bedrooms (his housing is provided by the school which is nice) so I don't have to keep paying for a hotel which I definitely would not have been able to afford!

Teaching is going pretty well so far and the commute is really not bad, especially since I'm only working 3 days a week. It is starting to get really cold though, especially in the mornings so I'm a bit dreading that 20 minute walk from the train station each morning!

This week I was left alone for the first time with most of my classes which is a bit difficult at times. A lot of the students don't even seem to really care to improve their English and definitely take advantage of the fact that I'm just an assistant! And I'm pretty bad at disciplining people, especially high schoolers so NOT being a pushover is something I need to work on!

While some of the kids (I say kids but mean teenagers..) don't talk at all, most are really friendly and always say "Hello Mary!" when I see them in the halls/outside class (I figure it's easier to go by the first half of my name while at school...). The other day, I was getting lunch and one of the girls invited me to come sit with her and her friends which was really sweet...The boys are borderline flirtatious which is pretty funny considering most of them are like fifteen years old. One of the boys in my class was introducing his friend and goes "This is so and so, he likes girls with long, blonde hair..."-slightly awkward. I can't really imagine any of the boys from my high school saying something like that or being that forward with a teacher! But then again, I gues I'm not really a teacher..haha so for the most part the students are keeping me pretty entertained.

Last night we went to a soirée that one of my friend's friend was having and it was a lot of fun. My first real French party! It was good to mingle with some other French people my age and try to practice my French some ;). Then around like 1:30, we all headed to a club. Bars close at 2 here but clubs are open till like 7. Not having classes on Friday is pretty amazing and definitely makes Thursday nights a lot of fun.

Last week, a bunch of us were outside this bar by St Pierre (where all the young people hang out-sometimes a little too young! like high schoolers, haha) and this guy was telling us how he was going to the US for 2 weeks..Then he proceeded to say how he didn't like the United States (even though he had never been there!) because "there is no history...there are so many rules and it is so strict...in europe, everything is free.." I was the only American hearing this and got pretty defensive. Granted, things are a lot looser over here and there is much less regulation etc etc which is nice but don't talk smack on my country, especially if you've never even been there. My American pride definitely jumps in at that point, especially being the only American there.

Anyway, we have one more week of school and then fall break for 10 days! I'm going to Spain to meet up with Micaela and then we're going to do some traveling around San Sebastian before I meet up with Shauna, a friend from Ireland, and do some traveling around France. So I am super pumped! Hopefully we can find some warmer weather in Spain! A la prochaine..

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My First Week in France

The streets of Toulouse-it's called La Ville Rose for a reason! All the buildings are rose-colored and its magnifique!


J'ai besoin de parler francais!

So I arrived in France (from Germany) a week ago this past Monday. I have been staying in a few hotels until I find housing. I love France but everything seems to be more complicated here...opening a bank account (you have to have a permanent address in order to get one), getting a cell phone contact (you have to have a bank account in order to get one) et toutes les autres choses. So it's been slightly frustrating dealing with that, but hopefully it will all be figured out soon...

Other than some slight difficulties along the way (further exacerbated by the fact that I'm not fluent in French..yet!), France has been amazing thus far. I have met some really great people, in and outside of my program and the French people I have met have been very welcoming and warm.

Most people don't seem to speak much (if any) English so it's pretty essential to know at least a little bit of French! When I studied abroad in Rome, most people spoke English to me because there are so many tourists that go there and let's be honest, I don't exactly look Italian. So I got annoyed because I never got to practice my Italian..here, I have the opposite problem! It's frustrating not knowing the word for something or forgetting the proper grammer structure and trying to say what you want to say to someone who doesn't speak a word of English. I definitely have stepped way out of my comfort zone since being here. But as easy as it is to revert back to comfortable English, I'm glad I am in a city where I can actually practice my French parce qu'il faut que je le parle touts le temps pour l'apprendre.

Last week, I met up with one French girl who introduced me to two of her friends - they are all SO nice and have made such an effort, knowing that I don't know many people here. Jennifer (the girl who I initially met up with) speaks English pretty well and her friend Gracia speaks a little but their other friend, Valentina, does not speak any English. So it really forces me to actually speak French around them, which is awesome and exactly what I need, exhausting as it may be sometimes.

I also met up with some other assistants for my birthday weekend which was a lot of fun - only problem is that we all speak English to each other, which doesn't exactly help with learning French! But everyone in the program that I have met so far is really nice and fun, so I'm really excited about the year!

The other day, Valentina texted me and told me about an available apartment (she was also looking for something)-we went to go look at it together and c'est parfait! It's located in the centre ville of Toulouse (basically in a perfect location) in a large building with only students (sort of like a dorm but much nicer). The building has a gym (!!! I have not seen a single gym in France since I've been here and then I find one in this building that I might live in..amazing!!), a movie theater (or a room with lots of chairs and a big screen tv-same difference), a lounge and a computer with internet. The only downside is that the apartment is super tiny, like basically just 2 bedrooms..but I can't really complain because everything else is perfect! And it's perfect because I always wanted to live with a French person so that I could really improve my French-and now I will be! It's definitely going to be difficult and frustrating at times, but hopefully it will help me reach my goal of fluency in the end!

L'enseignment d'anglais:

So other than learning French, the real reason I'm here is to teach English. I had my first day on Monday at the lycée (high school), but the collège (middle school) still has not told me about my schedule. I will be commuting to a small town called Lannemezan (like an hour and twenty minutes by train) to teach. Pain in the butt? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Most definitely. I wouldn't have it any other way-the town that I'm teaching in definitely has some charm but Toulouse has so much more to offer, with so many young people and students-that 3 days of commuting will definitely be worth it. Plus, we have nearly over 2 months vacation time (France has the least amount of actual school time as any other country-works for me!) so I will get some breaks from commuting here and there.

Anyways, teaching is definitely interesting so far. I haven't actually started teaching (that starts next week)-this week has just been introducing myself and having the students ask me questions. I had no idea that I would have to teach entire (well, half) classes all by myself! But the teacher will take half of the class and I will take the other half and then we will switch off each week. I definitely didn't know I would have so much responsibility as a teaching assistant! I'm not sure if the teachers know what they are getting themselves into..seeing as I have never even written a lesson plan...They said to just do "whatever you want" with the students-so if anyone has any ideas, feel free to pass them my way!

The students seem to be pretty well-behaved. Their English is terrible, but that almost makes my job easier since we are pretty much starting from the ground-up! They all have such thick French accents for the most part that I could barely even understand them when they were asking me questions. And they all had some pretty funny questions that I got over and over again in each class..."have you ever met any movie stars?" "what do you like more-France or USA" "how old are you?" "do you have a boyfriend?" etc etc. If they keep this up, I think it should be a pretty fun (or at least entertaining) year.

J'aime la France

La politesse. Everyone here is SO polite. Whenever you walk into a store, go to a checkout counter, even when students would pass by us in the student apartment building, people greet you with "Bonjour" ou "Bon soir" (good afternoon/evening). I think that it's actually rude to not say anything.

Et aussi...the double cheek kiss...gotta love it. I had always heard that people did that here but I guess I didn't really think people actually did it all the time. But they do! I love it. Whenever I meet a French person for the first time (no matter who it is), they give me a double cheek kiss. It's their version of the handshake. Except 10000 times better-so warm and welcoming! And whenever you say goodbye (even if you had just met the person), you do it then as well.

My first time truly witnessing this (before I experienced it firsthand) was when I was walking down the beautiful, oh-so-quant streets of Toulouse and saw a girl of no more than 13 years old say hello to two of her friends on the street and double kiss both of them-they seemed to mature!

Then, when I went to go check out the apartment with Valentina (who always greets me and says goodbye that way of course!), the person who showed us the apartment double cheek-kissed both of us before introducing us to her boyfriend upstairs who did the same. And then again when we said goodbye. I love it!

I fully intend to bring back the double-cheek kiss to the USA and hopefully start a new trend that definitely beats out the awkward hug or formal handshake. Note: In some regions of France, there is a triple or even QUADRUPLE cheek kiss..you better believe it. La politesse...ahh j'aime ca.