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Archive for March, 2010

Last night’s dinner was so unique that it definitely deserves its own post; however, since I am pressed for time AND will be giving it glory by writing a newspaper article solely on what happened, I guess I shouldn’t go into too much detail here. I will tell you that

Chateau de Menthon

there is a beautiful castle on the way to this restaurant (a real, working farm with a stench to prove it), that we could see animals while we ate, AND – surprise of all surprises – an animal was actually BORN mid-way through our meal! lol. Only in France…(or at least definitely not in the US). Once the article hits news stands I’ll add it here for everyone to see.

On another note, today was “talk about Easter” day since tomorrow is Holy Thursday, so we talked about the White House’s egg rolling tradition. Then I told the students that I was giving them an impossibly long test on the information we had just read – they groaned a bit but instantly became much more well-behaved when they thought they were receiving a grade. Finally at the end of the class (after the had answered about 75% of the worksheet questions and solidified their new knowledge), I broke the good news that they weren’t supposed to be able to finish the exam because it wasn’t for a grade – April Fool’s (tomorrow)! A few students grumbled about being tricked, but the rest were good sports and even had a bit of fun telling the other half of the class how “hard” the test was when it was time to switch groups. If I had any grading

Tasty charcuterie at La Ferme

power over them I would have given out bonus points (which is what my teachers used to do), but I may just play a game with them and bring candy as a prize for next week.

Also, in our discussion about Easter, did you know that the French traditional story is that bells ring and chocolate appears from the sky? They know about the Easter Bunny here, thanks to the Americanization of the world, but he has nowhere near as big of a presence here as back home. They also have Easter egg hunts, but hide chocolate eggs instead of plastic ones – another little tid-bit I found interesting.

Finally, my last point is not a widely-recognized holiday but a special day for me, nonetheless – the day I found out that I PASSED the B2 exam!!! My ending results were quite good in Oral comprehension, Presentation, and the Written production, though I only did so-so on the Written comprehension (though I knew this right after the test when I looked up a couple of key words I had had to guess on and realized I had made several wrong choices!). But the most important thing is that I passed (yay for achieving another big personal goal), and can now put this distinction on my resume. Let the new job-search commence!

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Yesterday was Palm Sunday, but for once I could actually count the number of palm branches at church on one hand. This was not because church was empty, but because palm trees don’t grow in Haute-Savoie! (sauf dans les serre – greenhouses?) The funny thing is, in my early-morning, ignorant-American state, it never even crossed my mind that that was the reason why there were baskets of some other green leafy shrub’s branches placed near all the doors to St. Laurent. Regardless, I picked up a small branch of holly(?) and the rest of the mass was pretty similar to what I was used to back home. One nice difference, however, was the absence of incense (I don’t know why they don’t just do away with that silly ritual because it just chokes people up – especially if you’re singing in it!).

Another tid-bit I thought I’d share before sauntering off to the kitchen to attempt Savoyard omelettes… did you know that French kids are trained to draw straight lines? What I mean by this is that, in America, if a teacher asked her students to do a word search or draw a picture of a house, etc., the students would just pick up their pencils and start drawing squiggily things on a page. But in France, as soon as such a request is made, the students go for their rulers and meticulously follow the guide, rendering perfectly straight lines every time. It’s funny that something as simple as this can reveal so much about the differences between our two cultures. Sometimes I feel like I’m teaching a bunch of little architecture students instead of 12-year olds.

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This has reminded me of how lucky I am to have been blessed with amazing people in my life, incredible opportunities, and the drive to take advantage of them (in a good way, of course):

  • Yesterday was my boyfriend’s birthday
  • Today is our 4-year anniversary (we didn’t get to Skype, but we each sent presents which we got to open today)
  • I’ve had two great nights of dinner, movies, cards, and friends, with several more planned
  • AND I found out today that I passed the DELF B2 exam!

This latest news came along at such perfect timing because I can put the B2 credentials on my resume and send it off to prospective employers (namely for one dream job I’ve discovered back home). The deadline for the application is this coming Monday, so I received the news just in the nick of time!

Didn’t end up going rollerblading tonight due to horribly rainy weather all day long and then a cold front this evening, but hopefully we’ll go next weekend. Oh yeah, and inspite of our lovely 19 degree highs this week, tomorrow there is a significant chance of snow. lol. I can barely believe it! At least I have finally been able to shut off my radiator without feeling cold. Here’s to a weekend of productivity, even inspite of bad weather!

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This post has been inspired by the fact that I can barely see the duvet on my bed beneath the piles of paper, cut-outs, English books with accompanying CDs, markers, and lists I use to prepare lessons. If someone were to come into the apartment right now, they’d probably think I had lost my adult memory and turned back into a kid with all the strange animal noises and sing-a-long songs coming from my room. But there is a reason for the chaos: I am preparing private lessons for 4-year olds. Don’t worry – my room isn’t this messy on a daily basis. When lesson-planning for my normal classes (junior-high and high school), there aren’t quite as many songs or cut-outs involved since they can read and least say at least basic vocabulary.

Teaching the wee ones is definitely the most challenging out of all the age groups, namely because I have to do much more prep-work. I have to speak mostly in French (with carefully inserted English vocabulary), and keep their attention for 45 minutes (which means changing the task, song, or game every 5-10 minutes. It’s kind of exhausting, especially on the days when they’re particularly rambunctious and I end up resorting to some kind of physical activity (like a song with lots of hand movements) to wear them out a bit. But I must admit that it’s so adorable to hear them sing English songs and say English words with their little French accents.

Teaching college (with an accent grave over the 1st “e”) is a bit less of a workout, but it can also be fun. Today we discussed monsters and played a game where I called out a body part (ex. head), and everyone had to draw one, two, three, etc. heads on their piece of paper. Then when I said “Change,” they gave their paper to the student next to them, and I called out another body part. By the end of the class everyone had contributed something to everyone else’s monster, they had quite creative (and scary) drawings to take home, they learned some new vocabulary words (horns, wings, spikes, etc.), AND they had fun doing it.

But among all the age groups I have taught (also taught adults ESL two summers ago in Baton Rouge), I must say that the high school level is definitely my favorite. At this level (and at least, at my school), they know just enough English so that you can get into some pretty fun discussions and debates, but still play games and occasionally sing songs (or at least listen to them if they don’t want to sing). It also helps that I am not too far removed from high school myself so I can relate and give relatively current examples of how those tough teenage years are in the US. And things that are traditionally part of French culture but not American, or vice versa – like much longer school days in France – I am able to learn about first-hand. I have picked up more French vocabulary from the college kids (often times it’s me talking in English and them replying in French), but the high school is where I learn the most about French life.

This role as an assistant is interesting because I really am two things at once. Just about every teacher will tell you they learn from their students, but in my position, I am ALWAYS learning: vocabulary, traditions, culture, food, games, you name it. And I like this role a lot.

They say that those who continue learning have better memories and live longer. Well I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that some of the oldest and most interesting people I know are still students in their ripe old age. Let’s hope that in 50-60 years, I become one of them too.

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I am proud to say that I wore a short-sleeved shirt for several hours this afternoon (it got up to 18 degrees C)! This is quite an accomplishment considering how long we have been wearing jackets here and how unusually cold the winter was this year. Lynsey and I even managed to enjoy our balcony for the first time (ever. lol). We’ve been looking into outdoor things to do again, and it feels great to see everyone else around town doing the same. People are still promenading around the water but are now sporting lighter jackets or sometimes even shorts! Cafes and restaurants are bringing their tables back outdoors, and restaurants in the Old Town are lively with customers again (even at night when they were previously dead).

Provided it doesn’t rain this Friday, a friend and I are going to try Roll-n-cy for the first time (a group of people who rollerblade around the lake every Friday night when the weather is nice). Neither of us have our own skates since we’re North Americans (she’s Canadian), but we can get a special deal from the mini golf/bike/rollerblade/kayak  rental shop just at the end of my street.

Another goal for this week or next is to visit La Ferme de la Charbonniere for what should be quite an interesting meal (you eat mess-hall style and can see the farm animals below you while you enjoy your meal). And tomorrow I’m going skiing at the Semnoz for what will most likely be my last time during this trip. Hopefully the snow will be decent enough up high, and I can get just a bit more use out of my ski boots, helmet, and goggles before I try and sell them back to Troc Sport. I also noticed that the paddle boats have reappeared in the lake which means that we should be able to start renting them soon for a little tour around (though the water is still way too cool to swim in)! Ahh, how I love spring.

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While looking back on previous posts, I realized that I missed telling you about perhaps THE most interesting thing I have had the opportunity to do during my time abroad. So here’s the 5th article in my “Life in the Alps” series for The Ponchatoula Times. Enjoy!

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Life in the Alps:

The everyday trials and tribulations of an English language assistant in France

By Ashley Herrick

Trial 5: Taking advantage of vacations – The Igloo Experience…

Disclaimer: Before moving to Europe, my experiences with significant amounts of cold, snow and ice had been quite limited. A few flurries in South Louisiana, two days of skiing in New Hampshire, and a weekend in Stockholm, Sweden, don’t count for much. But what is our purpose in life if not to go out of our comfort zones, adapt and explore all the unique experiences our world has to offer? A refusal to let my fear of the unknown rule my life is one reason I chose to take this language assistant job in the first place, and now it is pushing my limits even further…

It was only 5:00pm, but the gray winter sky had already begun to fade and what little light remained was quietly slipping behind the mountains. With the chillingly sharp, triangular peak of the Matterhorn shrouded in clouds, we made our way up the Gornergrat mountain by cogwheel train to 8,471 ft.

“What am I getting myself into THIS time?” I wondered.  The view outside the train window was becoming increasingly…white. We were surely in for an interesting experience, but I was hoping I wouldn’t regret agreeing to spend the first night of 2010 with one of my best friends in an igloo just outside the ski town of Zermatt, Switzerland.

We stepped off the train into a foot of powder and lugged our lightweight suitcases through the snow to one of only two buildings in sight. Hotel Riffleberg was “base camp” – where we would meet our guide and the rest of the people paying to “freeze” for a night. Wearing full ski clothing that felt more like marshmallow suits, we stepped inside and quickly became flushed from the hotel’s warmth. But the rest was a short one, and thirty minutes later our group of 15 hopped back on the train and headed even further up the mountain, equipped with only backpacks and anticipation.

Once at our destination (Rotenboden, 9,235 ft.), the evening sky had become so dark and cloudy that our eyes strained to follow the faint glow of the guide’s electric lantern through the snow-covered hills. Snowflakes circled around our heads and crept into my nostrils (Note: Frozen snot is not the most pleasant of feelings…). Toward the end of the 10-minute trek we began to see lights in the distance and heard loud, rock music coming from speakers outside the igloo village. Once inside the igloo, however, the atmosphere was completely different. The thick walls of our icy enclave blocked the exterior noise, and Norah Jones’ voice wafted subtly through the crisp air. Everyone seemed mesmerized by the sheer size and realization of our surroundings as we explored the candle-lit rooms and hallways. “This is more like a mini igloo hotel,” I thought as I turned another corner. Soon my friend and I found our sleeping quarters: a standard igloo room equipped with only a lantern and two -40 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bags laid on top of white mats and animal furs. We were relieved to discover that the bathroom was in a heated, portable building outside. There was also a warm changing room for those who wished to use the Jacuzzi (also outside in the snow).

Back in the common area our guide reminded us to drink liquids throughout the evening to prevent dehydration. This would be the highest altitude I would ever sleep in, and it was also important to keep busy until bedtime so as not to get too cold. At first I wondered how we would pass the time, but scheduled activities began quickly.

Our first task was a 20-minute hike on the hills surrounding the igloo. We were given snow-shoes and poles, but the snow here was so thick and powdery, the hills so steep that, even with the proper gear, we still had trouble keeping ourselves upright. Back at the igloo we were treated to a piping-hot cheese fondue dinner and watched the steam rise from the pot as we dipped bread chunks into the savory goo – this warm mixture felt wonderful as it slid down our throats. After dinner it was Jacuzzi time and we hesitantly changed into bathing suits in the warming room outside. We had to run a few feet through the snow to get to the tub, but once we were in, the water was warm and soothing. After changing back into our snow gear and sipping one more cup of tea, it was time for bed.

Once in our igloo room, we quickly peeled off layers of clothing (except our long underwear) and jumped into our cozy sleeping bags. As I tucked my head in like a worm in a cocoon, I hoped that I would be able to fall sleep in such a foreign environment. This was not my only worry, however, and sure enough, around 4:30 a.m., my bladder woke me up. “Nooo,” I grumbled at the thought of putting on my now icy ski clothes to go outside. I suited up as quickly as possible and walked briskly toward the toilet. It was still dark, but the thick clouds had cleared. And on the way back to the igloo I was struck by a new, breathtaking view: the full moon shining on the Matterhorn and the serene igloo below. For a few moments I forgot how cold I was and just stared at the majestic site before me.

A few hours later I awoke from my frosty slumber once again – the guide had brought delicious cups of tea to quench our thirsty palettes.  We sipped the tea and laughed at the fact that we had, indeed, made it through an entire night in an igloo.  After enjoying a few last minutes of warmth, we begrudgingly got out of our sleeping bags and began gathering the few things we had brought with us.

By 8 a.m. we were outside and waiting to make our way back down the mountain.  Expecting to go back the way we had come, I was surprised when the guide handed everyone a mini shovel. “Are we building something?” I wondered.  “Nope,” I quickly realized as the other guests sat on their shovels, held the handle between their legs like a steering wheel and slid down the mountainside. “Well, here goes nothing,” I thought and followed their lead. (You wouldn’t think a little piece of plastic could make a person “fly,” but on the freshly covered slopes we made it back down to Hotel Riffelberg in no time.)

As our icy experience came to a close, we shed our outer layers inside the hotel and plunged into a full continental breakfast of bacon, eggs, croissants, cheeses, fruit, cereal, an assortment of juices, tea, coffee, and more. It was the perfect, warm way to end such a chilly adventure!

Afterthought: Since coming back to Annecy, many people have asked me how I would summarize this unique experience. And after a little bit of thought I always tell them the same thing: “Spending a night in an igloo was amazing – an experience I will never forget! It’s also something I never feel the need to do again!

For more information about Zermatt and the Igloo village, visit http://www.zermatt.ch/en/index.cfm and http://iglu-dorf.com/index.php/en/locations/zermatt.html .

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Music That Moves Me

I should be asleep by now, but I discovered this song through a friend and can’t get it out of my head. It’s songs like this that remind me how beautiful Cajun French and my home state can be. With its pining melody and powerful imagery, this song definitely makes me miss Louisiana. It also makes me want to sing. But since it’s 1 a.m., I think I’ll spare the neighbors…

Music and lyrics by Zachary Richard

French Lyrics:

Dans le Sud de la Louisianne, dans le bois d’Attakapas,
Où la rivière rejoint la levée.
Planté dans l’anse est un vieux chêne vert,
Au bord du Lac Bijou.

Dans son feuillage, où les branches font leur crochet,
Les hirondelles reviennent chaque printemps.
Ils se réfugient dedans ce chêne vert,
Au bord du Lac Bijou.

Chorus: Tourne, tourne dans mes bras.
Tien moi serré encore.
Reste avec moi en bas ce chêne vert
Au bord du Lac Bijou.

C’était l’année, dans cinquante et sept,
La première fois je les ai vu.
Les deux ensemble, se bâtir un nid
Au bord du Lac Bijou.

Ils revenaient quand l’hiver était fini,
Je les appelais Pierre et Marie.
Un grand monsieur, noir comme la nuit,
Sa demoiselle avec lui.

Chorus

Pendant le carême ce dernier moi d’avril,
Je lui ai vu une dernière fois,
Un oiseau seul, posé sur sa branche
Au bord du Lac Bijou.

Il restait tranquille, son coeur après se casser,
Guettant du matin au soir,
Jusqu’au dimanche qu’il est parti aussi
Du bord du Lac Bijou.

Chorus

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English Translation:

In South Louisiana, In the Attakapas wood
Where the river meets the levee
Planted in the cove is an old live oak
On the shore of Lake Bijou (jewel).

Amongst its leaves, in the tangle of the branches
The swallows return every spring
They find refuge in that old oak
On the shore of Lake Bijou (jewel).

Chorus: Turn, turn in my arms
Hold me tight once again
Stay with me underneath the live oak tree
On the shore of Lake Bijou (jewel).

It was in 1957
The first time that I saw them.
The two together, building their nest
On the shore of Lake Bijou (jewel).

They would return when the winter was done
I called them Pierre and Marie
A big «Monsieur » black as the night.
His lady by his side.

Chorus

During Lent this last April
I saw him one last time
A lone bird, waiting on his branch
On the shore of Lake Bijou (jewel).

He was still, his heart breaking
Watching from morning until night
Until that Sunday when he was gone
From the shore of Lake Bijou (jewel).

Chorus

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