Maze Runner, Michelin Man Jackets and Christmas in November

On Tuesday, I actually felt proud of myself for having delivered my first real lesson, unaided! Most of the time, I take students for one-to-one sessions or help the teacher during her lessons. However, on Tuesday, I had to plan and deliver my very own lessons to about 30 12-year-olds. And it went really well. Of course, I knew that using a funny YouTube video would help keep their attention. And as it turns out, I did manage to have authority over any less-than-perfect behaviour. I don’t know how much of the vocabulary they will remember because I had to introduce them to a new topic, but it was a good foundation to build upon, and I am pleased with how it went.

And to top off a day of great achievement, I made myself a ruddy good cottage pie for dinner!

On Wednesday, I worked for a few hours and then met Sarah at the bus stop. We cooked a fabulous roast dinner at mine, then settled down to eat the creamy, chocolatey cakes she had brought for dessert. They were delicious! Afterwards, we ventured out to the cinema to watch the new Maze Runner film. I was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep up with it in French, but actually it was quite easy viewing – except the zombies, that was not welcomed by me! We finished off the evening with loads of chocolate, just how a Wednesday night should be spent.

Thursday was decidedly uneventful, so much so that I have almost forgotten what I did…

Despite it being my day off on Friday, I decided to get up early and catch the bus to Vire for the market. It was a typically French affair: cheese stalls aplenty, people lining up to get their daily fruit, vegetables and bread, and strange, puffy, Michelin-man jackets for sale. But before I even arrived at the market, something interesting happened. After about 15 minutes on the bus, it stopped in a small town called Sourdeval, where two women got on. They were English and clearly struggling to understand the bus driver, so I thought I would give them a hand. As we got to talking, not only did I find out that one of them was also called Nikki, but that they had lived in France for over 8 years! As I hopped from one cafe to another, then back to the bus, I continued to see the women and chat about how we all came to find ourselves in rural Normandy.

When I returned to Mortain, I opened up a package that my sister had given me a few weeks earlier. She had told me not to open it until I had a free day, with no plans. She had also told me not to get too excited about it. But it was worth getting excited about. The package contained a copy of Glamour Magazine, a sachet of Cadbury’s hot chocolate, a pocket Sudoku book, a face mask, and a family-sized bar of Galaxy. Now, that is DEFINITELY worth getting excited about.

Saturday. I made the brave step into one of the many local hairdressers and hoped for the best. After having seen the results of the client before me, I was not hopeful. Thankfully, the hairdresser did not leave me with a wild, red bob, so all was well. I managed to successfully have my hair highlighted, trimmed and straightened, AND do a fair amount of useless chit-chat. When I left the salon, I went to check out the little Christmas market that had popped up in Mortain. It was a bit strange really, because it is still November, and as I write this, the market has already been taken down. Apparently, this strange arrangement is due to the fact that Mortain does not own its own market chalets, so they had to be borrowed from another town nearby. Nevertheless, the market was quite sweet; especially the ponies pulling children along in their sleighs.

So there we are, one more week over. There isn’t anything to write about today because it’s Sunday, in France, so naturally everything has gone into hibernation. However, after the market I am feeling more in the Christmas spirit, so I’m settling down to watch Elf.

A plus tard

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It’s been 8 weeks!

I realise that I haven’t written a blog for about 6 weeks, which is totally UNACCEPTABLE. Apologies to anyone whose daily entertainment depended on my exciting life here in France.

A lot has happened in those six weeks. I can’t go into detail on everything, but here’s a quick summary:

  • 12th-18th October – my sister lived with me for a while in our flat in Vire. Highlights included: walking around the cascades and seeing La Petite Chappelle in Mortain, going to a chocolate shop in Avranches. Low points: being racially insulted by an old woman who thought I couldn’t understand her, and having to wait 20 minutes to get served in an EMPTY bar.
  • 19th-25th October – my sister’s boyfriend came to visit. Highlights: going to Le Mont St Michel and Deauville where I met up with my friend Rachel. Low points: eating a galette (which I would liken to a chewy brown net curtain) and getting a swollen ankle from a mysterious bite.
  • 26th October – 1st November – my sister and I went to visit our family in Brittany, which was a long drive but a lovely trip. High points: beating my 11-year-old (almost pro footballer) cousin at the beautiful game. Low points: None really.
  • 2nd– 9th November – I spent this week “working” and my sister returned home. High points: meeting up with Sarah for a day out in Vire; attending an art class. Low points: discovering that Mortain is the smallest town where you will always bump into someone you know; being leered at by old men ALL THE TIME.
  • 10th– 15th November – I went home for a few days and it was fantastic! I have never before appreciated carpet so much. Or central heating. Or spicy food. High points: seeing almost all of my friends and family; going out in Bath for cocktails and dancing with a 50th birthday party; watching my sister beat my Nan at Scrabble. Oh, and getting a surprise massage and facial. Low points: none whatsoever.
  • 16th November –  There was NO HEATING AGAIN. I was back to wearing a coat indoors, and making regular trips to the secretary to get them to sort it out. Obviously, other more important things took place. A minute’s silence was observed to remember those who were killed in Paris on Friday night. The teachers also were expected to discuss the events with their students in case they had any concerns. They are certainly more afraid than before, even though Paris is so far away.  I was asked to explain the UK’s reaction since I was there when it happened. I was also asked if it was difficult to get back to France because the borders were closed. It wasn’t difficult, but there were more security checks than usual, for obvious reasons.
  • 20th-22nd November – I went away for the weekend to Caen, with Rachel. To get there, I hitched a lift with a Blablacar, which took me to the outskirts of Caen, but I really wanted to get to the centre. As luck would have it, one of the other passengers offered to give me a lift from that point, as he lived in the centre. His wife dropped me straight at the hotel, whereupon I met Rachel, and we began an evening of pizza, wine and dancing in Caen’s clubs and bars. On Saturday night, we found this cute little Italian restaurant for dinner. If you ordered one particular dish, the chef would come out and flambé it in a giant parmesan. It was quite spectacular!

Who knows what the next few weeks will hold? Not me. But I will try to write it down here before another 6 weeks has passed!

à bientôt

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 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!

5 Reasons to be Positive this Autumn

It’s that time of year again. Whether you are returning to school or university, the beginning of Autumn can rush in with a great deal of dread. Homework, essays, exams plus wet and windy weather do not make for a happy combination. With that in mind, here are my top 5 reasons to be positive right now:

  1. New stationery. WHSmith is doing a 20% off deal at the moment, so you can jazz up your folders and desk with some new gear. For me, a pretty notebook always makes the prospect of another year of lectures much more inviting.
  2. Well, the weather outside is frightful, but the TV is so delightful. Everyone knows that summer television is terrible, probably because no one is around to watch it. Come Autumn, however, you will never be stuck for entertainment on a rainy day with the likes of Strictly, The X Factor and GBBO.
  3. New modules. Even if you are continuing with the same course(s) as last year, the chances are that you will have new modules or topics to cover. That means they will be more interesting. Well, they could be more interesting…they will be different.
  4. Student Discount. Just when you thought you were going to have to live on rice and beans like a contestant on I’m a Celeb, NUS Extra stepped in and gave you 10% off your groceries at the Co-op. Plus other useful discounts like Railcards, Superdrug and, most importantly, Dominos.
  5. The season of goodwill. It’s only 113 days until Christmas. Just saying.