Thursday, October 18, 2012.
After almost a month in France I think I have finally established a routine; although there is still much to do (such as get internet), I think Saint-Etienne is beginning to feel more like home (in the sense of familiarity with the city).
This week marked my first official work week. It started bright and early with a meeting in Saint-Chamond for all language assistants in the Loire department. Mariaim and I, being the responsible young women that we are, made sure to give ourselves enough time to get to Saint-Chamond from Saint-Etienne, and find our way to the school where we would be meeting. We made it to the station just in time, bought our tickets and made our way to the train heading toward Lyon Part-Dieu. Little did we know that not all trains towards Part-Dieu made regular stops along the way, including Saint-Chamond. So as I sat there trying to enjoy my morning pain au chocolat and we chatted away, Mariam and I saw our stop come and go. A moment of panic followed when we realized our next stop wasn’t until Lyon, and that we were going to be late (if not completely miss) for our induction. I immediately called the program coordinator and told her the situation. To give you a better idea of the gravity of the mistake, imagine having to go to a meeting in Burlington from Hamilton, and ending up in Toronto during rush hour. As soon as we arrived in Lyon, I bought myself a pain au chocolat and a ticket back to Saint-Chamond. In the end we were over an hour late but it gave us a funny story to tell our colleagues when we arrived.
Tuesday, I made my way back to Saint-Chamond (luckily on the right train) and visited the three schools where I will be working this year. Everyone seemed very nice, although some of the teachers seem worried because none of them have ever had a language assistant. And the kids we super cute! I will be working with primary school aged children (mostly 7-11 year olds), they were so excited to see me and some of the classes had even looked up where I came from on the map. I am not sure who is more excited- them or me!
Yesterday was another early start in a village a little past Saint-Chamond. It was the day we were introduced to all the teachers we would be working with, when we discussed our responsibilities, and most importantly when we negotiated my schedule. This semester I am working everyday (except Wednesday). Because I am the first language assistant in my schools, it seems that the teachers were just as lost as I was. In the end we decided that I would mostly focus on talking about culture to the students, while they would focus on developing the grammatical components required by the curriculum. Trying to establish consensus in any group is always a difficult feat, but doing so in another language (and trying to adapt to a different educational system than the one I am familiar with) adds another level of difficulty to the process. Nevertheless, it was a very productive morning. I took the bus home with Rebecca (a fellow English assistant from Birmingham, England) and although we often have loads to talk about, neither of us said anything on the way home out of sheer exhaustion. Thursday, Friday and all next week I will be observing classes to familiarize myself with the students, and I will start my duties as an assistant after the autumn holidays.
On a more personal note, getting to meet a lot of new people (mostly assistants) has also been fun and exciting. I have mentioned Mariam before (she is the first person I met in France), but I also spend a decent amount of time with Maren. Maren, is a German language assistant, working at the lycee level. She has worked as an au pair in France previously (Paris and Lyon) and her level of French is exceptional. She is very friendly and is always finding things for us to do. Because she feels her French is stronger than her English, we mostly speak in French when we are all together. I hope that when I leave France, my level of French will be as good as hers.
Fleur is another assistant I have become friends with and I think she is just the coolest person alive! She is from Melbourne, Australia, and before moving to France to become an English assistant she had been practicing law for a number of years. I joked with her the first time I met her that I didn’t realize you could still do programs as a “real person”. Although she joked that she wasn’t sure you could either, I think it is so ballsy for her to move to a different country (with from what she has told me, a minimal study of and exposure to the French language). The other day we went to “fnac” (kind of like HMV but with books) and I bought a number of children’s books to read and practice my French. We also made a small detour to a toy store to look at some French board games to improve our French. She is very funny, and is always cracking me up with her funny stories and sayings.
Lastly, this week I finally got a new roommate. His name is Luis; he is a Spanish assistant from Venezuela (he is trained and works as a translator). He has told me he speaks four languages: Spanish, English, Portuguese and French. Although, I was hesitant to live with a male roommate he seems really cool. Our official language of business is English, but when we hang out with his friends we communicate in Spanish. Yesterday evening tested our language abilities as my friends and his friends met in our apartment. There were three languages simultaneously spoken in our apartment, and we tried to speak in all three depending on whom we were talking too. He seems like a very bright guy, and seems to be able to talk to you about any subject. Most importantly, though, he also made sure to get our Internet situation sorted out the day he moved in (we should have internet by sometime next week).
Apart from all the socializing with assistants, we find other ways to keep ourselves busy. Last weekend, Mariam and I went to Lyon to explore the city. I love Lyon. I think it is a decent (people sized) city, great food, less expensive than Paris, and very pretty. We wandered through old Lyon, ate some very savory crepes, and indulged in some delicious ice cream (by the end of the day I had had three scoops- lavender, salted caramel, and rose with rose petals). We wandered through many impressive churches, including a Cathedral and maybe a basilica (I think I have been to more churches in the past three weeks than in the past three years), and we people watched at the old roman theatre. We had decided to go at the last minute, and had not really planned anything to do, nevertheless, we had a great day of sightseeing and I feel we accomplished quite a lot. I am happy to live so close, and look forward to visiting the city many more times during the duration of my stay here in Saint-Etienne.
We have also made an effort to meet more locals, by attending the language café on Monday evenings. It is a pretty cool concept, every week a group of strangers meet to exchange languages. This week there were German, Spanish, French, and English speakers in attendance. We showed up pretty late, so unfortunately we missed most of it, but I am excited to go back to the Voltaire next week and chat with strangers.
Lastly, we have also been attending an English club for Stephanois (people from Saint-Etienne) that want to improve or practice their English. It is mostly elderly people but it is always quite fun, we talk about countless topics, including: art, politics, geography and etcetera. They have been quite welcoming, this one man and this lovely older couple have offered to give us a tour of Saint-Etienne and to share a little more with us about its history and culture. Often, when I attend cultural events such as these I like to pretend I am talking with my constituents, I find it makes it a lot easier to approach and talk to strangers. Next week after the club we are all going to dinner, so hopefully we will have the opportunity to spend more one-on-one with the club members.
There is so much more to share, but I feel this blog post is already quite lengthy so I will leave it at that…
Sights of Lyon, France