Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hello again!

It has been quite some time since I've written on here, and unfortunately no news wasn't good news. I've had some really tough stuff to deal with over the past couple of weeks, and I'm honestly not sure if I'm going to be able to finish my contract. It depends on how well I can handle these other issues (which are medical) in addition to my job, and if the other issues make me so miserable that it's not worthwhile for me to stay. I'm not even sure that I want to stay. But this week is vacation, the Toussaint, or All Saints vacation, so I'm going to try to enjoy my free time and remind myself why I wanted to come here in the first place. My only current plan is to be in Paris next weekend and explore that city, and in the meantime maybe some day trips. If anyone has any suggestions, please pass them along.

Other than these non-job related issues, things here are good overall. I can't emphasize enough how kind everyone in Soissons has been to me, especially with all of this other stuff going on. My conseillere pedagogique continues to be wonderful, as well as everyone at the Inscription (school district offices), and at my schools the teachers are really nice to me too. The directeur in one school in particular is just so nice to me. The kids are cute, although on Thursday they were totally nuts. They obviously knew that vacation was coming, and I was just doing Halloween games with them so it was a rather chaotic day. In one school I'm sort of tag-teaming the English teaching with the CE2/CM1 teacher because he's qualified to teach English and I actually find that really helpful. Since I have no teaching experience, it's really good to be able to see how he goes about teaching. It gives me lots of ideas and steers me in the right direction. I think that after the break I may ask if I can do some observation of another teacher who is habilite in English, and also ask this teacher if we can do more teaching together. What we do right now is brainstorm general topics together and then split the class in half and each do a different activity, and I think I'd like to have a week or two where I could be an actual teaching assistant, rather than an actual teacher. During vacation I should probably do some planning for the last six weeks of the year, so I have some direction.

I'm feeling a little lonely and homesick these days, as I'm sure all assistants and everyone who has ever been away can relate to. It's just hard to be thousands of miles away from the people you care about the most and who care about you the most. But like I said above, it's vacation and I'm going to try to make the best of it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Only in France!!!

I decided to open my bank account at BNP Paribas because they made it easy for me and that convinced two other assistants in town to also open their accounts there. So Friday morning we all troop down to the small BNP office by the cathedral and piled into the office of the banker there. She's young and fun and very nice, we had a fun time together. So much fun, in fact, that after the two other assistants had finished their paperwork she showed us a powerpoint photo show that her friend had sent to her. Has everyone heard of the naked rugby calendar? This was a slideshow of photos from the making of the naked rugby calendar. Basically we all sat around and looked at porn together. I think this goes in the same category as being able to buy lingerie everywhere you go.

Last night I went to Paris for Nuit Blanche, which is like a sort of artsy all night party through thestreets of Paris. It was my first real Paris experience. I went to the Tour Eiffel, saw Notre Dme from the outside, passed briefly through the courtyard at the Louvre, sat in the Jardin de Tuileries for a while, and wandered around the Rue de Rivoli. The Eiffel Tower was just neat to see in person, especially once they lit it up for the evening, but the buildings were breathtaking. I'd seen pictures of the Louvre and ND in art history class but it doesn't at all compare to seeing them in person. The architecture is amazing, especially since ND is so beautiful and white and clean now. Incredible. I also happened to be in the university area when the French national rugby team beat the New Zealand team - everyone was cheering, horns were honking, everywhere was celebration. It was pretty fun, I might try to go back for another game!

I start teaching on Monday, tomorrow. I'm a little apprehensive, since I have absolutely not one single qualification to teach other than the fact that I speak English. I'm expecting the first days to be pretty rough, but I'll do my best to learn on my feet. All the teachers have been really nice, and tomorrow will be at my super nice school in Courmelles, so my goal is to make it through the day without a meltdown. I'll be with CM1 and CM2, 9-11 year olds. Wish me luck! Good luck to everyone else who starts teaching soon!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lunch and the French

One of the big differences here so far is that between 12 - 1:30 nearly every single store in town shuts down, including banks, and everyone goes home for lunch. Parents even pick up their children from school to bring them home for a delicious meal. I've learned not to try to go anywhere right around 12 because the streets are packed with people leaving to go home and have lunch with their families. It's quite nice I think, even if it's kind of a pain to have this block of time during the day where I can't get anything done. I think it creates a nice atmosphere and feeling that money isn't everything and that family and mental health are more important. Compare this with school in America, where you're lucky to have a half an hour to scarf down a peanut butte and jelly sandwich along with some chips and cookies, or in the workplace where people eat Lean Cuisines at their desk.

Today I went to two elementary schools to make my timetable, and it looks like with the bus schedule I will be in one of these two tiny towns for lunch eating in the teacher's room rather than coming back to Soissons. Everyone was very distressed by this! They thought it was horrible that I would have to eat a sandwich by myself in the teacher's break room. So I said no, it didn't bother me at all, that's a typical lunch for Americans. They laughed, and the topic changed for a while. Then they brought it up again! And again I reassured them that it was fine, and I guess they're used to the idea now and probably scratching their heads about the strange eating habits of Americans. Do they think that otherwise I would sit down for a three course meal? My typical lunch is a sandwich! I love that they are so concerned about this very old, and potentially dying, tradition of long, leisurely lunches with the family. It makes me feel like I'm experiencing the real France, which is exactly what I came here for.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I'm alive and well!

I have arrived in France safe and sound. I've been here for over a week now, how strange is that? Getting here was much easier than I was anticipating, with all the heavy luggage I had with me, and I had such a lovely welcome by everyone at the lycee (high school) where I'm living and especially by my conseillère pedagogique, Madame Camus. I am in love with her. She has been so helpful, taking me shopping and to get other stuff I need done, and she even had me over for dinner my first night here!

I LOVE Soissons!!! It's an adorable little town but also has stuff to do like shopping, a movie theater, restaurants and bars, even a combined bar/bowling alley! There is this really nice park along the river, ruins of a monastery, a cathedral, another big church that is now a museum.... it just seems like there's lots to do and explore! And if I get tired of it, Paris is only an hour by train. In general everyone I have come into contact with has been extremely nice and has gone out of their way to help me any time I have a question or problem with anything. Even when I'm completely mangling French, which happens quite often! The parler-ing the francais is going ok. I'm just doing the best I can, getting flustered a lot, but also having some great victory moments when I actually get something right. It's frustrating to feel that I can't express myself correctly, but everyone is really patient with me and very understanding.

In summary, I love it here and I'm having a great time!

This weekend I had a lovely excursion to Amiens, the capital city of my région, to meet other assistants here and go to the orientation day for assistants on Monday. Orientation day was pretty useless, but it was great to meet the other assistants. On Sunday they had this broderie that everyone made a big deal out of. Basically it was a gigantic city wide garage sale in the centre ville. Lots of taxidermy. Otherwise I'm here learning to get around Soissons and doing my demarches administratives, the little bureaucratic and administrative things I need to do to become a legal resident of France for the next nine months.

Today I applied for my carte de sejour, my residency card, at the local sous-prefecture. The prefecture runs the département, so it's like the county government, and the sous-prefecture is their sattelite office. I was anticipating lots of trouble because most assistants say that it tends to be a bureaucratic nightmare, but it couldn't have been any easier. Since it's a little local office they aren't busy at all; it's this one woman in charge of all the foreigners and she's super nice and helpful, even asking to make sure she asn't speaking too fast for me! I went in yesterday to see what paperwork I needed, took care of that, went back today and it took about five minutes for her to put my dossier together. The only annoying thing is that I couldn't get a recipissé, a reciept or temporary card, because only the prefecture can issue those. But no worries, it will be sent here when it's ready. Still to do: open bank account (tomorrow!), send in national health insurance forms, and do the paperwork so I can get paid. Bank account is necessary for all these other steps. Why haven't I already gotten one if I've been here for a week, you may ask. Well, they told us we would cover it at the stzge (orientation) but all they did was stump for this one particular bank and I totally could have done it last week when Mme Camus offered to go with me. Oh France, you're so funny!

Things that are weird about France:
- they don't use lined paper to write on, they use graphing paper
- you have to pull or push a knob to flush the toilets
- at the weekly outdoor markets they sell lingerie. Yes, lingerie.
- they love to correct my French mistakes. For exa,ple, the other night I met a professor at the lycee in the salle des profs (teacher's lounge) who gave me a full evaluation of my French after out conversation. I find it really helpful actually, and not at all offensive.

I will expand that list with time. I know this is a terribly uninteresting post, but I just wanted to do a brief catch-up on the last week so that everyone knows I'm doing great and things are going really well! My internet access has been a little sketchy and my hours have been sort of irregular, but it will be better now that I'm more settled and I am going to be better about updating. hugs and kisses to everyone in the US, and lots of good wishes to my fellow assistants! I hope that your first weeks have gone/ are going as smoothly as possible and that your students are well behaved! Anyone thinking about hitting up nuit blanche in Paris this weekend?