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Reims / Orientation & Training

It is Saturday morning after two days of training in Reims. First, about Reims.

Reims is famous for a few things, but most popularly, a cathedral built in the 13th century. The kings of France were corinated there and Joan of Arc was either 1: sacrificed there OR 2: made a saint there. (That part was in French, so it didn't really come out right.) to learn more about Reims, check out:

While we were there, they took us to a champagne cave. We got to taste a 110€ bottle of champagne from Taittinger (sp?) which is one of the most premier champagnes in the world. It is only sold by two retailers in the US, one in NY and the other in Chicago. The cave was awesome, as it had been built underneath an Abbey and there were all sorts of tunnels in it; including one that went 2 km to the Reims Cathedral as an escape route for special people who were staying there! Some of the rooms had light shafts. These had been build by the Romans. They looked like pyramids, and I was able to answer why they were built in that shape (trianges are the most structurally sound shape). But, it was also useful because then the rain would only come down in the middle and so they could get the most out of the same space. All of the caves are chalk, so the rain bit was especially important. (obviously, it is stronger than say, sidewalk chalk, and not as dusty, but still.)

The champagne can't be processed by machines at all (French law) and they sit in the caves for ten years before they are even labeled. So think of a 30 year old bottle of champagne, and know that the grapes that made it could be as old as 43 years. This is because to insure taste, a little bit of the juice is kept each year to be mixed in with the juice for the next three years, so that there is a continuiuty to the taste. The most amazing thing I learned, was that they have roset and red champagnes as well as the typical white, and there is a difference between white white -made from blancs or green grapes - and white - made from a combination of green grapes and special black grapes that have colorless juice. All for a little bubbly. Phew.

Now training. We (Anna and I) took the train to Reims, and then a bus to a gigantic youth hostel. There were tons of people there, including Hillary - a friend of mine from USC. It was amazing to meet the other assistants. There were assistants from 42 countries (Note COUNTRIES not states!) that spoke 13 different languages in France this year. (Probably about 20 countries and only teaching about 6 languages in our academie or educational department.) There are about 65 anglophone -english speaking- assistants in our academie. 30 or so are from the US and 20+ are from the UK, but there are others from Canada, South Africa, Turkey ... it is really just amazing. We had to speak in french a bunch though, because there are about 30 assistants from german speaking countries, and then others whose native tongues were spanish, italian, and russian. The American assistants came from states ranging from Alaska to California, Florida to Illinois, a huge chunk of the eastern seabord (TN, KY,VA, SC, NC, MA, etc) and then people from other places who went to schools ranging from community colleges to places like Dartmouth and Brown. Okay, so obviously I enjoyed the variety of people.

The first sessions were about getting settled in France and paritcularly, our region. Those of us from outside the EU have to do all sorts of ridiculous things like see a doctor here to have: our physicals re-done, our birth certificates translated, four photos taken (like passport photos), etc. They gave us this book at the training that explained it all. This was great, but I wish I had read it online before I came. They said it was a teaching guide though, so I figured I'd wait for training. Stupid, stupid Heather.

The best part about this, is that they have someone from the social security office come in to tell us all of this, and she talks super fast with a horribly thick accent and her mouth on the microphone. Yeah. So, all the information I need to not get kicked out of the country is being babbled at me in a foreign language that is barely comprehensible. I got so upset I cried. Plus, they kept skipping over things that we needed to do that were in the book - so I had to keep asking questions, and I swear, they were making me repeat myself just to be evil really. (This is an incredible exaggeration, and the lady running the conference took over the microphone and re-explained everything much slower for us after I asked my questions. This was really nice. She also tried to quell our/my fears by telling us that it was much easier than it sounded.) I think the good news really is though, that I knew enough about what was going on that I realized things weren't being explained. Which, unfortunately, was more than I could say for some of my other American compatriots. They were all nodding and smiling because it was just too much for them too (as they admitted to me later). Thank you Mom and Dad for not making me the type of person who would rather be ignorant than figure it all out.

But, once that was over, we learned about classroom techniques, our reponsibilities, what types of things have really worked well in the past, etc. Between the two days, we learned how to teach with audiovisual equipment, ask questions, and involve the students. Crash courses in teaching. I didn't realize why people who knew nothing about teaching would come to teach until later. In the UK, it is a compulsory -mandatory- part of their language studies; you can't graduate without spending a year in a french university or teaching in a french school (or whatever language you are taking). And as my hallmate Anna explained, at least this way, you don't have to take any tests.

The greatest thing about this orientation was getting to spend time with the other assistants. I taught some English people and a girl from Germany how to play Phase 10 (one german girl already knew!), learned some fantastic English phrases, went to an Irish pub (in Reims) and played foozball, and got to walk all around the city. The walking was mostly due to the great planners of the orientation who had us sleeping 20-25 minutes from the training facility and who planned lunch each day for a cafeteria 15-20 minutes from the training facility, and none of these were on a practical bus route. Thank goodness it rained during the night, and not when we were trying to get from place to place!

Speaking of at night, we went out both nights. Night life in Reims is alot like at home, where nothing really gets started before midnight (we were back in bed by then though, because we had to be up at 6:30). The bar we went to the first night had these huge leather couches outside and tables and chairs. So we all sort of sat out and talked about whatever. The night we went to the Irish pub, the plae was jammed with people, and there was a soccer match on. Think about a sports bar during a big NFL game - this was it. There were people chanting for their favorite players and guys banging on tables trying to get their buddies to chug pints of beer. I think the Irish ambviance can really travel anywhere. It was great. We met some guys from Canada who were studying aboad, and some guys from Poland who had sort of road tripped over and needed directions. I loved it. I'll put up the pictures as soon as I can.

We drove back to Charleville with a teacher from a different school. As a member of the city council here and France's Green Party, she was really interested in the American system of parties and our elections. It took her a while to grasp that Independents in America didn't have a group agenda. I think she thought we were a seperate party or something. I had to explain that although anyone can vote for whoever they wish, you don't have to be a member of the political party to do it. It was great. Also, I got to learn about the cows, sugar beets, and radishes as we passed the farms, and she even gave us a good history of Charleville. But, as I have been typing on this ridiculous keyboard for a while now, I am not going to relate it.

Today, I got some of my paperwork figured out; I now know who to talk to about it. Also, they are going to get me a key so I can use the internet on the weekend if I want to, which will be great. Also, this man who has an apartment at the end of our hall has offered to let Anna and me use his kitchen and TV on the weekends, because he goes home and the apartment is empty anyway. How marvelous is that? So generous. Things here seem to be working out really well. I am going to go back upstairs now and grab some food before we head to the hypermart, which is kind of like a super Walmart. I'll let you know how that goes next time. Love to all, ~Heather


dinesh said…
Have Fun HEather and best of luck..
keep in touch
dinesh said…
Anonymous said…
Traingles are not "the most structurally sound shape." Circles/Spheres are. Ask any competant engineer or architect.
Anonymous said…
Traingles are not "the most structurally sound shape." Circles/Spheres are. Ask any competant engineer or architect.