I accomplished a lot in terms of the nitty gritty paperwork this week. I set up a bank account (and I even got a 2 for 1 movie card for referring someone! so all movies are half price for me until December!), got a Pass Navigo (like a clipper card, and I get reimbursed for half of the cost by my school since I need to use it to commute), and got a phone! I also completed all the forms that my school required me to fill out, and that will enable me to get paid (very important), and I got a school ID card so that I can eat lunch on the cheap in the cafeteria. The only thing left for me to do is to send my OFII form to the correct office (this will complete the visa validation process) so that I don’t get deported after 3 months, and so that I can get a French social security number. Then, I will have health insurance and will pay much less for any doctors visits or medication. After that I don’t need to worry about any of the stressful paperwork stuff.
This week was my first week of classes. I am scheduled every day, but at different times. I met my 2 classes on Monday, met with a teacher I am working with on Tuesday, had a training on Wednesday, and met 2 more classes on Thursday and Friday. Next week will be the first time I meet with my classes on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Most of my classes are 14-16 years old. In my first class, they had an oral test so my only “teaching” was to introduce myself and speak with them in English (the ones who weren’t taking a test). They were a little shy at first (one girl would/could not say a single word when I asked her a question! – I intend to crack that shell by the end of the year!) but after a few minutes I looked around and they were all gathered around me, very close, staring at me! It was fun to talk to them and hear their accents and learn new French words.
I also have a group of older students (19-20 years) who are doing a 2 year program called BTS. I have one group of first years and one group of second years. It is basically a mixture of a US community college and a US trade school. It is for students who have lower grades, or who do not want to attend university, so there is a sort of focus/major to each program. For instance, I am teaching one group that is in the “Optics” program, involving lasers and such, and another that are training to be secretaries in businesses. Other focuses are cooking, restaurant management and serving, or teaching. Not every high school has every one of these categories, usually just a few. It will be challenging for me because the teachers I am working with ask me to help plan lessons, so for the Optics class I have to find an educational video about lasers!
The BTS group I met on Monday do not seem to be happy in the program and some were disrespectful toward the teacher. However, they were nothing compared to some of the kids I grew up with in the Oakland Public Schools, so I think(/hope) I will be able to handle any attitude they give me! I think I charmed them a little, so hopefully they will come to class and do the assignments.
It is interesting to learn about the differences between the American and French education systems. I am also curious to see how and where the teachers here are educated, because some of them have interesting methods…more on that after I have observed more. 🙂
In all the classes I met, we did an hour of introduction, where I was basically on the hot seat! They could ask me anything they wanted as long as it was in English. The teachers would write down certain words on the board that I used that were new vocabulary words for the class, like Oakland, avocado (different from the French word, avocat, for lawyer!), choir, and bake. Among many things I found amusing is the fact that one question that every class asked me over and over was why I came to France. To me, it seems obvious, because it is a fantasy for many Americans, but they couldn’t really comprehend why I would choose France and why I would choose to teach! They all laughed when I told them it was my lifelong dream to live in Paris! I think when they grow up and travel and then return home they will understand…
It was also funny to hear their impressions of the US. I would estimate that 30% have been to the US, but mostly to New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. A few had been to the Bay. They mentioned Texas, ribs, and country music, and I always had to explain that not everyone in America is obese! (One girl wouldn’t believe me and just said over and over, they are all fat. I had to let it go.) I was glad when one student asked what food is an American specialty. After explaining that it differs by region, I told them about the avocados, fresh produce, and Mexican food that CA is famous for! I also mentioned wine from Napa, but I felt stupid bringing this up as we are IN FRANCE.
They were also shocked when I told them that I estimated that only 10% of high school students in America smoke cigarettes. They estimate that 80% of French high school students smoke. I believe them, because no matter what time of day, you look to the front of the school, and they are all grouped outside, smoking. Apparently many of them start when they are 14.
Au pair work
I moved in to my new home on Wednesday! It was so exciting to get out of that hostel and into my own room! I have a huge room in the family’s house in Boulogne Billancourt, which is on the southwest edge of Paris. In approximately two weeks, I will move into the apartment that they showed me. Here are some pics of my room:
On Thursday and Friday afternoons, Myrtille (the mother I work for) and I picked up the kids from school and went through all the activities that I will do with them alone starting on Monday. It’s quite simple and they are so cute and well-behaved that it hardly feels like work. I pick them up from their school around 4:45, walk them ten minutes back home.
Then they have a snack (usually bread with some chocolate on it, a few cookies, or fruit). Then I help them do their homework – this is going to help me learn more French because they are learning things I was learning in my French classes in middle and high school! They also have English homework which is much easier for me to help them with. I correct their accents and pronunciation, and help define the words for them in French so they know what they are saying (again, very helpful for my French education, as I have to translate!). After homework, we play and then they take showers. Then we eat dinner. Myrtille cooks and I usually help her and then clean up a bit with her as well. Fabrice works late so he doesn’t eat with us.
Speaking of food, I have been eating very well here! Breakfast is toasted baguette (bought fresh every day from one of two bakeries around the corner – one is open on weekends and one is open on weekdays so that you can always get bread!) with butter, jam, or honey and coffee or tea. Lunch I eat out or at school. Dinner is some sort of veggie (radishes with a touch of butter and salt – SO good, or cucumbers dressed in yogurt and mustard, or just a normal lettuce salad) with an entree like baked eggs, potato gratin, or pan fried turkey. Then we have a cheese course with a bit more bread. I love comte, and the other day we had an amazing goat cheese. Then we have dessert (apple tart, pain d’epices – spice cake, or just yogurt or fruit). I never feel stuffed and I feel less inclined to snack since it’s so well balanced! They do eat more meat here than I am used to at home, but I just go with it because I don’t want to be picky or difficult, plus I prob won’t be able to afford meat very often when I live on my own! Also it’s a good thing I love mustard because that is THE condiment. They put it on everything!
My favorite French food I have tried yet is creme de marons (chestnut cream). Yesterday we had a full lunch together, complete with cheese course and dessert. We had the creme de marons with les petites suisses which are little 2 inch rolled slabs of the creamiest, richest, densist, well, cream stuff I’ve ever had. It’s hard to explain. It tasted a bit like cream cheese. It was really, really good. The kids love the creme de marons and ate a LOT of it, like how some people eat Nutella by the spoonful! We also had a lovely dessert last night: profiteroles (sort of like doughnuts or creme puffs) with vanilla ice cream inside and chocolate sauce poured on top. Oh. My. God.
I am worried because Myrtille made a comment about me needing to try foie gras and escargots…we’ll see…
Both Myrtille and Fabrice have been really patient with me, by speaking to me in French and letting me be really slow at responding. The kids speak French and I can’t understand them! It happens with a lot of people I speak to. It’s so weird, because I know what words they are saying, like I could write them down in French. But I just can’t connect the dots in my brain fast enough. The other day Gabrielle (the 6-year-old) asked me to pass the water and it took me about 30 full seconds to realize what she had said! I am waiting to have that “click” and just comprehend everything! But I am definitely not there yet. Myrtille is going to give me some French books and I am looking for someone to trade lessons with. I keep trying to remind myself that it has only been 2 weeks, because I just feel SO STUPID. That is one thing about this experience, is that you have to be humble. I know I look really dumb all the time, in public, with the kids, and that’s ok. I am trying! And I will never, ever, EVER judge someone in the U.S. who is struggling with English.
Of course, with all the stress of traveling, moving, and starting these new jobs, I have come down with a cold this weekend. Also, the weather changed from very hot to pretty cold in just a few days. It now feels very much like fall. It’s nice and crisp, but my body is like “what the what?!” so now I am sick. I got some medicine and have been laying low this weekend. Hopefully I will get better soon so I can go out and socialize!
Please send me updates from home! I’d love to keep up with all of you!