Year Abroad: Days 12 and 13

Saturday morning was pretty chilled. At 2.30, my colleague and her daughters picked me up and we drove to St Hilaire. It’s much bigger than Mortain. It even has a nightclub. The younger daughter was driving because she is still learning and needed to practice. In France, you can learn to drive before you are 18 but have to wait until that age to get your license.

Our trip to St Hilaire was mainly for food shopping. I bought a few things including some cream cakes and what I thought was washing detergent. I think now that it was actually fabric softener. So, at least, if my clothes aren’t clean, they are silky soft.

On the return journey, we saw a wedding party. The bride, groom, and guests were standing outside a church whose bells were ringing. It seemed just like a wedding in England and was a lovely sight.

Below are my thoughts from Sunday morning:

Trust this to happen on a Sunday when no one is around, the day before my sister moves country when no one will be able to sort this out. I’ve been having trouble with my computer for weeks now, but foolishly decided against getting a new one.  It kept cutting out on me, but I thought, it hasn’t done it in a while, it’ll be fine. But no. Now when I’m actually in France, now when I am reliant on the internet to stay in touch with the world, now it fails.

I phoned my dad and he told me to take the battery out and let it cool down. Luckily that worked and it seems okay for now –  but I definitely know what is on my Christmas list.

There isn’t much else to say about Sunday, apart from the fact that my sister and mum are arriving tomorrow and I am SO excited! My sister is coming to live with me for a couple of months and I think we are going to have such a good time. By the time I write a new post, she’ll be here!


Year Abroad: Days 10 and 11

Day 10

I didn’t feel very well on Thursday. I woke up without a voice because I was dehydrated, I ached all over from the running the day before, and I felt generally exhausted – so I remedied myself with strepsils and chocolate. In the morning, I did some work and put together a presentation for the 3emes (year 9s) but little else. I didn’t have a class until 3.30, so it was a little boring. I went to the secretary and have now definitely signed my process-verbal-d’installation, so I will get paid. I also requested an advance because I have to pay rent for my flat in Vire, among other costs, and it is expensive to transfer money from pounds to euros online.

I had my one and only class of the day at 3.30 and it was okay. It was a class of 4emes (13 years old) and they had to make a leaflet on a country in the European union. None of them got very far because they were mostly messing around, but some of them did ask me questions about grammar and translation, with which I was happy to help.  What did annoy me was that I won’t see that class or my other Thursday class until November because of class trips and other things. So now I have another day off per week, with nothing to do!

At about 6.30 I went for a drink with some colleagues. It turns out that ‘cider and black’ is a totally foreign concept here. I think the closest you can get is a ‘Monaco’ – beer and grenadine, which is very sweet but quite pleasant. Nevertheless, I enjoyed that and then went back to the pavillon and cooked myself some dinner. The teachers staying in the pavillon were amused by my baked beans and quorn meat supplement because those things don’t exist outside of the UK, and certainly not in such a carnivorous country as France.

Day 11

Stage d’accueil, Caen, 9 October 2015

At 6.30am I got up because I couldn’t sleep with nerves, then a colleague picked me up outside the school at 7.15, it was freezing and before even the dawn. She drove me to Vire, which took only 20 minutes, dropped me at the train station from where I caught my lift (the car share I mentioned before).

It was a full car but a nice journey nonetheless; I think I will do more like this in the future. After about an hour’s drive, I was dropped at a bus stop in Caen. As luck would have it, I heard some English spoken and it turned out that the people speaking were going to the same place as me, so I tagged along.

When we arrived there was a breakfast prepared, which consisted of coffee, cake, and fruit. I hate coffee, but on this occasion it was necessary! I had a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a friend from Exeter smiling at me. It was lovely to see her again and the assistant from St Hilaire.

The first presentation was about the region (Normandy) and important people in the academies, all in French of course. Many of the assistants volunteered to speak and their language was so good  – one guy even had a southern French accent. I think he had definitely done an Erasmus year before.

The assistants came from all over the world, but they split us into Anglophones (American, British, Irish, Australian, Canadian) and other (Italian, German, Hispanic etc) and we went to classes. I found it quite annoying that the classes were separated into ‘college’ and ‘lycee’, meaning that those of us working in both could only be trained in one.

My friends and I ended up in the ‘college’ class, where we had to come up with ideas for lessons and activities. It is safe to say that we were not prepared at all. To be honest apart from it being nice to go to Caen and meet the other assistants, I didn’t think much of the day. Or the dinner. As three vegetarians, we just ate a measly lunch of mashed potato and salad.

After we finished, I waited a while to be picked up and taken to the Mairie in Caen where I would get a lift back to Mortain. The Mairie (town hall) is quite stunning and I made sure to take some photos, but, unfortunately, I can’t upload them without wi-fi. I was a bit worried about finding the right people and car to get a lift back, so I asked some strangers and they were very kind actually and waited with me until I went. I think that was because I looked like a lost child but hey, whatever works. I tripped over twice saying goodbye and thanks to them.

When I arrived in Vire and paid my 2 euros for the lift (so cheap!), my colleague’s daughter picked me up. That was quite amusing because we were both texting her mum saying ‘what does she look like?’ when, in fact, we were standing next to each other! She studies languages (including English) at the University of Caen and is about my age. By this point, I was so tired that I could not be bothered to speak French, but she said she wanted to practice her English anyway.

At their house, I met my colleague’s other daughter, their cat and their dog, Cookie. Cookie was very docile, but the cat jumped on me at the dinner table and dug his claws in. My colleague made us some ‘Breton Galettes’, which is a traditional dish from Bretagne that I could liken to pancakes. We washed it down with a few glasses of cidre, which made for a very pleasant evening.

I’m not sure yet what the weekend has in store, but I will be sure to write about whatever happens.

A plus

Year Abroad: Day 9

Before I started work yesterday, I got talking to a philosophy teacher in the staffroom, and he offered to give me lifts to work on Wednesdays. This is great news because, as I’ve said before, public transport doesn’t really exist here.

The first class I attended were doing an exercise about heroes, which included people like Brad Pitt and Barack Obama. It seems that a lot of the English taught here is Americanised, for example, they say copybook instead of exercise-book. And ‘guys’ is said a lot.

One of my colleagues said that the older the pupils get the quieter and calmer and less willing to talk they become, which I found to be true. I thought this was very odd because at home, the kids at school got louder and more confident as they got older. Honestly, sometimes trying to get the older ones to talk here is like pulling teeth.

Later on, my housemate came to find me and said some of the teachers at the college were looking for me – oops!  There had been some miscommunication between the staff and I had missed an observation class. However, all was not lost. I made it to the second one, and the younger kids were much more willing to speak English and to come and ask me for help. Weird. Somewhat awkwardly, I did have to correct the teacher again on her pronunciation of ‘Illinois’ (don’t sound the ‘s’), ‘Kansas’ (sound the ‘s’) and maple syrup (the ‘y’ sounds like an ‘i’). I didn’t want to undermine her by correcting her in front of the children, but she said feel free to do it, that’s why I’m here.

In the afternoon, I met up with another assistant, based in St Hilaire, which is about 15km away. She came by bus to Mortain, and we got a drink and some chips. I thought the barman said ‘en bouteille?’ as in, would you like your drink in a bottle? He actually said ‘emporter’ which means, to take away? I said yes, we sat outside in the cold. Oops.

She told me that her journey to France has been really difficult – in fact, we had both missed the same ferry last week. She also had a lot of stories that I won’t repeat here, but it does show that a year abroad can never be dull. Even after one week.  One of the stories I will mention, however, is that one of the teachers where she is working died just before she arrived. What a frightening way to start a new job, with the air of loss and grief all around.

Anyway, we went for another drink and got to know each other. She was lovely, so hopefully we will stay in touch this year.

At about 6.30, I did something that I never do, and that I may never do again. I went for a run with some of my colleagues. First of all, I put my foot in it a little. I happened to mention that I met another assistant and that she had told me about the death in her school. One of my colleagues burst into tears. She knew the lady who died and hadn’t been informed. It had been over a week. I felt awful. It turns out that it is quite common for teachers to switch between the schools in this area, perhaps because it is quite small, so that is how they knew each other.

I was relieved when we began running because that appeared to take my colleague’s mind off of the bad news. We managed 2 miles in about 20 minutes, so it wasn’t fast, but that was enough for me. I am not a runner by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s where I’ll leave it for this post, A +

Year Abroad: Day 8

Last night I managed to find and arrange a ‘covoiturage’ (car-share) for Friday so that I can get to Caen for my training day. Car-sharing is really quite popular in France because it is much cheaper than driving all that way by yourself and it is more sociable. Apart from those things, it is the best way for me because the buses are not regular and they take much longer than driving. Now that I have a lift there and back, I have been able to cancel the hotel that I panic-booked earlier in the week and breathe a little easier.

I again spent the morning in the staff room, writing my blog and trying to understand what my colleagues are saying around me. Some of them speak very quickly, with quite strong accents so it can be quite difficult to know what’s going on. I have found that saying ‘ouais’ and ‘ca va aller’ goes a long way to making it look like I understand.

At 11 I observed a year 11 lesson with 8 students. As I understand it, they are taking a Bac Litteraire, which means that they have about 8 hours of English lessons per week, whereas the ones taking a Bac euro only have 3 hours because they focus on other subjects. This class was generally nice, even though they thought I was only 16 myself! Some of the girls even invited me to eat lunch with them, which was kind, but I had to cut it short to attend another lesson.

At 1 pm, I went to a BTS class. These students have already done their Bac (A Level) so were 18+. They study a range of subjects, including health, cookery, law and English in order to get a job in social work. Most of them were not very good at English, but they gave it a go. One awkward moment was when they asked if I could speak French, I said yes of course – they were embarrassed because they now knew that I understood very well what they were saying about me at the beginning of the class!

I had another BTS class at 2, but with younger students and one at 3 with older ones again. There again I knew some of the kids were talking about me. I think because I look younger than I am, I feel a bit like I am also back at school, which wasn’t exactly the most welcoming environment for me. I might try to look a bit older for my next lessons!

In all the classes, the students had to ask me questions about myself. The tea question came up again, as well as what differences there are between France and the UK. I said that kissing when you greet someone (la bise) was quite strange to me, so Marie said to make sure they did do it! They also asked a lot about where I had travelled – I’ve been all around Europe, to Thailand, and to Canada and the USA several times. I didn’t realise that that amount of travel was not common in France. Many of the students had never left the country or been on a plane in their lives. They tend to stay in France for their holidays, which might be fun for them, but I couldn’t imagine never seeing the world, especially when it is so easy to travel nowadays.

In other news, I think I have now completely sorted out my Caen trip for Friday, which is a huge relief. I have most of tomorrow and Thursday off, so maybe I will actually go and explore the town I am living in. Although, from what the students told me earlier, I shouldn’t expect much. They all said Mortain was rubbish and that there is nothing to do! They also asked whether I had actually chosen to come here which, of course, I hadn’t, so it doesn’t bode well. However, one girl said her sister runs a bar in town that stays open most days until 1 am, so maybe I will check that out.

Anyway, this has been a long post so I’ll leave it there.

A plus!

Year Abroad: I made it to one week!

Wow. I can’t believe I’ve made it to a week already. (Just 11 more to go before the Christmas holidays!)

I didn’t achieve much this morning; partly because I didn’t have any work to do, partly because the weather was awful, and partly because I had a terrible stomach ache. I spent the majority of the morning making the most of the wi-fi in the staff room, instead of freezing to death with an Ethernet cable in the lodge.

It’s a bit difficult to write a blog post because nothing remarkable has happened so far, but I do want to keep this up every day. I think it will be useful for me to look back on when I have to start writing essays about intercultural competence for university and also as a personal memento of my time abroad.

All I had planned for today was lunch, then observing a couple of English lessons, and then I may go to a yoga class in the evening but I’m not sure about that. I have just noticed that I have a locker in the staff room – excellent news, now I will receive my post!

I have started writing my CV in French – it’s part of the portfolio that I have to put together for university and I know it’s a bit early to begin it now, but what else can you do on a rainy Monday? I really should start something productive, but it’s hard motivating myself at the moment. I have been listening to a bit of French radio, and then writing it down to see what I can remember, but at the moment it is much too fast for me to recall what was said. I think I have the gist, though.

After spending a while in the staff room, I went for lunch at the ‘self’ with a colleague. There was a bottle of Merlot on the table for lunch – typical! Then we had a meeting with the English teachers about when I will be working and with whom. I now have a pretty good timetable, meaning that my earliest start is 10 am and I have Fridays off – so I can go travelling and/or lie in.

I observed two lessons this afternoon, in which the students asked me questions about myself and then I just watched how their lessons work. This is so that I can plan what I teach them next week. My favourite question that they asked me was, ‘Do you like tea?’ because, of course, as an English person I must like tea! It was a bit awkward observing the lessons because I kept wanting to answer the questions when the students didn’t want to speak and even to correct the teacher… but I had to keep quiet mostly.

Overall, today has been good. I am looking forward to working again tomorrow and then it will be one day closer to when my sister arrives!

A demain!

Year Abroad: Days 5 and 6 in Caen

One of my colleagues picked me up yesterday at about 5pm and we headed straight to Caen, stopping off to get some food for her cat but, in typical French style, the shop was closed. When we arrived in Caen we went to my colleague’s sister’s apartment, where I met her and her partner. They prepared a lovely dinner for us, which consisted of French cheeses, bread, quiche, wine and martini. We talked a lot about the differences between France and England, especially universities and healthcare (the sister is a doctor).

After dinner, my colleague and I went to her friend’s apartment, where we watched the rugby with some of her friends. Following a poor show by England against Australia, we decided to play some games. This included translating Ring of Fire into French. At about 12 we headed out to a bar in town and we all had a ‘Diabolik’, which is a flaming shot that tastes like caramel. Next we went to another bar which was beach-themed; it even had sand all over the floor. The only problem with that place was that it only seemed to play about 5 songs, and one round of ‘Scream & Shout’ by Will I Am and Britney is enough for me.

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Me and the girls in Caen

So we left that place and walked to a club that closes at 7am. 7AM. Caen isn’t exactly Ibiza, so that was a surprise for me. I managed to stay until a respectable 5am and then went back for some much-needed sleep. Aside from the English music in the club, what interested me was that they had breathalyser tests on the bar. I suppose it can’t be a bad idea for the Designated Driver to check if they are over the limit. Oh, two more things to mention: French men are very keen to approach girls, and not so keen to let it go, and I can’t understand French in a nightclub.

This morning (Sunday) was difficult, and I am still absolutely exhausted, so that means the rest of today is going to be spent watching Friends. And I am not sorry at all.

A plus!

Year Abroad: Day 4

Today I woke up later than yesterday and purposely stayed in bed for ages reading French Glamour. When I got too hungry to carry on, I went and found some breakfast.

The trip to Caen next week was stressing me out and, although it is still not completely sorted, the situation has improved. I went to the Tourist Office in Mortain where a kind lady printed me a bus schedule and booked me a hotel in Caen. It’s a bit expensive for one night, but I don’t see what else I can do. When I was walking back I thought I would pop into an art gallery called ‘L’Atelier de la Lune’ because someone told me that it is run by an English couple. That was the best decision I made today. The woman there was very chatty and welcoming. She has been living in France for about 20 years and used to work at the school where I am working. We exchanged numbers and she said I could call her or have coffee if I get lonely. She also said that the best word to remember was ‘absolument’ because a lot of the older people around here speak in patois, which is really hard to understand, so you just have to agree with what they say! In fact, one of the teachers here disagreed with the ‘absolument’ part but even she said that she can’t understand her grandparents when they speak in patois.

I met up with some teachers for lunch at the ‘self’ (school restaurant), which was nice. My meal consisted of only vegetables and couscous, but it filled me up anyway. I asked the girls about the funny way that French people say ‘Bonjour’ to everyone when they enter a room because it is a new phenomenon for me. They said it would be rude not to do it, even when you get on the bus! That’s going to be difficult for me, with my very British sense of personal space.

Next I went for a coffee in the staff room. I didn’t realise that coffee meant a tiny little espresso-type drink, so I loaded it with sugar and hoped for the best. (On a side note, there is wi-fi in the staff room, hallelujah!) Whilst having coffee, another teacher said she could drive me to work when I move to Vire, which is fantastic news. I must find out her name.

This afternoon I went to the bank, where I successfully opened an account and got insurance for my room. I think it’s a bit unfair that I have to insure a property on the school site, but that’s the law. I had most bank-related vocabulary, except:

Contactless payment paiement sans contact

Chip and pin systeme de carte a puce a code confidentiel

Can I deposit some cash? Deposer sur un compte

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How do I view my account balance? Comment regarder le bilan de mon compte?

ATM machine = un guichet automatique de banque (GAB)

Another thing to add is that I am exhausted. It seems that having to think about everything I say and do is wearing me out – and I haven’t even started working yet.

Anyway, I’m going to a rock-climbing class tonight, so I’d better leave it there for now.