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Adopting in Ashburn

What began in France moved to Washington, DC and then the suburbs. Let the adventures in Ashburn continue.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Time change

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to exist in a totally different plane of existance, where, say, you had very little concept of time??
I no longer have to wonder, I know - I don't want to be there. Last night, after a very cool concert on the other side of town, Anna and I spent 45 minutes trying to figure out if the clocks were going to change in France today in respect to Daylight Savings Time. And, alas, it did. However, as Anna so graciously put it, "It doesn't matter if we gain an hour of sleep, because I'll have lost it trying to figure out if it exists!" This was sadly true. The good news now is, that I think I am only 5 hours apart from US time due to President Bush deciding he had the right to fiddle with TIME - a worldwide phenomena. One second, let me check CNN online and find out what time it is in the US .... (please hold while Heather searches...)
As it turns out (many minutes later), Daylight Saving Time (note the lack of "S") wasn't actually put into US law until 1986. So, Bush playing with time isn't such a big deal. And, his ideas to change it won't fall into place until 2007, so we are safe this year, and Congress has a year and a half to decide what to do. Also, I am still 6 hours away by time zone. France, in an effort to break EU policy, changed its clocks at 3am, not the standard EU 1am. I think 2 or 3am is much more suitable so that you do not accidentally have an extra minute on the day before .... ahh, who knew this could be so confusing?
Benjamin Franklin originally thought of the idea while he was in Paris, and continued to correspond with people here after his return to the US about the subject. He even published a book on the topic. But it wasn't until WWI that all of the modern world seemed to unite under the idea, and it was actually instituted in Germany before any place else (though time zones were first put in place by Canadian/American train companies in the late 19th century). Britain confused matters by having set their time 2 hours ahead and calling it "war time," but things have reverted now, and Greenwich Time keeps track of the actual minutes for most of the world. I'm sure you came online today just to hear all about this. Well, you are reading the working of Heather's mind, so you honestly deserve it ...
This is all to say, simply, Mom and Dad: Please feel free to call anytime tonight, we are still 6 hours apart. Love always, ~Heather

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Wandering mind ...

So I have been sitting here NOT doing my research for next week's lessons. I have been reading other people's blogs, and adding friends at MySpace, checking in on Facebook, and otherwise lolly-gagging about on the internet. But now I'm hungry and need to go upstairs to get some lunch, and have still accomplished almost nothing so far today. I think that it is really some sort of record, how much nothing I have been able to do.
I don't even know what I have been thinking about! At first, I was just so excited, because I was getting to see all the pictures from Little Michael's wedding. Then I realized I never even called to congratulate him. And I haven't really written any postcards or letters that weren't on the internet (although I did finally buy some stamps). Ugh. This is more evidence of me doing nothing. Tonight there is this gig at a local bar. I think if I go back to my room and rest, read, or doing something quiet for a bit, I should be better enough to go out tonight. However, for now, my fingers are freezing and my stomache is seriously grumbling. I'm off to see the wizard ... I mean face the rest of the day.

Sedan

Yesterday, Anna and I went to Sedan. Sedan is this relatively small town about 30 minutes away by train with Europe's largest château in it. The place was huge (duh, hence why it was famous). It had been built up in 6 stages beginning back in the 1300's, I think. We got audioguides and wandered around. The tour takes you through the guard rooms mostly, and then a bit of outside. I took a ton of pictures, which I promise to upload later this weekend. The coolest part was how they described building the ramparts. (You should know that word from the National Anthem, but in case you never knew what it meant.... Ramparts are wall fortifications that were added to castles and forts after the cannonball started being made out of harder metals, because the old walls couldn't handle the pressure. It was a type of cement called, wait for it ... rampart, that they added between the layers of stone.) In the case of this particular château, the walls had increased from 14 to 26 feet thick when the ramparts were added.
The second best part was when they described how part of the building had been destroyed. As it turns out, the fortress was good, but after awhile, it becoame obsolete, so the military stopped using it as a base, and just maintained it as barracks. (I am of the opinion that the building wasn't obsolete, just its location in the middle of nowhere.) It had four main extensions, one for the king, one for his wife, one added for some princes in the 1700's and then the governor's section. While standing on top of the remaining east tower, you get to look out over the remains of the governor's old building. When Nobel had first discovered dynamite, they were experimenting with it (as soldiers will do, I imagine), and in the process the entire governor's extension was practically demolished. Now, aren't you glad we give out the NOBEL prize to smart people? (This is said in all sarcasm, because I am relatively certain that Nobel himself was not actually there at this point, and the experiments with the dynamite were intentional.)
Anywho, the trip was good, although a slight bust, because we were hoping to go to this big Halloween festival they were having, but all of the tickets had already been sold out. Bummer. I think Anna and I would have had quite an interesting time though, because it would have been a nightime tour, lit by tea candles. We are both afraid of the dark. I think it would have been brilliant (note that I mean this in both the American and British sense of the word).
Funny story from our adventure: We sat down to lunch in a café (because that is what you do here), and we proceeded to talk about, well, whatever came up. After a short time, some mid-teenage gils came and sat behind us. They caught on to us speaking English, and started to say whatever random phrases came to their heads. They then moved on to some choice phrases that are too disgusting to even type into this dialogue. I thought it was incredibly rude, and Anna and I started talking about how they could have possibly learned these phrases, considering NO ONE would have ever even thought about this in school. We didn't say anything mean about the girls, but, I was highly disappointed that these were the types of things that got exported. The only suposition I could successfully support was that they had gotten it from rap music or really stupid movies. Anyway, Anna and I move off this topic and just ignore the grotesque things they are saying to each other, until the girls get up to leave. Then, one of the girls turns around, with immense attitude and says, "Just so you know, I'm American." I had two things running through my mind: 1. What did I do to offend this girl? and 2. Where the heck is she from that she didn't recognize that I was American too? (Later, thought 2 progressed to, "Where are you from, because on the east coast we don't teach those types of manners?) Anna and I thought it was super strange that she didn't recognize my accent, and that she thought we were being rude when she had been sitting in the middle of an outdoor restaurant chanting sexual phrases and swear words at the top of her voice, just so we could hear her. It was a waste of energy to even think about it really, but it was frustrating to me because her french was quite good - which meant she had been here for awhile, or at least known french for awhile, and if everyone in this small town knew she was American, no wonder they didn't necessarily like America. Everytime I meet one of these stupid kids, I have to think to myself that this is why we have such a bad reputation. At least it boosts my spirits into being a good representative. Idiot child.
So, after that, we took the train back to Charleville. I stopped at the pharmacy, because I am sick again, and the Chloraseptic I have with me just isn't doing the trick. Pharmacies here have really strong medicine that is usually only available by presciption at home. I carefully explained my ailment to the pharmacist (swollen tonsils, sore throat, no fever) and she tried to give me a french version of Chloraseptic. I read the package and told her that my stuff like this was not working, and did she have anything else? She gave me Strepsils. These are losenges like chloraseptic stuff at home that numb your throat. The first one really worked. Since then, they have been dramatically less effective each time I take one, but luckily I think the worst of my illness is gone. Also, I am pretty sure I cannot get strep while taking these things, which is good news.
Then we went to the grocery store to get some stuff for supper before we went home. I made Alsacian salad for dinner. This is a salad that comes from Alsace, and consists of regular salad with roasted potatoes, thick chunks of bacon, and a poached egg on top. I didn't make it exactly to order (red russet potatoes that were sauteed with spices - not as good as Mom's - and an over easy egg - both with broken yolks due to culinary equipment problems -to replace the similar items), but it was still delicious. The only real way to describe this salad is to say it is like southern breakfast on top of a salad... yummy and healthy... loving it!
We ate and watched dubbed American series all night on TV, including a triple play of Sex in the City. Ah, nothing like a girls night in after a historical afternoon. All in all, it was a pretty good day.
(I know that I have missed a bunch of days, and I blame this on power outages, the 6th Harry Potter-currently bookmarked 20 pages before the end, illness, and the outside lights being turned off. I promise to give you at least a run-down soon. However, at the moment, I have to do some research for next week's lessons.) Love, hugs, and kisses, ~Heather

Monday, October 24, 2005

And so it begins...

This is the beginning of my first real week of adventures. I thought I had already told you all about the jazz soiree in Givet, and taking the train on Saturday with the random french youth, and getting a train pass, and doing laundry at the laundromat, and having dinner with Anna's family until midnight, going to church, eating a three hour long Sunday lunch, reading and hanging out in the afternoon, watching Il était une fois with Constance and the sausage meatloaf escapade. I knew I hadn't told you about watching Spiderman in french with the crazy man (turns out his name is Laurent Herr), drinking wine out of a giant coffee mug, getting up and reading, breakfast in bed, and then lunch with the Dominguez family; but to tell you the truth I just don't have the energy for a long blog at the moment. Also, I promised the smaller girls next door they could come over and watch a movie (if any of mine translate to french).

So, the beginning of my decline in writing has begun. (I really hope not, because I actually enjoy this.) Also, it is the beginning of vacation. I still have no plans, because I am a slacker, but we'll see. I have ideas. And I think I am going to try to be brave. This is, quite possibly, the beginning of my true adventures in France - without guidance, without an English teacher to help me out, without someone by my side every minute - it could be the beginning of an amazing experience. We'll see, I suppose.

For now, I am going to research some possibilities really quickly before going to get the girls. I'll let you know what I figure out. Oh, and feel free to comment from time to time, I love hearing what you have to say on a subject! Love always, ~Heather

Friday, October 21, 2005

Already Friday

It is already Friday. Sometimes time goes so slow and sometimes it just flies by. This week had a little of both. Let's jump backwards to Tuesday evening.

Tuesday evening I went to the Youth Group at church. It was nice to be able to talk about God for a bit (we read Mark). But we also sang some churchy songs (LOVE singing), and we eat and chat together in fellowship too, which is really cool. I have about 5-6 years on most of the young people in the group, and at least 5-6 years less than the group leaders, but I feel right at home because they are A: welcoming and B: my french isn't really good enough to comprehend a more somber group. Teenagers here are basically the only ones that speak with intonation and emotion, they use their hands, and they mostly talk about school and friends, so I know more of the vocabulary. I got to take home some of the apple tart (their version of apple pie, except it has no top, and they slice the apples in round bits first and lie them in a spiral), Ardennaise pie (tastes just like Easter bread, except there are no eggs in it, and it is shaped like a pie - it is named after the Ardennes, which is the region I live in), and some ham loaf (I love this stuff, because it has chunks of ham and green olives in it .... yum yum yum!).

Wednesday was teaching and observing in the morning, lunch with Anna (inside a restaurant this time because I forgot to put money on my lunch card and inside because it was raining), and then the afternoon with Alice. Alice is one of the Youth Group leaders, and the hostess from the place I went to dinner a week or so ago. She is fabulous, and we talked all afternoon. I am going with her and her family to a retreat during the Armistice long weekend in November. Singing, go-karting, more singing, eating, and then more singing really sounds like my idea of a good weekend. We also have exchanged music and stories and such, because she is really interested in America and vice versa. She and Hugues, her husband, recently moved into their new apartment, so there are boxes everywhere (feels like home after the past few years). But, the coolest thing about this, was that she now has a real oven, which she didn't have before. She had bought a small portable oven though, which she now had no place for and was going to have to put in storage, so instead she lent it to me to use for the year. This is fabulous, because I can use it as a toaster or an oven, and if I can find a bar that fits, there is even a way to rotisserie a chicken it in. I am very excited. And if I haven't mentioned it before, everyone here has been super nice.

After our long chat, we picked up Martin, the baby, from the nursery and she drove me home (it was difficult to walk carrying an oven). Anna and I attempted quesadillas in the oven, but they did not taste good because we had to use swiss cheese. However, I used enough salsa on mine to really drown out the flavor. The peppers helped too. Then I ran off to volleyball practice. I am not even going to begin to try to explain how bad their coach is, because she is generally a nice woman, but she is entirely clueless and can't actually do anything but serve. She told me I didn't set properly, but she can't back-set and more times than not the ball is spinning out of her hands. So, I promise not to go on about it except to say that I had a pretty good time, and the physical training we do to warm-up has been great (combination abs, dorsals, arms, speed, jumping, etc. but all rotated through on a 30 second or 1 minute basis. Loving it!). The other women are wonderful, and most of them love the game - even if you have no talent a little heart will take you a long way. The best part is getting to hang out with a different gropu of people and a whole new set of vocabulary.

Wednesday night required a shower and then Anna and I stayed up for ages talking. Thursday morning I got up late, and then we had breakfast. I did some internet research and taught my classes and then observed another. When I got back to my room, I talked to Alice on the phone and she wanted me to babysit for a bit, so Anna and I went over there. Alice and I have worked out a deal that for now, I'm going to babysit or cook dinner for her in exchange for being allowed to use the washer. Not that I wouldn't have done either of these things anyway, but I felt really bad about just using her washer. She said she hadn't had one when she was in college, so she completely understood, and wouldn't hear of me going to the laundromat. (Super nice!)

Side note: I say for now, because the Proviseur (like a headmaster) told me mast week that he has ordered a washing machine and two small TV's for the assistants. Anna and I are thirlled about being able to do laundry more frequently, and hopefully without as much dripping if the washer has a spin cycle! If you aren't up to date, we made a mess last time. Also, it should be noted that many people here do not have clothes dryers. They mostly hang things on the radiator and such - this includes underwear and the like. In some places, if you live in an apartment, your landlady will do your laundry and then hang out your undergarments on a line! (I've seen this more than once, and it recently happened to a fellow assistant!) I would be so embarassed!

Thursday evening was therefore spent running a load of wash and watching Martin with Anna. Martin is getting his third tooth, so although a generally congenial baby, he was trying to bite on anything he could to relieve the pain. After babysitting, Anna and I went home and I hung up the wet clothes on the lines in the bathroom and over the chair, and from some hangers on the radiator, and of course, on the radiator. With clothes everywhere, we went out. We grabbed some kebabs (I really am loving these things) and sat for a bit and ate dinner (it was after 8 and we were starving!). Then we went to the movies. We saw Les Noces Funebrès, or Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride. Anna fell asleep during the movie (not sleeping in days will do that to you), and so I had to explain it to her as we were walking home. The problem was, for those who haven't seen it, is that there are songs. They have translated the songs, or written new ones in French. Songs are really hard to understand generally, and in character voices, it was even more difficult, but luckily there were enough visual clues to help me out. It was definitely a good film, especially if you like jazz music. Danny Elfman, by the way, is brilliant. (Google him if you don't know who he is, or I'll tell you in my next entry .... a plot to keep you coming back!)

Bedtime came and after rearranging what was near the radiator, I hit the hay. I had some super strange dreams (due to having had a huge cup of citrus drink immediately before bed) and woke up at werid times. But alas, morning came, and I had a mini-baguette with Nutella and some Nesquick hot chocolate. Usually, I would have a different type of chocolate, but they really don't seem to have a huge variety here. (Plus, I tried the french kind two weeks ago and it doesn't actually taste like chocolate.)

I went down to lunch (after a little quality time with Harry Potter), did a quick internet search for my class, and then went to teach. However, there was a scheduling problem because of the parent-teacher conferences this afternoon, so I took the class to my room (because I cleaned it this morning), and we talked about our rooms, our holes, and our families. It was good, and I think they appreciated being able to see a little bit about my life (especially since I had just gotten the box Mom and Dad sent, and I had the stuff all spread out on the bed!)

Another note: After lunch, I picked up a box Mom and Dad sent me last week. It had all sorts of stuff from home, including pictures, more clothes, a stuffed monkey, Harry Potter candy, and towels. Hurray for stuff from home!

Tonight, I am going to Givet, which is a town an hour away by train. Anna and I are going to stay with our roommate from orientation, Joanna, and go to a jazz concert. We'll come back in the morning. For sure we are going to the laundromat to wash our sheets and towels (we have no place to hang stuff that big here, so we need the dryers) and then Anna's family is coming from England to visit her. I don't know what I am doing for the vacation, because I don't have work again until November 4th, but I am sure to figure something out. Even if I just take the 1€ train to all the different stops, one a day, and venture into the little towns that are near mine. Or, maybe I will call up Dad's friend in Germany and see if I can come and visit there for a bit. Or something. I am determined to think of something. I know I will keep myself incredibly occupied. Even if all I do is get rid of these sniffles and finish reading Harry Potter in french. Nah, I know I'll do more than that. Anyway, I am chatting with Travis on IM (finally got it working yesterday... yeah to Derek who was my first international IM friend from here), and so I must sign off. Leave a comment, send an email, etc. I love hearing form you all. Love always, ~Heather

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Planning

There is alot (I know that that isn't proper English, but I really like it, and it is in the dictionary) of planning going on here right now. First, I am trying to plan all my lessons. I think I have it pretty much covered at this point, but you never really know, do you? I make the worksheets twice a week, but finding good links is often difficult. Even when I find a good page, it tends to be three or four clicks in on another page, and the longer the address, the more likely they aren't going to type it in properly, so I have to choose shorter, more simple addresses.

After all the lesson planning there is vacation planning. Yes, I have been teaching for two weeks (and observing for one) and the French government is giving me ten days of vacation! The question is, how do I make the most of my time here without using every ounce of savings that I have? Also, how do you travel to foreign places or strange new cities without a travelmate?

Because I don't like being alone when I am sitting in my room, you can imagine that I don't really want to be alone in a new city somewhere. So, I am trying to plan my ten days of vacation accordingly. So far, I have decided the following things: I want to go someplace else in France and I want to visit another country. That pretty much sums it up. No, seriously, I am thinking about Nantes, because there is a Jules Verne Museum there, a planetarium, an archaeolgy museum, and there are gardens and such there too. My other choice is Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Anne Frank's House Museum is there, they mostly will speak to you in English, and I am sure that the capitol of a European country has a few other things I could investigate (while stearing clear of any red light districts).

No matter what though, I am going to need a travel buddy. Since all of the assistants are going to be on vacation, I am hoping to convince one of them to come with me. I think doing it as a series of two day trips will help me out, but might not be cheaper, so we'll see. One of the teachers here invited me to come and stay with her in Reims and there is always Paris as well. I'll make sure to keep you updated. That's it for now really. My cold is going away, and by the next time I write, hopefully it will be completely gone! Love always, ~Heather

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sick

This weekend was slightly bummy because I was sick the entire time. Friday night Anna and I hung out at home and watched The Skulls and then an episode of the West Wing. We went out to try and find something to do before that, but wound up just walking around for hours instead. The walking around was good, because we got a chance to see a part of the city that Anna hadn't been to yet and to figure out where we could go the next time we went out. Eh, not much.

Saturday morning we got up and had breakfast in the Place Ducale. We have adopted a restaurant to be our own there. Breakfast was good, and it rejuvenated me, because my throat was incredibly sore. Afterwards, we went to the bus station, got a schedule, and caught the next bus to the hyper-mart, Carrefour. I got an adapter for my computer (thanks Carl!), a broom to sweep up the floor with, stuff to make quesadillas (Anna has never had any!), and some other little things we have been missing. I also bought L'Auberge Espagnol, which is one of my favorite french films. I can watch it on my computer, but I am probably going to have some trouble watching it at home. I don't know what I am going to do about that. I guess I'll worry about it later. Anna bought Les Choristes. Sometime soon I'll have to change the region on my DVD player (in the computer) so we can watch them. The only crummy part is I can only change the region 4 times. Any techies who know how I can avoid this, please let me know!

When we came back, the man who usually lets us use his kitchen was there, so we couldn't use his kitchen. We decided to go for another walk and check back in later. We walked all around town and to the park, Mont Olympe, and just chatted. When we got back, he was still there, so we decided to make ourselves microwave dinners and hang out at home. We were going to go out, but I was feeling rather ill physically, and she needed some down time, so we just vegetated and played the "Ungame" for hours before clicking in Flight of the Navigator. I rolled over and fell asleep, only to wake up and find Anna sleeping too. Eh, we'll have to try that one again sometime.

Sunday morning I got up and went to church. No luck hanging out there, because now my nose was running like a broken faucet. Anna and I went out for lunch and ran into some other assistants. We spent a long time with them, walked around a bit more, and then headed back to their place. I went through two cough drops and an entire packet of tissues! So then Anna and I went home, rested, and then went back out to find some dinner. The french equivalent to fast food is the only thing available on Sunday nights (they want you to go home and eat, which we would, if we had a kitchen!). So, we grabbed some kebabs and fries and went back to the park to talk and picnic. I swear Anna just likes walking over the pedestrain bridge and that's why we go to the park so much. Really.

After it got dark, we headed home. We did lesson plans, called our families, made Halloween BINGO for our students, photocopied worksheets, watched another West Wing, and then talked some more. I'm really glad that she's here, because it is good to have someone to hang out with - especially because I was really too sick to do anything else. I went to bed, and for the first time dreamt a little in french, probably about half of the dream. I think it is a sign that things are going well. I hope so. I have more teaching to do this afternoon and then a girl we met at the assistants' orientation is coming to hang out for the day. Anna was done this morning, so they are out about town now and we'll meet up for dinner later. It should be fun. I just hope I don't get her sick too. Talk to you soon, *sniffle, sniffle, cough cough.* Love always ~Heather (Aren't you glad I am in France now! Much less contagious via computer.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Teaching

This was my first actual week of teaching. It varied from students who could explain the subtext of a quotation to those who couldn't even ask about the words they didn't understand. I find the differences challenging, but am excited to have the opportunity to work with different types of students.

As is the American way, we start with an icebreaker. You know 'em, you love 'em. I never thought I would force people into playing these games, but they work, they are easy, and they are in English.

But since we can't play games all class long, I made them all worksheets about American "stuff." The worksheets have a variety of things on them. There is, of course, the day and date. This is followed by a random holiday. For example, today is World Egg Day. We also discussed more regular days, like Columbus day, but it is still exciting to talk about the weird ones. Also, it is amusing for them, and amusment = interest. I can't get them talking without it.

After those things are fun facts (ex. Forest fires move faster uphill than downhill or there are 13,092 pieces of cutlery in the White House, etc.). A section on American history is on every sheet. I take paragraphs from either the History Channel webpage or from the Library of Congress page. Today we learned about how Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, yesterday we learned about the construction of the White House. I vary the materials included based on the actual date. We only study things that happend on this date sometime in the past. I'm sure they don't care all that much about the random history, but it is important to at least expose them to names like John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Helen Keller, Richard Nixon, etc. If they aren't mentioned in the paragraph on history, there is also a "Quotable Quote" section, which is very cool, if I do say so, because it is in a speech bubble.

Every class has a different challenge. Something to find on a map or to look for on the internet. Also, I am sure to include a link to an appropriate page where they are sure to be able to find the answer to the challenge or something that has to do with the history section. Anyone who knows of some good websites (think young middle school level) please feel free to send them my way!

We wrap up the worksheet with a comic strip (feel free to send these too!) and a description of the week. This week is National School Lunch Week. So, we got to talk about the differences between school lunch here (they can go home if they want, or to a cafe) and in the USA. If ever I run out of celebratory weeks, I can always switch to months, because it seems like we have an innumerable amount of uncelebrated daily, weekly, and monthly holidays in America! Just do a search on th web .... I can give you the link I use if you want it .... you are bound to find out about things you never knew! My favorite one so far was this past Wednesday. There were two special holidays 1. International Moment of Frustration Scream Day and 2. National Bring your Teddy Bear to School or Work Day. I almost brought Mr. Bear. I really did. But I figured since it was still the first week, I should probably not do anything too ridiculous right off the bat - I am representing all of America when I do those things!

So that is the basic outline of what we do. Then we do an exercise with a prepared text, a book excerpt, song lyrics, articles from the internet, magazines, newspapers, etc. I think it is pretty exciting. If we finish early, they get to just sit around and chat with each other in English. That is the best part for me, because I really get a chance to know them. Next week I have a better idea of what types of things they are really going to want to talk about. They'll still have their worksheets, but I can bring different exercises.

Some of my classes are all girls, they love shopping, music, movies, dancing. I have one section of Sportifs which I am sure you can guess are the jocks. These boys (yes, all boys) mostly want to be professional athletes or PE Teachers and have to take English to pass the Bac (a really hard test at the end of high school that makes the SAT look like something you might have taken in middle school). Most of the groups are Euro-option, which means they really like their language classes. I do however, have one group whose 1st language (after french) is german. They really don't like my class. Not my class in particular, but English really isn't their thing. Here, if you are in the humanities, especially euro-option, you have to take a minimum of two foreign languages. They call the one you study the most your 1st language and the other your 2nd. Really, these are their second and third languages though, so it is pretty amazing how good they are.

School here doesn't have much in common with the US, but I am enjoying discovering the differences. I hope you are too (via me of course!). Love always, ~Heather

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sports & Such

The past two days have been incredibly sporty. Tuesday night, Anna and I went to the gym after dinner to play badminton. Due to my lack of hand-to-eye coordination, I was not exactly the star player. Anna, however, was awesome! She played for a club team back in England, and all those years of serious competition were really showing off. We ducked out a little early to catch a film series at the Metropolis, which is this giant movie theater in our town. We got there just as the film would have been starting, and the line was forever long. So we decided to see a different film instead. We walked in to Caché. I read the description and discovered it was a scary movie. I hate scary movies. So then I had to go out and get permission to change movies. This is not as easy in french or in a french theater. I had to tell three different people that I was a big chicken about scary movies until finally the cashier called the manager to make sure it was alright for us to change - at this point the film had already started, so they weren't sure if it was okay. But, after a bit, they were okay with it, and we went and saw Bewitched. It wasn't the best movie ever, but I didn't lose any brain cells either.

Back to sports. Last night, I went to play with the Charleville Volleyball Club. It was alot of fun. Those of you who know me and anything about volleyball will understand this next bit well. I was by far the best female setter there, which is sad (if you don't know, I am not really a gifted setter). Also, they were playing with a very basic 6-2 formation that wasn't working since neither of the setters was aggressive or competent enough. However, all in all, the club is pretty good and I intend to keep playing with them on Wednesday nights. They have competitions against neighboring towns on Saturdays. I obviously will not be playing this Saturday after my first practice, but it would be fun to play in the future.

*Dad - to play in competitions, I have to sign a sports rider in case I get injured. I didn't want to do that before checking with you though, as we didn't purchase the sports part of the travel insurance, and I figured signing a form would make me part of the regular team here. Let me know what you think.*

Also, they invited me to play "flag." This is what they call flag football, because football here is soccer. I thought it was just plain funny. Anyway, I might do that, but the games are on Sunday mornings, and that will obviously interfere with church. We'll see.

Besides that, I have just been teaching and diving into the Harry Potter book as often as possible. I love it. Of course. The vocabulary is different, but I think it is really going to help. I read with a pencil in my hand, underlining all the words I don't already know. I haven't actually looked them up yet becauseI am trying to see if I can guess what they are from context clues. Anytime they have changed a name, I write the translation on the top of the page so that I can flip back quickly. There are a ton of names in the 6th book, so it is important to keep up!

The computers have continued to be annoying, and now they have gotten rid of the Microsoft Office programs, which is annoying, because it means I have to do everything on my laptop, save it to my flash drive, bring it downstairs, open it as a web page instead of a document, and then print it out. The frustration continues when it won't print properly, or I can't figure out how to change the margins. I love technology, but even though they have updated to the newest things, it appears as if they don't have any concious idea of what to do with it all. Perhaps we can figure it all out. Anyway; I am going to run because beautiful weather and Harry Potter are calling me to the courtyard. Love and miss you all. ~Heather

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The past five days

OKay here goes with the exciting adventures of Heather in France.

Last Wednesday night we went out to a pub, and I had a pretty bad time. This is mostly because I hate smoke (bound to be found in a pub) and I don't really drink all that much. There were a lot of other assistants there, almost all of them actually, so that part was fun. However, as usual, the table split itself in two and spoke german on one end and english on the other. I really want everyone to speakin french, so I can practice. Also, it would be good to not draw so much attention to ourselves all of the time. Eh. Dommage. (too bad)

Thursday night, I went to this meeting for young professionals - like a young adult group - that was sponsored by the church. It was long, difficult to understand, and generally I felt like I was much too young to be there. One interesting note however, is that many of the people there were about 25-30 years old and were just now working in their first jobs. So, I even found it hard to relate to them considering I was younger and had already had four different jobs and seven different bosses. Everyone was very nice though. One of the women there had been an English teacher at my high school last year, so it was nice to talk to her. Also, the group leader invited me out to dinner, because he had an interview in English (today actually) and he wanted to practice his speaking skills in advance. The priest kept checking up on me to see how I was doing, and the others would sometimes try to speak a sentence at a time because they were worried I wouldn't understand. I think the biggest problem was that I looked confused most of the time, even when I probably could have followed the conversation; but everyone kept talking at once! If you think it is difficult to understand in your mother tongue, just try to do it in your second language!

Friday night we met up with the assistants again. I didn't know what we were going to do, but when I got there, I found out we were again going to a bar. I was super bummed, because I had had such a horrible time the Wednesday before. However, all of the assistants were english speakers this time, and it wasn't so bad. Things that contributed to the coolness of Friday night: good intellectual conversation (taxes, politics, vacation plans, differing family styles and cultures from the three represented countries, etc.) and that only one of these assistants smoked, and he was polite enough to wait until we were all outside to smoke. Hurray for that. Plus; i tried this beer called Oubliette at the second bar we went to. I only had a sip, but it was by far the best beer I have ever tasted. The atmosphere was good, and I crashed when we got home around one a.m.

Saturday I slept in, until 9:30, because I really couldn't sleep much longer than that. I went downstairs and worked most of the morning away in the staff room creating lesson plans. Anna and I went for a walk in the afternoon. We stopped by the train station to get a schedule of trains for Anna, and so I could find out if there were trains that led out of the country. Turns out there aren't from this train station. I took her to the kebab place in Mézières and we closed the place down. (I mean that literally because everything seems to close freakishly early here on Saturdays.) Afterwards, we were super full and had to walk a half an hour home. We stopped at the grocery store (it is always better to go grocery shopping on a full stomach) and got some stuff for dinner, etc. Then we went home and I tried to watch the X-files, but it was in the liddle of an episode, and the X-files is difficult in English, so instead we watched Joan of Arcadia. It took some explaining to Anna about the random God characters, but the plot was shorter and less complicated. Then I talked to Dad and Grandmother on the phone, which, of course, I enjoyed. Then it was time to do laundry. In a bath tub. I don't think I've ever really had an experience quite like this before in my entire life. We managed to form these great big lakes on our bathroom floor too. That part was funny to me, but Anna is a neat freak and she was really upset by it. I had strung up some clothes line in the bathroom from the closet door to the shower frame so we would have someplace to dry our clothes. It turns out that no matter how much you wring out a pair of jeans, they like to leak all over the place!

Four hours later I was too exhausted to fry chicken, so we had microwave dinners and watched a french movie on television. It was relatively stupid. We spent most of the time disputing if one of the character was gay or not and who Jean-Baptiste was. As it turns out, he was the main male character, but even when he was present, they talked about him in the third person. Talk about strange. Afterwards, we watched a lot of Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Anna fell asleep. I stayed awake mostly because every 30 minutes I had to get up and alternate which pair of jeans I was putting on the radiator so they would dry a little faster. I finally got to bed about 1 a.m.

Sunday morning, I got up and went to church. I thought I was on time, but yet again, lass was at a different time. Ugh, it is so hard to figure out when they change the time each week! But afterwards I met up with some people I was familiar with and they invited me to dinner. Then, I went to find the guy who I was supposed to be practicing English with at dinner on Monday night, so we could work out where we were going to meet up. I found most of the people from Thursday night hanging around outside the church. They invited me to coffee, and I ran home to get Anna. We fixed up the clothing lines, rotating the remaining wet clothes closer to the windows where the sun was coming in and taking down the clothes line we had strung up in the hallway in case the man who lived at the end of the hall wanted to come home and walk safely down the hall while we were gone.

Coffee was nice (not that I had any) and Anna got to meet some new people. The group broke up after a bit, and we made plans to meet with Vincent (except I didn't know his name at the time) to go and see the Bayard parade (see Festival of Bayard). Then Anna and I took a walk to find someplace new to eat and get a weekly cinema guide. We wound up eating in the same place we usually do however, because the rest of the cafes had closed up by the time we got back from our walk. I had a vegetarian sandwich, and like in the movie The Whole Nine Yards there was much too much mayonaise on it. Ah, dommage encore. (again, too bad)

We left from the cafe for the parade, met Vincent (still didn't know his name), and walked around the parade for the next two and a half hours. We saw all of the other assistants during the parade too, which was good. Then, we walked home, stopping by a patisserie / boulangerie (pastry / bakery shop) so I could buy a cake to bring to dinner with me. I totally crashed when I hit the bed, and didn't get up until right before I had to leave for dinner.

Dinner was marvelous. Alice and Heug have a 10 month old named Martin, who is such a cutie. They also had another dinner guest, Eric, who works for an American car company here in France. He had a Ford breifcase! Anyway, we ate pasta and I had this really good Corsican wine. It was super thick, and the first white wine that didn't give me a headache. Afterwards, we had my cake, which we ate with white currant/gooseberry jelly. Talk about yum. They spent some time preparing their lessons for tonight, because they were goingto work with the teenagers from the parish this Tuesday about religions of the world. Also, they wanted to choose which translation of the Bible passage they wanted that they were going to use. Eric drove me home around 11p.m. I reviewed my lessons one more time before hitting the sack.

Monday was my first day of actually teaching classes. However, I am going to blog about hte first week of teaching later. However, after running about all Monday doing school stuff, getting some tourist information, and mailing Anna's postcards, I hurried upstairs to be on time for a phone call from home. Which never actually came. Then I left to meet Sebastien for dinner. He was 14 minutes late. One more minute, and I was seriously going to go home. But, he arrived, and we set off to find a restaurant to eat in. I let him choose because he knows way more about the restaurants here than I do. I had a salad with rotisserie type potatoes; thick sliced, soft bacon; and a poached egg on top. It was like a good southern breakfast with lettuce. I tried the wine (see Personal Thoughts) and afterwards we had dessert. Now the only time I have ever seen dessert set on fire is when Lorien burned the cookies in Davie and when we had baked Alaska on the cruise. So, you can imagine my surprise when they handed me my nougat ice cream and Sebastien a plate that they promptly set on fire! He had ordered something with a rum sauce, and they were burning off the alcohol first. I was so shocked, I couldn't stop saying how cool I thought it was. Sebastien offered to switch desserts, but I figured I could stick it out. His English was very good considering he hadn't studied it in years. We practiced for his interview all throughout dinner, and I definitely think he was ready. We'll see later this week I guess. Anyhow, he walked me home, I re-read my lessons again, and then went to sleep.

So, that is what has been going on for the past five days. Nothing too exciting and nothing too boring. Plenty of things to do though. Speaking of that, I had an idea the other night that I would really like some commentary on (if you manage to read this far down). When I was at home in the states, I always wanted a job that would pay me more to work less hours. Now, I have a job that pays me more and I work a third the hours, and I keep trying to find myself more things to do. I think the idea of working less is appealing until you actually are, then it becomes a hassle to find things to fill your day. I think that everyone would work just as much, whether they had to or not, because it is within the human spirit to work to the best of their ability. I wonder what the rest of you think about that. Awaiting your commentary, love always, ~Heather

Personal thoughts

I promise to recommence with the description of what has been going on here soon, but I feel like I need to write a little bit about my inner struggles for the moment.

First, let me start with something funny. This is especially for Kayla and Kim. Remember that night last spring when we had M&M's and wine? (For my younger viewers, I am 22 and actually legal - especially since the drinking age here is 16 or 18.) Well, the wine we had had no effect on me really except to make me giggly after a bit. Last night I went to dinner and had the strongest wine I have ever had in my entire life. I hadn't even had two whole glasses and I was completely overwhelmed by how hard it hit me. Nothing happened, obviously, because I could feel the difference and stopped drinking, but I thought you would want to know. Next time, I have a much better idea of what kind of wine to get!

Right, so the inner struggles. Language barriers aside, cultural differences here are sometimes hard to handle. For one thing, people don't really encourage each other or help each other out. I mean, people have been super nice to me and Anna, but I think it is because we are strangers and teachers. In general though, someone was explaining to me last night that when I wished him good luck and told him not to worry about his interview today because he would be marvelous, that people here wouldn't say that to someone else. Also, I was told that it is truly un-french for people to just open their doors and welcome new people in. I have never experienced it here, but it seems like it has a lot to do with me being American. I think this is effecting me so much, because after 5 days without emails, I got all of your letters at once. Mom was writing about the neighborhood, and how everyone was helping each other out, and Malise wrote about the horrible work conditions in Moldova, and I got updates on how to use my computer and about peoples lives at school ... I miss it.

The thing I miss the most is choice. When I took my GRE, I had to write an essay on choices. I said in that essay that there were very few situations in life where a person didn't actually have a choice. After three weeks here, I don't think my essay would have been so forceful. Teachers are made to move whenever the government feels like it. If you studied science and math at university, they can make you teach any subject in that field, at any level. So, let's say you studied biology. They could make you teach calculus, because it is in the same field. I would say that those things are actually rather different, wouldn't you? Kids can't take lots of subjects, they have to choose after one year of high school. You choose a business route, a humanities route, or a science route. If you change your mind, you basically have to start high school again.

I personally have a lot of choices, but I really feel bad for my students, because they don't. They definitely have the benefit of a better education system where everything is standardized, but to do that and never take a class in the arts or play a sport just seems like a waste. In America, we complain that they are taking away these "extras," but here, they almost don't exist at all. I am lucky to be at a school where they teach theater and fine arts. However, to get into these programs, you have to have really good grades and takes up to five extra hours of classes a week, including on Saturday morning. This year, so few students signed up for theater and art (10 and 9 respectively) that they had to combine the classes. So, there are kids that take the train from 45+ minutes away and/or sleep here at the school to study a special arts program that is now a combination between two very different types of art.

The good news is, Anna and I are combatting our least favorite cultural difference, and we seem to be making an effect. Smiling is considered suspicious, and not to be done unless you are quite familiar with a person. (This from a country where they kiss each other on the cheeks instead of shaking hands when they meet you!) Anyway, Anna and I smile at everyone all the time, and now - whether they are laughing at us or humoring us, I don't know - people are smiling back. It's great!

I am blessed to be here having an experience to compare life at home to. One smile at a time, I am going to work my way through these cultural differences. Until then, thanks for the emails and support from home. I really appreciate it. Love always, ~Heather

Monday, October 10, 2005

Festival of Bayard

Sunday, there was this crazy festival in Mézières for this man named Bayard. The general idea was that they were going to unveil the statue of him. The tricky part was, they seemed to have six places on this little route on the brochure. We arrived at the first meeting point and there were girls dancing and a small band was playing. After we walked through the crowd a bit, we saw that there were also two horses. One of the horses was pulling a cart that was full of women who were pretending to be dead. (I should note that these women were by far the most interesting part of the festival because they were terrifying and simultaneously funny.) When we went walking on Saturday, I read a sign that explained how Bayard had saved the city of Mézières. This explained why a short man in knight's attire was sitting on the horse that wasn't attached to the cart. OKay, so I think we might have missed the special thing that was supposed to happen at the first stop, because we were really shocked to get to the second stop and have the dead women get out of the cart and sneak up on people (like that statue in Disneyworld that moves). There was a chorus singing. At first it just sounded like colloquial french music, but after a bit they changed songs to this one that was asking "Where is the statue of Bayard? Welcome home to here Bayard!." And then this lady in costume sticks her head out of the window across the street from the chorus; and explains the story of the statue into a microphone in a fake breathy, gothic voice. There were a lot of confusing dates, but luckily Anna is really good at oral comprehension, and she explained it to me afterwards. Turns out that during World War I, they melted part (or all?) of the statue, but before that it had been taken by some enemies of the town. To be honest, I don't think Anna even got all of it - and it didn't help that the choir was still singing in the background.

The next stop was outside the basilica. The basilica in Mézières isn't anything to look at from the outside really, but if you step inside, there are the most expansive stained glass windows with incredible detail. It is really amazing. However, we were outside today, and there was a soprano up on a high balcony singing, and a celloist in the courtyard, and of course the crazy, obviously not dead women, who were trying to revive or put a spell on one of their number. After a bit, they got up and did this very possessed dance that for sure would have had them hung in old-school Salem. Actually, maybe even today in Salem - it was that weird. But after they seemed to recover from their out of body experiences, the parade moved on. We went to the oldest high school in Mézières and high school-aged teenagers danced in the courtyard and then on the railings to the school. It was really well choreographed with the music, and the costumes were interesting as well. I even recognized some students from my school (underneath the face paint). I'm not sure of the significance of the dancers, but they did a good job nonetheless. There was more gothic talk from the window at the high school too.

We walked on to a factory of some sort that had Bayard's name over the door, and from the bridge over the river, you could see the younger dancers from the parade dancing next to the old ramparts. (Mézières had this great wall surrounding it, which doesn't really exist anymore, but there are parts of it still left. Bayard defended the walls and I think that is why the dancers were there. Anyways, we continued to follow the horse cart and a drum line joined in to add lots of rhythm to the parade. Finally we got to the statue. We could tell we had arrived by the large sheet with the bottom of a statue sticking out form underneath it. It was seriously like a little kid hiding behind curtains where you can see their shadow and most of their legs. But then "Bayard" got up to talk about how glad he was to be seeing a likeness of himself in the town and then went into this fury about the battle. I can't tell if he lost his place or if it was a planned abrupt stop, but he looked like he had forgotten what came next. He recovered by going into a dialogue about how the war was over now and we were all bound together by good will, etc, etc, and then he handed the microphone over to the mayor. The mayor thanked everyone and their mother, including people who weren't present, and then "Bayard" helped her pull down the sheet. The actor - who was the president of the Bayard association - freakishly resembled the statue, hair and crooked nose and all. But then it was over. The band didn't even play closing music, everyone just sort of started dispersing. It was the strangest festival I've ever been to. And no one ever explained the crazy women who occasionally played dead and danced around.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Internet

OKay, so after I sent out my email this morning, they decided to fix the computers in the teacher's lounge, and now the internet isn't allowing me to get back to my email. So, I thought I would let you all know what was going on. I am going to run for now, and try again in a little bit. Hopefully the tech guy will have it figured out in a short while. Talk to you soon. ~Heather

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Walking & Night life

One of the best things about Charleville is that you can walk everywhere. Today, I got a very good taste of all that walking. I had class this morning, and then a lunch date with a lady from the church. She is a documentarian at a local middle school. A documentarian is an awful lot like a school librarian, except in France, libraries only have books in them. You have to go to a mediathéque or media information center to use the internet and online documents. A CDI - Centre de Documentation et Informations (Center for Documentation and Information) can be found in most schools, and it has the internet, periodicals, international newspapers, and of course reference books. It also has books that are directly related to courses being taught in the school, which is lucky for me, because they teach theater here. Right, so the walking.

I met Frederic Drumel at her school in the CDI. Her school is a good thirty minute walk across town. After a short tour of the CDI, we went to a Turkish restaurant and had kebabs and fries. We ate lunch with another documentarian who was my age from a different middle school. It was really great to talk to them, because they had both studied english, and therefore knew to speak slowly for me. Plus, the kebabs were delicious. Kebabs are kind of like the Turkish version of a gyro. The server asked if I wanted barbecue sauce on my meat and I said yes. When it came, it had this french version of Thousand Island on it. Not exactly my idea of barbeque sauce. The Thousand Island here is actually good (I don't like it at home); it doesn't have as much of a mayonaise base, and therefore it isn't as creamy. I was surprised at how good it was on the french fries.

After lunch, she dropped me off at the train station on her way to a meeting. So I walked the ten minutes home. After a thirty minute nap, Anna and I took a walk. We walked to the park across the river from us. It was so beautiful. They have this fabulous sculptured flower bed that they have turned into an actual clock with moving hands. This is seriously comparable to the Rose Bowl Parade. We saw a lot of people kayaking (I can't wait to try that!) and these humongous swans. Maybe it is just that I've only seen them from a distance, but these things probably were about three feet tall with their long necks! And they can paddle fast considering their size. Anyway, about a mile into the walk, we turned around to walk back on the other side of the park. (It's a park on the bottom of a "mountain," so it is rather large.) We discovered the community pool. It has these long tube slides that land in the play pool, and they have a separate pool for laps and swimming lessons. Definitely cool.

Instead of walking back to the school, we detoured into town and strolled around a bit. I took Anna to he cafe where I had eaten lunch with Grandmother and Aunt Rosemary this summer. Sadly, the ice cream wasn't as good this time around. After another little bit, we strolled home. Tonight, we are going back to town to meet up with the other assistants. I emailed everyone when we had all had a chance to settle in, and now we can compare notes and such. Hopefully we'll all use french with each other, because there are four German assistants who will be meeting up with us as well. All of the German assistants can speak english, but I feel like it is only fair that all of us are speaking in our second language, instead of 75% of us using our native tongue. We're meeting in the Place Ducale, and then heading to a bar on the river. Bars here are the same as at home, except for much more socially acceptable. It isn't weird for people of any age to go and hang out in a bar in the afternoon, early evening, or late into the night. But, since I am not that big of a drinker and I hate cigarette smoke, bars aren't exactly my scene; however, there aren't a ton of other places to go here at night.

Most places might be closed at night, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to do! Last night I helped out with the high school youth group from my church. The kids are really great. Two of them are actually my students too. Harry Potter just came out here, so I talked to them about it for a good while. I wouldn't tell them the ending though. I bought it in the book shop in french, and I am going to force myself to read it. I guess I already told you that though. But, the night life. The school has a badminton club on Tuesdays. There is a book club on Wednesdays and there is a town volleyball team which meets on Wednesdays too. That's kind of bummy, because I would really like to be able to go to both, but we'll see. Thursday night there is a young adult group at the church which I am going to try. There is also a Friday night recreational league for volleyball, which I might check out as well. I know those things might seem boring to the rest of you, but for me, they are things to do that are familiar and yet completely different because ofd the culture and the language.

OKay, so I'll let you know about the bar tonight and Saturday we might find the discothéque or dance club. Who knows. This is all an adventure. Love to all and thanks for reading, ~Heather

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Class Observation & Ice Cream

Observing a French class is a lot like studying in reverse. However, it is pretty funny because it makes you realize that people in the US really have it easy. The first teacher said they were studying irregular verbs. Well, as it turns out, most English verbs are irregular, so these poor kids are struggling like nothing I’ve ever seen before. But, their spoken English is about where a student in their second year of college might be – except these kids are about 15. It is really amazing.

Also, it is sad sometimes when observing because Americans make mistakes between their, they’re, and there all the time. Here they do too, but this is their second language. It makes me want to pay better attention in school. Except, I’m not in school anymore. So, if you are in school, take advantage of the situation – learn something, would’ya?

Besides observing, I have had an opportunity to wander around town. In my travels, Anna and I got a phone. We are going to split the bill, because the only phone jack is in the hallway anyway. Plus, it doesn’t cost us a penny if someone wants to call us. This is not a hint of any kind, but it works out well, because we didn’t have to buy a big service plan. If you ever feel the need to call, or there is an emergency of some kind, my number here is 03.24.58.27.87. The country code for France is 33. If that basically means nothing to you, try dialing the following number 011-33-324-58-27-87. That should get to here from most phones in America.

Also in our travels, we realized that we had forgotten to eat the ice cream we bought. I had put it in my fridge, and it was no longer frozen. In my infinite wisdom, I decided I could refreeze it. There is something missing in my wisdom department obviously. After managing to scrape the ice out of my freezer … wait, this is good to note: Never buy a non-self defrosting refrigerator with freezer. This stupid thing has been on for two weeks, and I scraped enough ice out of it to make a small snowman. No, I am really being serious, which is sad. Okay, so here I am in a glove (well, my hand got cold) with a spoon, having scraped out all this ice. Then I decided to try and fit the ice cream container in the small freezer. This is about the size of a toddler’s shoebox, but I’m thinking, I can do this. I can do anything really, right? Ack. Okay, so the container breaks a little, and the now "soup" is about to pour out. So, Anna takes it and puts it in the sink. Okay, to make a long story short, I decide to pour the ice cream onto a plastic plate (it has high sides). This was a super cool plan. Right up until Anna made me laugh. Well, actually, I was laughing before, but I’m blaming her regardless because she is sitting here. Okay, then I spilled the plate – not the whole plate, but a whole bunch – on my jeans and the floor, and in the fridge. But then I eventually got a little bit of it in there, and it froze over perfectly. Go me. I rock. Hahaha. If I rocked, I would have remembered to eat the ice cream in the first place.

Then today, we wandered in between lessons, and I bought scotch tape, a dry erase board, and an agenda. I was sorely missing my Mortar Board (for those who know what that is), but this is cool, because it has cartoons in it. Which, of course, I love. I also bought the 6th Harry Potter in French. Since I’ve already read it in english, I’ll know what is going on, and have an opportunity to improve my reading skills. Gotta love that Harry Potter. Anyway, I have a meeting tonight with some people from church and I need to eat dinner and post this before I go. So, that’s got to be it for now. Thanks for hanging in there. Love always, ~Heather

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hyper-mart Weekend

Let's do some back-tracking.

Saturday, Anna and I went to Carrefour, a Walmart type of store on the outskirts of town. The funniest part about this (besides the four wheel drive carts(=buggies for you in the south)) was that we had to take the bus. Line number three has a stop right outside the doors. So we got what we needed: a pillow, thumbtacks, a toothbrush, one each of kitchenware (plate, bowl, cup, etc), a hand towel, and then a wide variety of foods. This variety was really important, because the grocery store in our town (the only one close enough to walk to anyway) only has it's own labels of food. So, imagine going into your local Food Lion or Bi-Lo and only being able to buy their version of products; generally alright, but lacking in a certain quality usually referred to as taste. Anyway, we were thrilled about all of this, and the bath mat and cleaning supplies we were able to pick up. We check out, and return the cart (to get my $.50 back) and then wind up running to catch the bus across the street. The running was quite funny actually: me with a small bucket (shower basket now) stuffed with school supplies, a shopping bag of groceries, a pillow in a vacuumed plastic bag, and my backpack stuffed with the other things. Yeah, I looked really cool. It was overall a particularly good visit, except that it started raining as we arrived at the bus station, which is a good ten minute walk from our school. All in all though, it was a wonderful experience. I would do it again; but not soon.

Saturday evening was significantly simple. There is this really nice guy who lives at the end of our hall who goes home every weekend and leaves us his keys. This way, we can watch TV, catch up on the news, and have a kitchen accessible while the cafeteria is closed. I burned the fajitas we tried to make (I didn't put in "a families worth" of chicken since there were only two of us and then, rather brilliantly, decided to dump in the entire seasoning packet). I couldn't stop coughing for almost twenty minutes, because the jalapeno powder had gotten in my throat. Looking back, it is actually kind of funny.

Sunday, I got up and went to church. I met some people there I had seen the week before, and the priest introduced me to some young people too. Now, I have something to do tomorrow night and Thursday night. Hurray! I went home and helped clean the bathroom and sweep the floors. Then Anna and I took off to have a drink in a cafe. One hot chocolate later, the beginning of a parade came by ... which was hysterical because the people were throwing candy, and no one was there to catch it! Later, we discovered, that there was a half-marathon from a local town to ours, and the celebration was in the town center, where all the runners were going to finish. After watching a few older men in spandex run by, we took a walk and then went to the movies. We saw a movie called Entre Ses Mains, into his hands. Let's just leave it at it being bizarre, and move on.

After the movie, we walked to the town square again and caught the tail end of the awards ceremony. We also ran into a few other language assistants we had met in Reims. So, we walked, talked, got seperated, and then had another hot chocolate before walking home. We had take out pizza for dinner, and I successfully made fun of the man who was teasing us for speaking in English while we were waiting for our pizza to cook. We bought ice cream (that I discovered today we forgot to eat), I called home for my parents anniversary, and we went back and ate pizza and Toblerone (this is how we forgot the ice cream) while watching the West Wing (Anna loves it too!).

And that was pretty much the weekend. Seems like a long time ago already. I'll keep you posted. Love always, ~Heather

Saturday, October 01, 2005

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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reims

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

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