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Posts Tagged ‘French Assistantship’

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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Guess what returned to the Haute Savoie last weekend? Cold weather and SNOW! ūüė¶ On Saturday my roommate and I watched in disbelief as the white stuff fell lightly outside our appartment’s picture window. Thankfully it wasn’t enough to stick, but the temperature is still hovering around¬†0 degrees Celcius, and a chilling wind has arrived.

Earlier that same day, Lynsey and I¬†tried to go to Chambery, but thanks to a little mishap with the train (our fault – we read the board wrong), we ended up just staying in Annecy and doing a bit of shopping. It turned out to be quite a fun day, though all the things we bought are for warmer weather…

Later on in the evening we attended a Senegalese dinner put on by an international club here in town. The food was delicious and we were treated to African drumming for dessert! Spoke lots of French with real French people!

After church on Sunday, we took a train to Aix-les-Bains to visit the famous Hautecombe Abbey. We ended up riding straight into a

Aix-les-Bains

sizable snowfall, walking almost all the way to the Grand Port to catch the boat that would take us across the lake to the Abbey, and then realizing that our extra-long power walk had been in vain (we still had a long way to go when the boat’s departure time passed and there’s only one sailing a day, three days a week – it’s not quite high tourist season yet). At least he snow finally stopped falling by the time we reached the lake, so we snapped a few photos and stopped at the McD’s on the way back to warm up.

At McDonald’s I was the first to order and chose a large coffee just to warm up my bones a bit. But to my surprise, the guy behind the counter handed me my coffee along with a bouquet of yellow lillies! I wasn’t sure what to say or think, so I just said, “Merci,” and walked away from the counter to find a table. Everyone was staring at me (no one else had recieved flowers), so I wasn’t sure if I had been the hundreth customer, the butt of a practical joke, or if I had just met THE most forward Frenchman ever. lol. After spending the next 20 minutes still quite puzzled and trying to avoid awkward stares from the other customers, we noticed another woman walk to a table with a bouquet. “What is going on?” we all wondered. Two days later I am still not sure, but I do know that fresh flowers look quite nice in my room!

After McDonald’s Lynsey discovered she had lost her phone, so we backtracked all over the place and even listened in the garbage can at McD’s to see if we could hear it ring. Unfortunately it seems to be lost for good.

Thankfully we had better weather the next day on our day-trip to Chambery. The sun was shining brightly which made the chill more bearable. It was a relaxing visit – we just wandered around, got pizza for lunch and visited the local museum which showcased the history of the area. This year is the 150th anniversary of the Savoie

Chambery Old Town

region joining the rest of France, so it was nice to see a few special exhibits as well. The teachers tell me I’m doing well on my quest to explore the region and that I seem to have covered all the bases. Now to explore the rest of France! Did I mention how much I love European train travel??? ūüôā

French cities I’ve visited so far:

Paris, Nice, St. Paul de Vence, Annecy and the villages surrounding the lake  (Talloires, etc.) , Grenoble, Chamonix, Albertville, Lyon, Aix-les-Bains, Chambery, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Avignon, Montpellier, Arles, Ales, Nimes, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Lourdes, Albi, and many more to go!

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When I was in kindergarten, the teacher asked everyone in the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was at the front of the line and had no idea what to say, so I chose the first thing I could think of. “I want to be a mommy,” I said.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the teacher and her aide cooed and ahh-ed. Apparently they thought it was a cute answer, and I was¬†pleased¬†with their reaction. But then all the other kids started revealing what they wanted to be (a movie star, singer, teacher, firefighter, garbage man, etc.). Their ideas sounded way better and I immediately wanted to change my response. But the teacher said no, and as a 5-yr-old, I wasn’t one to argue. At kindergarten graduation a few months later, I received my first experience with public humiliation when the teachers made me dress up as “a mom in the army with seven children” (they literally¬†put¬†army fatigues over my clothes and made me push a hot-pink baby stroller overflowing with plastic baby-dolls across the stage).

I learned a lot from that situation – namely: Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. But if you don’t eventually speak up, you’ll never get what you really want.

Finally 18 year later, I’ve learned how to do just that.

I must say that growing up and “finding myself” along the way has been quite an interesting process. Some people go through it quicker than others, but at the moment I’m perfectly content with meandering through life and stopping to smell the roses. Who knows where I’ll end up working after this assistantship and what life will lead me to become.

Don’t worry Ms. Reagan, I still want to be a mom one day. But tutoring 4-year olds, listening to friends who are starting to have children, and remembering all the dirty diapers I changed when my youngest sister¬†was¬†a baby¬†reminds me that¬†that role is¬†far-off in¬†my future. I still have a few selfish dreams to fulfill – ones that¬†aren’t quite as¬†easy with a screaming¬†kid in your arms. But¬†it is nice to realize¬†that, once I am ready for motherhood,¬†I don’t have to give up all my other dreams too. I can still be a movie star, singer,¬†teacher, firefighter, garbage man, etc. I’ll star in¬†my family’s¬†home videos, sing my kids to sleep and teach them to be strong, kind individuals. I’ll¬†break out the fire extinguisher when the¬†[insert household¬†item or appliance]¬†catches on fire, and take out the garbage¬†if it tries to date my daughter/son ūüėȬ†I can be all of these things, a mom,¬†and more. But best of all, I can always be me.

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Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to type tonight (busy putting the finishing touches on a Mardi Gras lesson – complete with a Second Line dance demonstration! – for my coll√®ge students tomorrow), but I wanted to tell you about today. In the U.S., it’s Groundhog Day, where the groundhog comes out of his hole and hopefully does not see his shadow. If he does, he “gets scared” and crawls back in, meaning 6 more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, spring is soon on it’s way!

The name “Groundhog Day” is not well-known in France, but, like the French “galette du rois” and the New Orleans “king cake,” there is a tradition that is very similar. Today is the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, a “feast to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus.” (About.com) The French call today la Chandeleur, F√™te de la Lumi√®re (not to be confused with Lyon’s F√™te de la Lumi√®re celebration – they’re different) or jour des cr√™pes.

So in the tradition of trying out traditions, Lynsey and I made cr√™pes this evening. I’m not sure how hers turned out (I had class this evening so she made hers and just saved some batter for me), but mine were quite yummy, and I even managed to pull off a fabulous cr√™pe flip into the air and back in the pan (first time!) with my left (non-writing) hand while holding a coin in the other. According to tradition, this means that my family will be prosperous for the rest of the year. Let’s hope it works!

Listed below are a few “Chandeleur” (Candlemas) sayings (again thanks to About.com). I’m not sure if the American groundhog saw his shadow today, but there’s a bit of snow on the ground in Annecy right now so I guess that doesn’t bode well for a quick spring. Oh well. One can dream, right? lol

√Ä la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens

√Ä la Chandeleur, le jour cro√ģt de deux heures
On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours

Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte
Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure
Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour

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Another week has gone by and that means today officially marks the half-way point of my time in Europe! It also means I am more than half-way done with my assistantship (I finish teaching at the end of April). It is incredible that time has passed by so quickly – it seems just one month ago I was cavorting around Switzerland on a weekend whims, trying to figure out all my paperwork and still getting to know all of the other assistants in Annecy. But no, tomorrow is February 1st, and the days aren’t moving any slower.

Things have been pretty busy for me lately. I wrote another article for the newspaper about keeping in touch

Contemplating Beauty - Lake Lugano, Switzerland

long-distance (I think it’s still online if you want to check it out – http://ponchatoula.com/ptimes/),¬† and am wrapping up a story for the magazine about Annecy and it’s quest for the 2018 Olympics (which will hopefully be published in the March issue). But in the spirit of “live life to the fullest,” I decided to fork over some time (and money) to attend a cultural event this weekend – an evening at the Lyon Opera. On Saturday evening I boarded a bus at the lycee with a bunch of other teachers and wondered what was in store during the two-hour journey. As a music minor in college, I’ve studied and have been to my fair share of operas – not all of them interesting. But I am happy to say that the music in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” was mesmorizing – sung in Italian with French subtitles (which I understood for the most part). The costumes were also beautiful, and it put us in such a good mood that¬† we didn’t even mind our horrible seats (we were practically on the side of the stage and had to lean over in our seats to see what was happening in the up-stage, right-hand corner).

Speaking of singing, choir is still going well. I’m really glad I joined – it’s so convenient (right next to my apartment), and I get to sing + have a free French pronunciation lesson each week. I’m also enjoying learning all of the mass parts in French – it changes things up a bit – and the director asked me to lead the agnus dei at mass yesterday. Even this tiny bit of cantoring makes me feel good – a bit more like I’m back at home ūüôā

On a more serious note, I took a full stock of my revenues/expenses for the month of January (haha, yes I’ve become slightly obsessive about finances – I actually enjoy making spreadsheets…) and am happy to say that even though the time period included all normal expenses, the tail end of my Christmas trip (starting in Chamonix and coming back to

Sporting my new faux-leather jacket from the "soldes"

Annecy), a weekend trip to Besancon, 2 ski day forfaits + equipment rental, the purchase of 2nd-hand ski boots + helmet and goggles, the evening trip to the opera in Lyon (opera tickets + bus), and a well-worth it last minute trip to the January “soldes” (“sales” in English), I still managed to spend only 140 euros more than I earned for the month!

You may not think that’s a good thing, but don’t worry. I’ve got it covered. lol. For comparison purposes (and anyone considering being an assistant), my monthly take-home pay from the assistantship is only about 800 euros (after social security is taken out), so I strongly advise coming to France with a little cushion of cash saved from previous jobs so you don’t get stressed out over money issues. And always watch what you spend!

Note: This month also included my CAF refund from November and December’s rent. This miracle check allowed for a little extra spending leeway!

Finally, the countdown to my real-life re-enactment of the opening scene of “Love Actually” : 12 days. I love the entire movie but this scene is one of my favorites – think airport – reuniting – hugs and happy tears. I’ve never been so excited for Valentine’s Day!

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I just received great news about the CAF: I finally received it! lol. Yay for housing rebates ūüôā But, surprise, surprise. Along with the good news they sent me a separate letter asking for MORE PAPERWORK. Ha. It never ends…

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Before leaving the U.S. my parents jokingly told me that I couldn’t come home without learning how to cook. Well, now that snow covers the ground and I spend more time indoors, I am happy to say that France, Meryl Streep, and Julia Child have inspired me to do just that. So far my progress has been in baby steps – the highlights include a well-received sweet potato and marshmallow casserole for Thanksgiving and helping my friend whip up a rather fine quiche for Christmas dinner. But finally, yesterday, I tried my hand at a French favorite, cr√™pes! I’m happy to say that slowly but surely I’m learning (and liking what I make). So here’s to the beginning of a long, fulfilling journey through the ups and downs of cooking.¬† Bon app√©tit!

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