What is this place?: the journey back Stateside

My journey back home to the United States was definitely quite the journey. When I booked my flights home, going back through Iceland turned out to be my best bet in terms of cost. I was able to get all three of my flights for around $550, which is quite cheap considering that I was flying across an ocean.

My journey started at 6:00 am when my co-worker with whom I was staying and one of my friends in Laval sad goodbye to me at the Laval train station and helped me get my two suitcases, my backpack, and my purse, all of which were bulging at the seams (I honestly had no idea how many things I actually bought while I was in France until everything was all packed and I’m pretty sure that all four of my pieces of luggage weighed more than me when combined), onto the first train back home.

My train pulled out at 6:18 am, and I cried, silently of course because I didn’t want to be that weirdo crying on a train at 6:18 am.

I had to make a change in Le Mans, a French city about a 40 minute train ride east of Laval, because unfortunately the one direct train from Laval to the airport would’ve gotten me to the airport only an hour before my flight left. That definitely wasn’t going to happen.

So, I made my change in Le Mans, almost spraining my ankle when getting off the first train because again, all of my luggage weighed more than me. I’m sure I looked quite the scene, this tiny woman lugging around all of this stuff that was much bigger than her.

I had just enough time to find my train platform, and relax for about 10 to 15 minutes before my next train, and then it was time to struggle getting on the train again.

At this point, I just accepted that I was going to look like the world’s biggest fool with all of my luggage.

Thankfully, this train was going straight to the airport, so I took an hour and a half slight nap while enjoying the French countryside for one last time for quite awhile.

Now, even though I accepted that I was going to look like a fool, I did still feel so awkward and like a complete idiot once I got to the airport. Charles de Gaulle Roissy Airport doesn’t really have many elevators. They have more escalators than anything.

Seeming how the train I was on was a double-decker TGV, I’m pretty sure there were at least a hundred people getting off that train at the airport, if not more, and because CDG only has escalators, everyone had to take the escalator one at time filing slowly behind one another.

Now, most people in France, even though they were at the airport and obviously traveling, had one medium or small suitcase with either one backpack/purse, and here I was with my one large suitcase, one small suitcase, one large backpack, and purse, all bulging as previously mentioned. The awkwardness level was tangible. It was so awkward, and I was struggling so immensely, that I almost completely lost it and burst out in laughter. Oh well, c’est la vie when you decide to live/move to another country/back home. Also, escalators and suitcases don’t mix too well, but I definitely managed (not that I really had a choice).

Thankfully I was at the airport well ahead of time, and because I was so exhausted already, I was able to sit for a couple of hours before I could check my bags in. I literally sat for two hours while I people-watched. I had no brain power to read, to write, or to do anything else really.

The airport is one of my favorite places to people watch because you have people from all over running around trying to check in and to catch flights speaking all different languages.

Once I was able to check in my two bulging suitcases, I got through security, and I enjoyed my last baguette sandwich, fresh smoked salmon with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and butter,  and a French-style espresso one last time before saying goodbye to my second home. It was quite the moment. That was the most savory baguette sandwich.

My first stop was Iceland, for only an hour and a half. Thankfully I was able to get some sleep on the plane, but I honestly never really sleep well on planes. So, really it was quite meh.

This first flight was my first dose of reverse culture shock. You’re probably wondering how that was possible. I was flying to Iceland from France. Well, my friends, it appears as though many American tourists in France found out about Icelandair’s great deals, just like me. About at least 80% of the people on my first flight were all American and very obviously so. I’d forgotten how loud we Americans can be. I generally consider myself a quiet person, even for an American, but now that I’ve lived in France for 8 months, where they’re just quiet 90% of the time, even in restaurants, I felt overwhelmed with the volume level. Seeming how I was already exhausted and just ready to be home even though I still had hours of travel ahead of me, I literally was becoming angry, even though they weren’t doing anything wrong, even though they weren’t bothering anyone. I was ready to deck someone. My sense of anger worsened when we got to Iceland and had to go through border control (no surprise there), and I’d forgotten that in the States, we are a culture of push. Single-file lines mean nothing to us. I was reacquainted with this quite quickly when going through border control and people were edging closer to me than I was comfortable and kept pushing me forward in the line, even though I clearly couldn’t move forward, even though I clearly was in line. My whole world view started shifting again, and the struggle was literally so real.

This continued even past the border control at the gates themselves. Again, most of the people on my flight to Boston was mostly Americans (no surprise there as we were flying to the United States), but again, I forgot how different Americans are. Thankfully though, I was in the exit aisle (which means lots of space!!!!), and I was sitting next to a lovely Finnish couple. I felt much more relaxed on this flight, thankfully so since it was a 5 and a half hour flight.

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One great thing about my travel home: this beautiful shot of Greenland! Look at all of that snow and ice. 

Once I arrived in Boston, I only had two hours to get across the airport to another terminal. I was a little overwhelmed because since I had booked my last flight separately, I had to pick up my bags, go through border control and customs, check my bags back in, and go back through security. It all worked out though, but the reverse culture shock kept coming. The guard at customs and the security guard both inquired as to how my evening was going. What? That threw me off. Why are you asking me a question not related to my things or me or where I was and why I was there? You are asking me how I am? huh? I forgotten how outwardly friendly Americans are. In France, they are very private, reserved people. At the airport, they only ask you questions when needed. Asking you how you are is just not a thing, and I forgotten that small talk is a thing, a thing that is massively ingrained in our culture. I almost forgot how to manage. I almost forgot to respond without giving them weird looks and feeling violated. In France the idea is ”I don’t know you. You don’t know me. We don’t talk to each other. That’s odd. I will not tell you personal information about myself, especially how I’m doing.” However, here in the States, it’s seen as polite. I’d forgotten. How do I be an American again? 

Another thing that threw me was the fact that everyone was speaking English and not with a European accent. I knew that was correct. I was in the States now, but my brain just couldn’t comprehend what was happening. It didn’t help either that I’d been traveling for 18 hours at this point. So, I kept moving forward all in a daze.

By the time I got to the check-in desk for my last flight home, I learned that my flight had been delayed an hour. Even though that was nice in the fact that I no longer had to rush through security, it did mean that home was an hour more away from me than originally planned. The struggle to stay awake and to be patient was becoming the realest of the real. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for a whole day.

Once I was through security, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since noon France time, which was 6 am my time here in the States, so I was starving. Again, I was pleasantly acquainted by reverse culture shock again. I ended up paying $9.00 plus tax for a half soggy sandwich. Why is everything so expensive here? Why is there tax? Why is this bread not crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside? Better yet, why is this sandwich soggy at all? What is this place? I was a bit overwhelmed. American prices make no sense, and I’m really sad that I can no longer eat baguettes.

When I finally boarded the last flight, I only had two hours and ten minutes between me and home. Thankfully, I was so exhausted that I was able to snooze a bit on the plane. The airport was dead upon arrival, being how it was about 12:15 am, and I balled my eyes out upon seeing my mother, not realizing how much I actually missed her and being completely delirious from exhaustion.

It was a bit of a rough journey, but I made it. I made it home safe and sound after much struggle, but I’m still trying to remember/figure out what this country is all about. France changed me, and I didn’t realize how much until coming back Stateside.

 

 

My failure is my success.

Despite having been working with my collègiens here in Laval, France for the past 7 months, it still appears as though I don’t know them or really know how to teach as well as I thought that I did.

As I’ve mentioned in many of my posts, teaching is difficult, and just when you feel like you’ve finally found your footing, the rug gets pulled out from under your feet again, sending you slamming on the ground, leaving you with a sore tooshie.

This was my experience last Monday. As I was going into my second to last week as a English teaching assistant here in France, the teacher with whom I work with at the middle school said she’d like to try separating the class into two groups, with me taking half, and then we would switch after 25 minutes. Splitting the class into two groups is something that I do often with my high school students, but I had never before done it with my middle school classes. However, I thought it was a good idea because it would give me the opportunity to challenge my teaching skills with the middle schoolers as well as to spend some individual time with them.

I failed. I failed big time. Middle schoolers are still very much children, so I actually ended up spending half of the already split in half time with them just managing their behavior (or rather, attempting to).

A few students would not stop talking repeatedly, even after asking them to be quiet and listen while I was teaching. Then, they even went so far as to say rude things to me and about me in French (because some of them still don’t fully realize that I speak and understand French). Then when I asked for their carnets (a handbook of sorts that allows the teachers to write notes to each student’s parents about their behavior), one student gave it to me, at which point I set it on the teacher desk (my mistake. I should’ve kept it in my hand), and I spent almost a full five minutes demanding the carnet of another student. I had two options: continue to stand there even though I was wasting the time I had or give in and just not take it from said student. If I just stood there and waited (which is what I ended up doing), I waste the rest of the class period. If I give in to the student, then the students will never learn to respect me, which was still important to me even though I only had two weeks left at this point. However, I was unsuccessful, despite my waiting and insistence, because of his straight up direct refusal during which the bell rang and at which point said student got up and walked away despite my demands while the other (without me seeing) stole his carnet back off the teacher desk and ran out of the classroom.

Not only was I completely frustrated, but I felt completely embarrassed, especially when telling the teacher what had occurred. It made me feel better that she said that she has trouble with the same students, but I still felt like I had completely failed, because I basically had.

I went home and was so frustrated that I almost cried. It was not a good moment.

Moments such as these teach me that I’m still learning though. I’m still a student myself. During this class time, I realized that even though I am more comfortable teaching than at the beginning of my contract, I have no idea how to actually manage classroom behavior and teach through the terrible behavior. I felt at a complete loss and as a complete failure, especially because in addition to not being able to discipline said students, the rest of the class was robbed of a proper lesson with me due to the behavior of those few students.

Despite frustration, I’ve grown just a little bit more because of my failure. I have to ask myself how I could’ve managed their behavior better. How do I properly gain the respect from my students, not just here in France but in future teaching positions? What do I need to do to make the expectations that I have for my students clear?

I’ve tried very hard this  year to be a resource for my students as well as someone that they can look up to and feel comfortable having fun while learning. However, that’s difficult to do when you are also trying to establish respect with your students at the same time. How should I go about creating a balance between the two?

These are all questions that I still don’t have answers to and will probably be continuing to ask for quite some time.

Despite the unanswered question though, situations such as these make me reflect on my progress, what I’ve managed to learn and what I still need to learn. It’s a reminder that I am and always will be a student myself, no matter what age I’m teaching, what I’m teaching, or where I’m teaching.

My failure pushes me to want to succeed and to learn even more. My failure is making me better, at my job and as a person. So, though I was frustrated, I’ve decided to look at it in a positive way, knowing that I can and I will do better next time.

 

“Are you single?”: French boys are too bold.

Truthfully, my emotions are quite a roller coaster, which was to be expected of course, but yes, they are indeed. I’ve been feeling lonely and out of sorts the past couple of days, but to focus on the positive, let’s talk about this past week.

This past week, from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning I was able to return to my French home, Nantes. I had a required orientation that I had to attend as English assistant in the Académie de Nantes on Wednesday. It was an 8 hour long session regarding information necessary for an immigrant in France to know, such as opening a bank account, immigration paperwork, enrolling in social security, etc etc and some tips regarding being an assistant in a French classroom. Though all of that information was quite useful and at some points, interesting, it was a bit of a drag. Most of it I already knew, so it was mostly just a refresher.

However, because of this required orientation, I was able to return to Nantes. As soon as I stepped off the train, I immediately felt it in my heart: I was truly in my second home. Of course, in typical Nantes fashion, it was chilly and raining. However, I welcomed the rain with open arms because this was France for me. Better yet even, I was able to stay with my host family from when I studied abroad and have dinner with them both Tuesday night and Wednesday night. I feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to see them again. It was almost as if I had never left. I love them all so very dearly, and I hope to see them multiple times while I’m in France for these next 7 months. I was also surprised at how well my French was coming out of my mouth, because let’s be real here, sometimes, the struggle is all too real. ( For example, my French failed me at the grocery store yesterday while I was checking out. The cashier had to speak English for me. It was kind of embarrassing.)

Unfortunately, I was not able to spend a lot of time walking around Nantes to all of my favorite places from when I studied abroad, but I did get some snapshots. I also met up with a former IES Abroad friend who is also a secondary English assistant in the Académie de Nantes, also in Nantes for the same orientation. Lexi and I walked around for a bit, and we decided to hit up an old favorite: le Nid. Le Nid means ”the nest,” and it’s a bar on the very top floor of the tallest building in Nantes, la Tour de Bretagne. Eggs with cut outs form the seats, and there is a long bird that encircles the entire bar, its back end being the part where you order your drinks. Le Nid has a balcony and overlooks the entire city of Nantes. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and I can say that it is definitely one of my favorite places in the city.

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Me overlooking the Cathédrale in Nantes from the balcony. What a beauty!

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Lexi and Me at Le Nid!

Unfortunately, I was not able to spend a whole lot of time with my host family because of how long my orientation was and because I had to head back to Laval on Thursday morning in order to get back to work on time. I was able to meet the student that they are currently hosting though, and it definitely brought back some memories talking to her about her classes at IES and the different activities she does. It’s hard for me to believe that 2 and half years have passed since that time. How different of a person I am and how many different experiences I’ve had since then!

Though my time in Nantes was short lived, it was definitely lovely, and I’m definitely going to go back multiple times before I head back home to the states in the Spring.

Onward to my classes at the high school. I started my classes at the high school on Thursday afternoon. I mostly just answered questions that the students had, introducing myself, telling them about myself, and telling them about my country. It really was an amazing experience to see what sort of questions they had for me and what sort of things they were interested in learning about me and my country. I really felt like they were engaged and actually curious, for the most part. There were, of course, a few who couldn’t care less, but I expected that. I absolutely loved it, being able to tell them about the differences in the United States and the American culture. I loved being able to shock them with different facts that either confirmed or broke the different stereotypes they had about my home culture. Most of them were also quite bold and confident in their English speaking skills, which I marveled at. However, of course I couldn’t scrape by without some awkwardness. In every single class, at least one 15 to 16 year French male decided that he was going to put all of his energy in pronouncing in the best English he possibly could “are you single?” *facepalm* Well, then. At least we got that out of the way. Good to know that high school boys are high school boys everywhere in the world. At least I know a little bit better now what to expect.

So, all 8 (yes, 8!) classes that I had at the high school were very fulfilling. I’m already starting to come up with lesson plan ideas and to write the actual lessons. Even though it’s been nice basically being on vacation, I’m ready to get back to work. I’m very excited to actually start giving lessons, teaching the students at both the middle school and the high school. I also found that I didn’t feel scared at all. I felt really confident about all of it, just being there and answering their questions. I’m very thankful for this opportunity and the experience that it will bring me.

As to other things going on, having my own apartment is both glorious and a curse. I love being able to manage my home and do whatever I’d like, whenever I’d like. However, it does get very lonely at times. However, this is where the growth comes in. I’ve set aside goals for myself during my time here in France, and one of them is to grow in independence. I think living alone will definitely push me towards that, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I just wish that the loneliness monster wasn’t knocking at my door every so often.

Also, I finally built up the courage to try to go to a church today that I found online. However, when I went on their website to double check the address and the time of service, I discovered that the church has moved to a place that is a 45 minute drive north of Laval. I was extremely disappointed. I then tried to find another Protestant church online, and I discovered that most of them are at least an hour’s walk from my apartment or there is no information on them whatsoever online. There are also so few. I have kind of picked up on the fact that Laval is very heavily Catholic and that there are few churches in general, let alone Protestant churches. This I have known about France, being an extremely secular country where religion is heavily a private matter, however, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated yet again with the culture. That culture shock just keeps swinging. So, I went back to sleep feeling defeated and rather sad. My bought of courage was for naught, and I’ll be gone on vacation the next few weeks. So, I won’t be able to try to find another church for next week or the couple of weeks to follow.

I do hang out with my friends that I’ve made here at the foyer, but sure, go on ahead and come in and stay for awhile loneliness monster. I suppose that part of personal growth is suffering through at least a little bit of discomfort.

In the meantime, I’ll be trying to focus on doing my lesson plans for school (I’m working on Halloween bingo for my middle school kiddos, and I’m quite excited about it.). Hopefully my next post will be a little more uplifting.

Until then….à plus mes amis!

Vous êtes américaine?! (You are American?!)

Today, I finally started officially working. Well, I guess you could call it that. Again, things tend to move quite slowly here in France. I finally went and observed two of the four classes that I will be teaching in at the middle school at which I was placed, however, that’s mostly what I did: observe. I won’t actually start teaching until next week probably but again key word: probably. However, in one of my classes, I had the opportunity to introduce myself and answer questions from the students that I will be teaching. They are really kind of adorable. I’m teaching the lowest level at the middle school, known as sixième in the French school system.

quick side note: So, just to teach everyone back home and everyone who is interested, here is the basic break down of how the French school system works. A child usually starts going to school around the age of three. They are thus in primary (or elementary school as we call it in the U.S.) school from age three until the age of 11. Then from age 11 to age 15, they are in middle school, which is slightly different from the U.S. school system. Sixth grade as we call it in the U.S. is known as sixième in France, which also means sixth. That’s the same, but then it gets a little tricky. Instead of going up like we do in the U.S., they go down in number. So, for example, what would be seventh grade in the U.S. is cinquième, which means fifth. Then 8th grade is quatrième, which is fourth…..You get the point, I’m sure. One other slight difference though, the last year of school, which is known as 12th grade/senior year of high school in the U.S., is known as terminale in France (terminal year). So, in all, French students spend four years in middle school and three years in high school.

Anyways, back to it. So, here I was standing up at the front of this classroom full of French 11 year olds, and firstly, I couldn’t help but to feel how adorable they were trying to ask me questions in English. Secondly, most had assumed that I’m English, because I speak English and because I’m living in Europe. So, when I told them that I’m American, I’m pretty sure their eyes doubled in size. They were so fascinated by my nationality, and then I realized that as I looked around the classroom, the students had notebooks, pencil bags, and pencils with the American flag all over them (They had stuff with the English flag on it, too. My eyes were just drawn to the American flag because it was really surprising to see). This really fascinated me because seeing the United States as ”cool” or ”hip” seems off to me, but then I also realized that we do the same thing with France. We put the Eiffel Tower on everything we possibly can, and it sells like crazy. Why do we do that? Why is it that other cultures/countries fascinate us so much, or rather, why is it so hip and trendy? I think it’s great that these kids are really interested in my country. However, I have to wonder, are they really interested in learning about my culture, my country, and myself, or is it just because the United States is so exotic to them? I feel the same way about people buying things with the Eiffel Tower on them. Are those people really interested in the country of France and its people or the romanticized picture of France that our culture has painted? I have to admit that sometimes, I refuse to buy things with the Eiffel Tower on them because even though the Eiffel Tower is a beautiful piece of architecture and a wonderful piece of French history, that’s not France to me. It doesn’t really fully symbolize what France and its people have come to mean to me and my life. It’s just one tiny, tiny corner of it. I can only hope that I can show these students a part of my culture, of my home that will help them to see the American flag in a whole new way.

I loved being able to tell them about myself though, about where I’m from (I said Indianapolis because giving a big city that I live near is much easier for them to comprehend than a small, country town like Pittsboro. Also, they struggled hardcore with pronouncing Indianapolis. I felt bad because it is kind of a hard word to pronounce to a non-native speaker.), about how old I am, what kind of music I like to listen to, what food I like to eat, etc. It felt strange being seen as this exotic, cool being to these French middle schoolers, but it was kind of fun to tell people about my country and myself and have it be seen as something new and different. It felt refreshing. I can only hope that I get to know my students as well. They do seem to be sweet little things.

When I was actually observing, some things definitely caught my attention. French classrooms apparently don’t tend to have decorations such as posters, calendars, etc. on the walls. The walls are almost completely blank and white. This is grossly in contrast to American classrooms, which are completely decked out with posters, information, colors, etc. every where. I wonder why that is. Is it to help the students focus on the lessons? Do the schools not want their students distracted so that they can put all of their attention into lesson learning? Also, the students learn British English, which comes as no surprise since that’s the closest English-speaking country to France, but I’m wondering what it’s going to be like teaching them because some of the terminology and phraseology in American English is definitely different than British English. I’m not sure that I’m going to remember to use the British English, which why would I since I’m not British, but still, I guess I just want to be conscientious of not confusing them, especially because they are young and because they are only learning basic English right now. The pronunciation of some words are definitely different for sure. I’m actually legitimately afraid of confusing them because my accent is completely different and my pronunciation and vocabulary are both very different as well. I suppose I’ll just have to see how the kids respond to me, accent and all.

Given this slight fear though, I’m really excited to finally be starting in the schools, even if it is just observing for now. I’m excited to teach these kids about my culture and language and to learn about their culture and language. It’s kind of overwhelming, in a very, very pleasant way. As I was walking back to my apartment after I class, I couldn’t help but to have an out of body experience. Here I was, walking in France, coming home from prepping to be an English teacher, teaching French students. This is truly a dream come true, a dream that I am achieving much more smoothly and with more confidence than I had ever initially anticipated (In fact, I feared absolute failure, to be honest). Not many get a chance to achieve such a dream, so it is thus that I am extremely grateful for how truly blessed I am. I’m so thankful that I have acquired the confidence, the means, and the support to pursue this dream full steam ahead.

Loving this life despite the constant roller coaster of emotions, and loving telling my story. Thank you all for listening (or rather reading) in.

Grands bisous et à plus mes amis….