10 November 2009

So, yeah. I haven't written in a while. Which I figured would happen. I spent a week in Belgium with fellow American Chrissy over the Toussaint vacation. I had a really great time. I learned that I CAN stay in a hostel and live to tell the tale. We even made a friend at our hostel in Antwerp! I learned that I can be spontaneous. I have also learned that even Mulhouse can feel like home; it was nice to have a place to come back to. I reeeeally don't feel like recapping my trip. Just know that I had fun and you can see what I saw by checking out my shiny new flickr account: click here, please! There should be 7 albums. If not, I'll punch flickr in the face.

Work is going pretty well. I've been having some good classes lately with lessons on the American Dream/Immigration, "American Idiot", the US School system, and the Vietnam War/protest songs, to name a few. I hope it continues like this. Even if Mulhouse has it's moments of extreme sketchiness, I'm very happy with the school situation. And the other assistants! I'm lucky to have such good friends here.

I've been homesick lately. But I'm trying not to think about it. Problems at home...and I can't really do anything from here. Not that I could really do anything there either. Anyway, going to London from Nov. 30th to Dec. 5th. Then I have less than two weeks before I go home for the holidays. I'm leaving the morning of December 18th, a Friday. Technically I have school that day, but I asked if I could leave early in order to save myself $300 on airfare. Even so, I'm building up quite the credit card debt. Plus the government back home is all like, give us your money! And I'm all like, no, thanks, I'd rather not. I need to send them proof of my income so they'll stop thinking it's reasonable for me to pay $200 a month on my student loans.

Aaaaaand yeah. Look at my pictures and be merry. Since I was too lazy to write a recap of my trip, you're probably not surprised to find that I was too lazy to caption my pictures. AT LEAST I divided them into albums. AT LEAST.


16 October 2009

This week has been...frustrating. I feel like I've been floating merrily along since I got here, everything pretty much falling into place without too much effort...until this week. It started over the weekend when I started getting sick. First a sore throat, then a stuffy/runny nose, then a cough, and eventually the chills. I'm still coughing a week later, but I'm feeling better. Then on Tuesday I was asked to prepare something about The American Dream. Those were my instructions: something. I assumed that meant I could do whatever I want. So I first talked about my personal definition of the American Dream and then I handed out several sheets of paper to the students, each with a word that I associate with the ideal American Dream: equality, liberty, happiness, success, etc. I wanted them to work in groups of 2 or 3 and try to define the word in their own terms and explain how they thought it related to the American Dream (either how I had described it or as they imagined it). The teacher seemed very annoyed with my activity because it was "too difficult". She pushed through it as quickly as possible and after class she explained that I can't do open-ended things, I have to give them concrete tasks with specific questions and I have to know in advance the answers that I want them to give. She sounded so annoyed with me and I was feeling like a complete failure and so of course I started crying...and couldn't stop. And then she was like OMG! It's not that serious! Everything's going to be OK! But it took me forever to compose myself. The thing is, this professor had been nothing but nice and helpful until this point and I hated to disappoint her and I felt like it wasn't really my fault. But yeah. I cried. The next day she left a note for me that said how sorry she was. That she talked to Michael about it and he said it was her fault, that she expected me to know what to do already without any guidance and then got upset when I DIDN'T know. Everything's fine now, but it was pretty sucky at the time.

So, I got past that incident, but there was more awfulness to come! This time closer to "home". There's a man who lives at l'internat with his wife (and some kids?). And he gets PISSED if anyone makes any noise after 9 PM. Luckily I have avoided his tirades, but one of my roommates got screamed at for taking a shower after 10PM on her first night at l'internat. And we heard some high school girls getting screamed at the other night for...something? Sitting in the stairwell (to get better wifi signal)? Anyway, APPARENTLY, this lovely man and his wife HAVEN'T SLEPT A FULL NIGHT SINCE WE (the assistants) MOVED IN. BECAUSE....we flush the toilet between the hours of 9PM and 7AM. GASP!!!!!!! His first step was to post a sign on the door of our bathroom asking that we THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!! Basically it says: PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! LET US SLEEP! LET OUR CHILDREN SLEEP! I. kid. you. not. And since the sign asked that we use the toilet "with discretion" during the aforementioned hours, we made a concerted effort to pee as little as possible during the night. Seriously. I woke up at 4 one morning and had to pee and actually debated for 15 minutes whether or not I should. But even with our discretionary use of the bathroom, we were still basically RUINING HIS LIFE.

So, without first talking to us about it, he went to the PROVISEUR of the high school, THE PRINCIPAL OF THE SCHOOL WHERE I WORK, and complained that we are impossible to live with. So the proviseur sent the three of us letters asking us to please learn to respect others since we all have to live together. Then the ogre wrote me a letter by hand saying that when we flush that toilet after 9PM we wake him up and we wake his wife up and we wake up Tiny Tim and Oliver Twist and every other pitiable literary character ever known to man. So basically the letter from the proviseur asked that we meet with the guy to resolve our problems. So Anne and I found him and said we wanted to talk about the "problem". He actually tried to avoid us!!! But we told him we had somewhere to go that evening and had classes early in the morning and needed to talk right away. So we explained that we have made every effort to be considerate, but that it's impossible to refrain from using the toilet at night. He and his wife said they understood that, but that the water runs right in their room and wakes them up every time, sometimes three or four times a night. And then they proceeded to explain that when we flush the toilet we can push on the flush, but then stop it. In this one aspect of French/European life I was completely ignorant. I have never seen a toilet designed for more economic use of water. I guess I'm just an UGLY AMERICAN. But anyway, couldn't he have just come upstairs and explained that without talking to the proviseur of the high school?? What a whack job. Seriously. But at least that's resolved....for the moment.

But yeah, this week has just seemed SUPER SHITTY. But it's ending on more positive notes. I had two really good lessons today. One involving Paul Simon's "American Tune" and one involving more NCIS, with acting and a discussion about Gibbs' interrogation techniques, the anonymous favorite being "the Creepy Uncle". And last night even though I was still feeling sick and still upset about the whole toilet drama, I went with Anne and Chrissy to a Mulhouse Assistants party. It was hosted by two assistants, one from Scotland, one from Germany. It was really nice to meet everyone, chat about whatever, and just chill. I'm obviously not a social butterfly, but I really enjoy meeting people while I'm here and it's nice to have things to do.

So, I guess it makes sense that after two positive, uneventful weeks I would have one really sucky one. But I hope the universe has gotten all that out of its system and will now let me continue with my life in France without too much hassle...or crying. And I hope to finally have my 3G wireless on Monday, so I won't have to hang out at MacDo anymore (like I am now)...although, really, it's pretty comfortable here. And I don't have to worry about walking/tram-ing home alone at night since Anne and I always go together.

Tomorrow, we're going to take a day trip to Basel, Switzerland. Taking the train. Will probably go to a museum and who knows what else. It's kind of really cool that I can easily spend a Saturday in another country if I feel like it. Plus, the train ticket only costs 5 euro, soooo you can't really beat that. I mean, you could if it was 4 euro...or free...but I'm not complaining...not about this at least.

Also, IT'S COLD. Like legit cold. I don't even want to know how freezing it will be in a month. It will be interesting to spend Christmas break in Florida and then come back to cold weather. Oh, also, I'm totally going to England at the end of November. Did I mention that? It wasn't definite, but now it is. Going with two English professors and 13 students from the high school. And Monia's coming too! So that'll be really neat. Yay for travel!! Anyway, I guess that's all I have to rant and rave about for this evening. I still need to post pictures...which I'll do eventually.

I hope everyone is doing well.

Stephanie (:

08 October 2009

I’ve been pretty busy since I last posted. Which is a good thing! Because the busier I am, the happier I am. I had to get up early Friday morning to head to Strasbourg for my orientation…which was soooooooooooo helpful. Seriously. I mean how would I have ever known about the French school system if I hadn’t gone to that riveting presentation?! So in summary, orientation = waste of time. But I at least got to meet everyone. I think I now know almost all of the assistants in Mulhouse. After three hours of mind-numbing information, I headed out with a bunch of assistants and had some delicious pizza. Afterward, we headed for the cathedral, which is really beautiful and has this really neat horloge astronomique (astronomical clock). After that we took the scenic route back to the train station, taking in the amazing architecture and overall ambience of Strasbourg. Chrissy and Chris stayed later with their friend Leah, who was a Strasbourg assistant last year and now lives there with her husband. Monia stuck around to meet her boyfriend, who was coming into the Strasbourg station. Mary waited around for Elias because they both needed to go to a dinner together. So that left Anne and me to head back to Mulhouse. She had to get back early enough to pick up the rest of her things from the house where she had been staying but ended up hating. She was going to do it by herself, but I thought that was ridiculous so I went with her. And I saw exactly why she was desperate to move. She was basically living in an attic. The bed took up pretty much the whole “room” and the ceiling slanted down so that for anyone taller than me it would be hard to stand up straight. Anne remarked that the woman to whom the house belongs had been a lot nicer before she asked to move out. We gathered up her stuff and headed back to l’internat.

I realize that I should probably explain who all of these people are. I already mentioned MARY. She was the first assistant I met in Mulhouse. ELIAS is the Spanish assistant at her high school. MONIA is the German assistant at MY school, but she doesn’t live at the school, she lives downtown with an older French gentleman and a French girl who’s getting her Master’s. CHRISSY is one of my roommates at l’internat. She’s from Maryland and she was an assistant in Strasbourg last year. CHRIS is a guy who’s very into foreign language teaching and has a lot of experience with that. ANNE is my other roommate. She’s the German assistant at the same school as CHRISSY and she’s pretty much the nicest person ever. The great thing is that since I most often hang out with ANNE, MONIA, and CHRISSY, French is the common language and so we speak French all the time. When it’s just CHRISSY and I, we’re lazy and we revert to English.

Anyway, back to my recap. I had a very interesting weekend. I stayed at a chalet in the Vosges Mountains with a bunch of professors from my school. Michael (English professor and head of the English department) picked me up Saturday morning and we drove to Gaëlle’s house so we could pick her and her son Eloi up. Eloi is one year old and ADORABLE. From there we headed toward the mountains. It took about 30 minutes to get to the place where we parked the car. Then it was a 40 minute walk to the chalet. And by “walk”, I mean excruciating climb! Perhaps I exaggerate. But it was tough for me, with the incline and the altitude. But I did it!!! And when we finally got to the chalet and I looked out at the expanse of mountains and the rolling hills, the cows, the horses, the sky, it felt amazing. Michael and Isabelle had to go back down to meet some other professors and help them carry up some food, but I stayed behind and enjoyed the weather and the view and the fresh air. We eventually ate lunch and then I had to take a nap because I had a headache and was really tired. Isa was worried that I was homesick or something, but I was actually just very tired. When I woke up, I went outside and joined everyone for some coffee. After that three people left. Isa, Michael, and I headed out for a walk. We ended up staying out for two hours, basically making our way around the mountain. I can’t even describe how fantastic it was to be making our way over mountain paths. We saw the sun set and even stopped at a farm (which is now built up to include a restaurant and lodging). We sat outside and had a beer, chatting about family and board games. We heard some children singing, so Isa and Michael taught me a song that we sang at the top of our lungs:

C’est à bâbord qu’on chante, qu’on chante
C’est à bâbord qu’on chante le plus fort

And the kids had to respond:

C’est à tribord qu’on chante, qu’on chante
C’est à tribord qu’on chante le plus fort

And basically it’s a contest to see who can sing the loudest! When the kids (with their parents not too far behind) finally got to where we were sitting, we declared ourselves the winners. After that we finally headed back to our chalet, where I met Carl (math professor at my school), his wife RoseMarie, and their three daughters Juliette, Céline, and Aurore. Everyone had dinner and then we played this murder mystery game called Petits Meurtres et Faits divers. We played until almost two in the morning and then those without children to take care of headed to the kitchen to do some dishes. Isa and I were the last ones up, listening to music and scrubbing plates. It was after two when we finally went to bed.

In the morning, I was the last one up and joined everyone already drinking coffee and eating their tartines. RoseMarie insisted on making mine for me. She was so motherly towards me the whole weekend and it was really lovely. Honestly, everyone was incredibly nice and always making sure I was comfortable and happy. We played more of the murder mystery game. Afterward, we had lunch. Then I drew with Juliette. She really seemed to like me and everyone started talking about how I should babysit for Carl and RoseMarie. I said I’d be happy to!

People started to leave throughout the day. I helped put things away and clean up. And then in the afternoon, I took one more nice walk with Michael and a couple other professors. After that we made sure that everything was sparkling clean and we made the trip back down to the cars. And it was pretty difficult too! Because even though you don’t have to deal with the whole incline thing, you have to walk very carefully because the path is very rocky/pebbly and it’s easy to slip. On the way back we stopped at Gaëlle’s and had some soup. We talked about popular names in France vs. in the US and about TV shows, particularly Scrubs! :D Michael finally dropped me back at l’internat after 9 and I was exhausted. I recounted my weekend to Chrissy and Anne and then I passed out.

Monday morning, I took a shower and then headed over to the school to see if there had been any developments in my schedule. I left a blank table for the profs to fill out and when I came back in the afternoon, it was full! Michael actually had to write “12 hours” at the top to remind everyone that that’s all I can work per week. I actually have 14 hours this week. But it will all balance out eventually. Some weeks I’ll barely work. Other weeks, it’ll be packed. Tuesday was exhausting!! I had six classes to go to. And THEN, I had a welcome dinner with all of the English professors. And I didn’t get home until after 11. It was a CRAZY day. But it was fun, too. Some classes kept their questions to things like favorite movies and what it’s like in Florida. One class, though, threw me for a loop when they started asking questions about Obama, healthcare reform, the death penalty, the Spanish language in the U.S., America’s relationship with France, Sarkozy, etc. etc. etc. The last class of the day was a group of guys who already have their bac and are preparing for engineering school. They had to do an internship and now they are writing about the experience so that they can give a presentation in English in December. Basically, I have to listen to their presentation, correct their grammar, ask them questions, and generally give them advice. But before I started working with them one on one, I stood in front of the class with the teacher and she told them to ask me questions if they had any. They didn’t really seem too interested. They asked me my name and eventually if I was being paid and how much and could they do the same thing in the US. I said that there isn’t a program like this in the US and the teacher argued with me. I don’t really like working with her, but I guess I don’t really have to, since I’ll be with the students. Honestly, though, I can’t worry too much about her because everyone else is beyond nice and helpful and enthusiastic. So the overall atmosphere is a very good one.

What’s been most difficult is that the wifi wasn’t working in l’internat. There’s a lot of construction going on at the school and the workers hit something. So I went days without have internet. It game back last night, but kept disconnecting. I ended up going with Chrissy and Chris to MacDo and we stayed there until 11 (when they close). The first thing I did was talking to Melissa on MSN messenger and start downloaded shows!!! It’s so weird not having a TV and not watching my favorite shows. And while you might say that there are more important things, and you would be right, it’s still really nice to be able to watch House and Bones and Glee and NCIS, etc. Unfortunately, as I probably mentioned, it takes forever to download things using the wifi at MacDo. THANKFULLY, the internet is working at the moment at l’internat and I’m downloading all of my shows (very quickly!) while I type this LONG entry.

Today I’m going over to the school for a “vin nouveau” gathering. So, basically just a bunch of professors drinking wine in the teachers’ lounge. Then I have a break. Then I have one class this afternoon at 4. Tomorrow will be busy again. I have five classes to go to. But then it will be the weekend and I can catch up on sleep and go with Anne and Chrissy to get some things we need for our rooms (hangers, blankets, etc.)

Congrats to you if you made it all the way through this ridiculously long post. I think I’ll stop here.

P.S. Please see facebook for pictures!!!
P.P.S. Please see facebook for pictures when it decides to let me upload them!!!!

29 September 2009

So, last night I decided to be brave (yes, sometimes it's a decision you have to make). I walked down the hall and I asked one of the girls if she knew the password for the wifi. She knew immediately that I'm the English assistant. Either because she saw me come from my little assistant hallway or because I am so American that not even my best French skills can hide it. Anyway, I got the password and was able to connect to the (incredibly weak) wireless...at least for a little while. Then I had that limited connectivity thing going on and it's been that way since. Which is why I'm back at, you guessed it, McDonald's. I wanted to check on a map where the bank I have to go to tomorrow is located. The director of the English department was nice enough to set up an appointment for me to open a compte courant. And when I showed up at the English teachers' lounge today around 11AM, one of the teachers asked if I could come to her class and introduce myself. I helped her prepare an English lesson for later in the day and then went with her to class. This particular group was incredibly small, consisting of five 15 year old boys. She told them to find out as much information about me as they could. "Whut eez your nayme?", " 'ow old ah yoo?", "What ah your 'obbeez?". Adorable! She had to prod them to talk and I had to jump in and ask them questions. Then the prof (Isabelle) asked them to give me suggestions about things to do and see in Alsace, which finally got them talking (castles, castles, and more castles! Also, laser tag.) They promised to celebrate Saint Nicolas with me and I in turn promised to bring them brand new episodes of CSI. I'd say that's a good trade. Anyway, I was feeling pretty blah this morning, but actually getting to do something like that brought back my enthusiasm. And Isabelle already asked me to work with her class every Tuesday for at least this trimester. As for the rest of my schedule? It will probably be relatively empty until after la Toussaint. But (did I mention this already?), there will be a schedule in my mailbox and the English professors can just fill in where and when they want me to assist. I have to start coming up with games/activities. Definitely some Jeopardy! and Guess Who. I'd like to use movies and music too. So hopefully I'll be able to incorporate all of that.

I met up with Mary and the rest of the Mulhouse assistants today at the Gare centrale. We bought our tickets and got the Carte 12-25, which, once paid for, basically let's you take the train anywhere in France for half price. I guess I should probably figure out what I want to do for la Toussaint, since I have a ridiculous amount of days off (Oct. 24-Nov.5). I know Mary already has plans to visit her old host family, but maybe another assistant will want to travel with me. Anyway, after the tickets, Mary and I grabbed lunch at this place that serves pasta in what look like Chinese food take-out containers. I had ravioli with spinach. V. good. Then we used the free Subway wifi for a bit. Then we hit Monoprix for a few things.

Found out that there might be another assistant living with me, well in one of the rooms in my little hallway anyway. I like being alone and I don't. Which is probably how it is for most people. It's nice to have everything to yourself, but it can get lonely. However it works out, though, I'll make the most of it. I guess I'm going to finish my mozzarella salad + Coca light and then head back to my room. I have episodes of House and Dollhouse to watch. If you loved me, you'd send me a TV.

Stephanie (:

26 September 2009

Trees change color here.

Meet my good friend Tram-y

Yesterday I walked a zillion miles to the city center. And by a zillion, I mean 3. I went into the shopping center and picked up some things at Monoprix. Then took the tram back. I was out from about 12 to 4, but nothing very exciting happened. I went back to my room, took a shower, took a nap, and then came back to good ol' MacDo. I was talking to another assistant on g-chat when we realized that we were sitting two tables away from each other! So we ended up chatting for a bit and made plans to hang out.

Today we met at a tram stop and headed back to the center. Most things are closed on Sundays, but we were able to wander around le musée des beaux arts and look at des oeuvres alsaciennes. Had a drink at a cafe. Stopped for sandwiches at a patisserie. Sat for a while in the park. Headed back towards MacDo, but not before stopping at le parc des sports to watch some older gentlemen play a game of boules (French bocce ball, basically). Very fun to see how heated it gets between them. Now we're at MacDo again. I swear I'll do something more French once I have internet in my room. It's just very hard to feel cut off and that's how I feel if I don't at least check my mail.

Tomorrow I have to do important things like get a justificatif de domicile so I can open a bank account so I can get paid at some point. I also have to sign papers at the school and send some stuff to the immigration office. All very annoying, but I don't really have a choice. Tuesday, I'll go with a couple of assistants to buy train tickets for Friday. Apparently our orientation is pretty short, so we can wander around Strasbourg for a while afterward and have plenty of time to get back.

So, I woke up super sore this morning. Probably since I've been walking all over the place here after months and months of slothdom at home. Hopefully I can get myself used to exercise again before I have to go run around on a mountain with the English professors next weekend. My sleeping schedule is still a little off, but hopefully it will balance itself out soon enough.

I suppose that's all I have to report for now.

Stephanie (:

25 September 2009

Oh hey. I'm in France. And of all places, I'm sitting at McDonald's because they happen to have free wi-fi and the internet in my room is not currently working. I'm talking to my sister on skype, which is quite nice. I don't think I have enough euros to take the tram back to my school and I can't seem to find an ATM, but whatever. I'm not that far away and it's worth it to be able to chat. I'm trying to download the latest episode of Glee so I'll have something to watch later in my room...it's taking forever. So! My trip!

My family took me to the airport a few hours before my 7:55 PM flight. We ate dinner and I bought a book of a crosswords and a Swatch watch. Around 6, I said good-bye and headed through security. I cried when I hugged my mom and dad and sister. And as I waited in line, I had to bite my lip to hold back more tears. I'm cry easily anyway so I expected it. When I got through and to my gate I didn't have much time before boarding the plane. Which was good, since I despise waiting. The flight was long. 9 hours. And it's hard for me to sit still. But I had my own personal video screen on which I watched The Hangover and part of the Hannah Montana Movie. I arrived in Frankfurt around 11AM and had to catch a 12:40 flight to Basel/Mulhouse. I went into the tiniest waiting area and had to take a bus to the plane, walking up narrow stairs to board. I passed out before take-off even and woke up when we had landed about 50 minutes later. I wearily followed the other passengers off the plane and to the baggage claim area. I picked up my big red suitcases and somehow was able to pull them while holding my carry-on bag and purse. After a bit of looking around I found Karine, an English teacher from my high school who came to pick me up. She helped me with my bags and we headed for the school (a 30-minute drive). She asked me questions and we ended up talking about cinema! :D

When we got the school (Lycee Louis Armand), Karine called Eric (who I think is a sort of properties manager) who opened the gate and show us my room in the internat (boarding house), as well as the kitchen, and like 37 million different keys I have to use for each door. I feel like I'm in Nicole Kidman in The Others, locking each door behind me before opening another one (so as not to expose the children to light!). Then we went next door to the actual school and saw the classrooms, teachers' lounges, offices, etc. I met a bunch of the English teachers, who are all incredibly nice. Like INCREDIBLY. I actually kind of feel like I've known them before. In another life maybe? And they all tell me I speak French really well! Sans accent! I'm sure they're exaggerating, but it's still nice to hear. And it's nice to know that I'll be speaking plenty of French while I'm hear and hopefully improving more and more. As she was showing me around, Karine was speaking to me in French, but anytime we passed by students, she immediately switched to English because they don't want students to know I speak French so that they'll only speak English in class. Jennifer (from Ireland originally), told me that her class has prepared questions for me already! And Isabelle asked me to prepare a lesson on Halloween for her students. I don't even know when I'll start working, but I'm glad that they seem happy to have me here and that I might actually be genuinely useful.

Yesterday around 5:30 PM I intended to take a nap but ended up sleeping until after midnight. (Thank goodness Karine had thought to bring me some groceries, otherwise I would have been starving and dying of thirst!) I stayed up for a little bit and went back to sleep, not waking up until 10AM. I got myself together quickly and went over to the English teachers' lounge to meet them for their 10:05 break. I hung out for a bit then went back to my room to eat something. I intended to go back pretty quickly but fell asleep reading. I honestly didn't realize how tired I was. But I have the weekend to recuperate. I will hopefully be meeting up with some other Mulhouse assistants tomorrow so we can explore a bit. We have our orientation in Strasbourg on October 2nd. October 3rd and 4th, I'm going to stay at a chalet in Les Vosges with the English teachers. Then on the 6th, they are having a welcome dinner for me at a new restaurant. No idea when I'll start working, though. I still need to set up a bank account and some other boring administrative things. But I think it will all have to wait for Monday.

I basically feel like I'm in a dream...or more like a movie, actually. Yes. That's how it feels. Well, I guess I had better head back before it gets dark. My next post will hopefully include something interesting, some pictures, and something in French (uniquement pour toi, Will!)


Stephanie (:

23 September 2009

Today I go down the rabbit-hole...