Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You get bread for Christmas! HO HO HO!

Nothing says a French Christmas like a baguette-carrying Santa, right?

This week has been pretty lax; just enjoying doing a lot of nothing. I wish I could say I was reading books, making lesson plans, and being productive..but that'd be a lie. I've been sleeping a lot, catching up on TV series online, and editing photos from this fall. The family left earlier today, so I'm officially on vacation! As for my plans, I'm going to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the family I used to work for. I was really flattered that the mom asked me--I mean, we get along great, but inviting someone from outside your family to Christmas is a really kind gesture. She said no worries, I was part of the family and it wouldn't be a problem. So I won't be all alone drinking wine and watching movies! Of course, I'd love to be at home with my own family eating pork pie and sugar cookies, and watching It's a Wonderful Life, but this year, I'll have to be with my adopted French family. I'll be thinking of you all, though. This is my favorite time of the year!

I'm headed to Berlin on Christmas night, by bus. Fourteen hours on a bus is going to be awful; I know it already. I promised myself after taking a similar trip to Munich two summers ago that I would never again take a bus ride that long..but look at me doing it again. It's cheap, and it's overnight (so I won't waste the day), but I'm going to be one tired SOB upon arriving. Meh, I'll survive. I'm really excited to go and test out my German for a few days. Luckily, there'll be Christmas markets and whatnot still up on the 26th, so I can kind of get the German Christmas experience without being there all alone on Christmas Day. I'm going to stalk a university I'm interested in and do some sightseeing around the capital. I've wanted to go for a long time, so I'm sure I'll enjoy it and be sure to take tons of pictures. I'm going by myself, but a few days later, I'll be going to Holland to rejoin my friend in Amsterdam. We're going to spend the New Year there and before I know it, I'll be back in Paris for a new semester. :( I want vacation to last forever!

Here are some drawings some of my students made me on the last day of school (too cute, huh?):

Well I'm crossing my fingers that the French (once again) will pay me tomorrow so I can partake in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy tomorrow. I want an iPhone. Real bad. And they're on sale until Christmas. C'mon, Frenchies, make it happen..

Enjoy some final holiday shots of Paris!

If I don't post again this week, Merry Christmas/Happy Kwanza/Hanukkah/Nothing Day to all! Miss you lots, much love from Paris :)


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmastime in the City of Lights

My apologies! For weeks now, I've been making mental notes of things I need to blog about, and taken pictures with full intentions of posting them, but alas, life caught up with me. The days are short, the skies are grey, the kids are tiring, my energy is understand. I'm now once again on vacation and I couldn't be more ready for some me time.

First note of business, I finally got paid! 'Bout time. I woke up on a Saturday not too long ago, sleepily checked my bank account from my bed and BY GOLLY! My poverty was over! (My assistant friend somewhat affectionately calls this period "The Long Famine") I immediately decided to reward the French economy by going out and buying luxurious things like food! and toilet paper! and a winter coat! Just walking around the city and knowing that I had money in the bank gave me such a sense of relief. I know money doesn't buy happiness, but in my book, it most definitely buys piece of mind.

So, with that out of the way, I delved into trying to finish up my last few weeks of classes. Luckily, Thanksgiving and Christmas took up full class periods, which always make my life easier. The kids enjoy a break from all the straight learning when I have a culture day, and good God do they oooh! and ahhh! at my 5 year-old Mac when I show them slide shows! They're always like, oooh are you rich? Look at her silver computer! I love my computer--it's seen me through a lot--but I'm hoping to get a newer, much lighter version in the near future courtesy of the IRS!

Did my first tests a week or two ago and most of the kids did okay. I gave the kids two extra credit questions, and when some of them got back their tests with more than 100%, they were totally confused. You mean, Rachel, we did better than 20/20? But 22/20 doesn't make sense! I explained that that extra credit is pretty common back in the US to help out your grade a little bit. I'm sure the French Ministry of Education would deem it as rewarding incorrect answers or something to that effect...but my class, my rules! It's frustrating because there are always those kids that do great, and then ones in the same class that can't even answer the simplest questions. I know the learning curve is different for all of them, but it's annoying to see some kids do so poorly while others are chomping at the bit to learn more. I can only delay my class so much to accommodate the slower learners. I think a few of them don't understand one lesson and then immediately go into "well, I don't get this, so I'm going to just stop caring at all" attitude. I know it well because I remember being so frustrated when I first came to France almost four years ago (has it been that long already?). I wrote in my journal then something to the effect of "so many words are floating in my head and I can't figure out how to connect them yet." It takes time, and I often equate it to putting a puzzle together. You know bits and pieces, you see or hear something here, and then there again, and then you realize what it means, and hey! now you get what this means! I personally enjoy it, but I doubt a lot of 9-year-olds do. Language acquisition really interests me, and I might write an entry about it over break. Full of lots of nerdy linguistic terms, I know you can't wait!

Christmastime in Paris is beautiful. The city finally started decorating, and the weather changed to match the decor. I know that after spending a good portion of my life in the Midwest, I should be "used" to the cold weather, but nope, I'm not. Can't quite shake that habit of swearing profusely when I walk outside only to be greeted by a cold gust of wind slapping me in the face. And I can't say I enjoy the cracked, dry hands and constant cold feet. The last week has been pretty cold--temperatures in the 20s (-5˚C sounds much more threatening)--and on Thursday, SURPRISE! It snowed! Now, I know you Midwesterners are scoffing at this after the giant snow dump last week, but it really doesn't snow very often in Paris. Once a winter, maybe. It gets cold and teases you with a few flurries, but as far as real snow storms? Hardly ever. So imagine my excitement to wake up to see the sky filled with really felt like Christmas was coming. The kids at my schools were glued to the windows and it actually tied in well because we had just learned snow, snowman, and snowball, so I told them to go and have fun in the snow! The temperatures are also not as cold as home, but as my friend Hannah was saying on her blog (she also writes about it much more eloquently than I can), winter in big cities is much harder when you don't have a car. We're kind of spoiled in the States--we go from our warm houses to a car, then to school or work, etc. Lots of inside spaces and the only exposure to the weather is walking between these places. Not so much for me. I have a cold walk to my metro, followed by lots of walking and waiting for trains and buses--all outside. Brr. Oh, and the other day, in typical French fashion, all the buses were canceled (for maybe 2 inches of snow), but no one was informed. So I waited for an hour at two different stops before finally deciding to just make the 45-minute trek by foot to the train station. Luckily, after about 20 minutes, a nice woman picked me up and gave me a ride. Faith in humanity restored!

Okay super long entry..that's all for now! Here are a few pictures. Lots more (I've been saving 'em up) here.

A star lantern my German friend, Steffi, brought me while visiting earlier this week

And of course, chocolate

World's smallest Christmas tree (Joyeuses Fêtes=Happy Holidays)


Notre -Dame and her big 'ol Christmas tree

Coming very vacation plans and SO MUCH MORE! I know you're way excited.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another week gone as a teacher. Now that all the initial paperwork, observation and looming vacation is over, I have a solid seven-week stretch of time to get some real work done. Two weeks down. Another week or two, and I'll be really counting down the days. I can't say I hate my job. It's not hard, per se, and it's something new. I'm all for new experiences. It's just that some days, it can be challenging and very tiring. Despite their varied backgrounds, the kids are pretty good. Some could definitely use some learning disability testing, or at least some behavioral lessons. During recess breaks, I hear horror stories from teachers about kids that have hit them, bit them, or thrown a chair at them. (!) So far, nothing like that in my classes. But behavior is just something that is definitely lacking in a lot of them, especially the boys. Chalk it up to cultures, I guess. A lot of the kids have abusive fathers, absent fathers, or just not enough's a real problem that seems to repeat itself in future generations.

As far as the English lessons, though, they're going okay. I have this time to make some real progress, and I've been trying, but some classes are just better than others. In some classes, it's just a good group of kids that don't fight, and are really receptive to learning English. In others, it's a really strict teacher that knows how to handle them. But there are a few of my classes that are just plain disrespectful and annoying. Let me tell you, it gets old saying "BE QUIET!" over and over. One class of 5th graders I have are way behind the class right next door to them--they both started off at the same level--solely because I spend half the period telling them to be quiet, listen, and threatening them with non-existent tests. As a tip from another assistant, I might just make the troublemakers sit alone at a desk and copy pages from an English book. Something really English-y, say, Charlotte Brontë or Charles Dickens. It's a classic French school punishment, making kids faire des copies. They all know The Simpsons, (I get asked at least once a week if Springfield is a real city..which I have to respond, yes, there's more than one!) so maybe I'll go all Bart Simpson on their ass and make them write "I will not talk when my teacher is talking" 20 times. For the really bad ones, "I most certainly will not ever again think of speaking while my instructor is teaching us invaluable English lessons that will serve us in our future studies and careers." 100 times.

My day-to-day life as an temporary Parisian has become pretty familiar. My morning routine is hauntingly precise. Up by 6:20, quick breakfast, check my bank account (crossing my fingers), get ready, out the door by 7:00 on the dot. Followed by a hurried 6-minute jaunt to the metro stop. Catch 7:06/7:07 train to train station. Arrive there at 7:21/22. Run to commuter train that leaves at 7:25. Get to suburb around 7:50, run to the 7:55 bus to take to my school, arrive at my school around 8:15. Repeat the next day.

I feel like I've adapted pretty well to living (again) in Paris. I frequent the libraries like a pro, take the metro and buses to every corner of the city, and know that the supermarket closest to me closes officially at 8pm but locks its doors at 7:50. Sometimes, while on one of my many public transport trips, I'll scare myself because I'll know what stop I'm at without opening my eyes. I'll recognize where I am just by which side of the train the doors open on or by how many times the train has stopped since I've gotten on. Bad, huh!

The thing is, though, I like blending in. I like being a part of the city, breathing it in and watching life go by as a million other people follow their own morning routines. I love that, with unfailing consistency, the same beggar woman who always sits in front of the bakery will be there on my way home, or that the fruit shop will call out the day's specials as I walk by, or that in my building, where I don't know anyone, everyone will still say "bonjour," to me, because we live in the same building. (Note of culture: you would not say "bonjour" to someone randomly on the streets. Since we cross paths in the building, it's common courtesy to say hello.)

So even when I'm pissed, with no money, and it's raining, and I'm dreading having to get up at 6am the next morning, and I haven't started my lesson plans...I look out my window, see the Eiffel Tower, and remember why I'm here. Because I love this city. If teaching kids English during the day and watching kids after school makes it possible for me to live here, then that's what it takes. Paris wins.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's clementine season and I can't get enough of them. Perfectly portable, delicious, and cheap. Cheap being the important part. Still waiting on that paycheck, but at this point it's like a far-off dream. Going to the grocery store is a combination of arithmetic and exercise--adding up my expenses and walking back and forth to take back things I can live without. Bare minimums is the name of the game. I hate it. To make matters worse, a lot of other assistants in my region have now been paid. Why not me? Who knows. My guess is it's a lotto that the Ministry of Education plays and apparently I did not win the first round. Frustrating to say the least.

School's been going okay. Somedays, I feel like I've made hardly any progress at all with the kids. They can be rowdy, disrespectful, and annoying. But other days, I'll ask a question, and I'll get a genuine response--in English--and I feel like I'm doing my job, or that at least I've kept their attention long enough to tell me I like tennis. They're mostly good kids, excited to learn English. It's just always those few little troublemakers that make class hard for everyone else.

In my free time, I've been catching up on TV series online (The Office is my fave), watching (and desperately trying to understand) DW-TV (German news channel), and reading Julia Child's book, My Life in France. And of course, taking pictures on my strolls around the city.
Found this little gem while trekking through southern Paris. A giant hanging out of an elementary school. There was a sign next to it that said the school spent a year making it and eventually assembling it out the window.
I love that even though it's 2009, the city still has parts of it that haven't changed in a long, long time. It gives Paris that authentic charm that I love.
I ran into a brocante, a sort of rubbish sale in the street. There's everything--fabulous art deco furniture, light fixtures, old magazines, mannequins..
The French love to make up their own English words, like le fooding, roughly translated as cuisine. Also, just for fun, note the spread-eagle woman, upper left. In public. Welcome to France!
Beautiful architecture.
Gotta go make some lesson plans, ahh the life of an English assistant!
More pictures can be seen here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

decisions, decisions

So my blogging mojo has been's week 6 of teaching in France and as of yet, no pay. As an American, I know that it is so typical of me to bring up money..but really, France? Eating cereal is getting kind of old. Supposedly, we should be receiving something next week..but my faith in their word ran out a long time ago. I'll believe it when my account isn't -2.65€ anymore. The worst part is that we just had vacation and I couldn't go anywhere! Consequently, a large portion of time was spent surfing the Internet and sleeping. Really, the only productive thing I did was research grad schools in Paris and a few in the States. I've decided that I would really like a Master's degree, and I need to do it next fall or I won't do it at all. Plus, in France, if you're older than 28, you aren't eligible for student health insurance. If I start next fall, I should finish right around when I turn 27 (scary).

However, going to graduate school in France presents me with some hard questions. Do I plan on staying in France? France has a funny little loophole for French citizenship. Two years in the country and a degree from one of their universities, and you're eligible to be a French citizen. However, I'm sure they expect you to integrate into French society, and all the paperwork to actually get citizenship would take at least a year. I don't know if I want to live or work here long-term. So here I am, in 2009, debating on whether or not I'll still want to be living here in 2013 or 2014. But there are obvious advantages to getting my education here:
-It's (nearly) free. About 600-1000€ for the year, including health insurance.
-The degrees are much more tailored to what I want to do (combining journalism/communication and languages)
-The proximity to other countries and their languages
-Mandatory internship abroad
-Staying in Paris
-My assistantship is renewable, so I could have an income while going to school (it'd be a lot of work, but many do it)
-The university I'm most interested in is in the same department I work in
-I'm already here, so registering is much easier
-No GRE required; admission process much easier

-Living in Paris is expensive
-Most likely can't get student loans to help out with costs (there are ones out there for US citizens abroad..but the schools I'm looking at aren't on their approved lists)
-It's a big time commitment (at least 2 1/2, 3 years)
-Far from home

After nine months of being an assistant, I don't know if I'll want to do it again. University registration is months away, but I really like having a rough idea of what I'm going to do so I can plan accordingly. If I choose to go back to the States, there are some disadvantages:
-The cost (varies, but at least $10,000 a year..probably more)
-I haven't taken the GRE yet and the next testing date in Paris is in February..and a lot of schools' apps are due at the end of 2009
-I haven't really found any program yet that I feel fits me
-I have absolutely NO IDEA where I would want to go. East coast? West coast? Florida?Texas? Midwest (meh..)?

Anyway, I know this isn't that interesting. Really helps me more than anything to write it out. All I know is I'd really like to continue my education, and if it comes down to cost (I am poor), staying in Paris would be the more practical choice. And I love Paris. But a year or two from now, I might really miss home and want to come back.

One thing I did do during break was see this guy (below) that I went to high school with play in a band here in Paris. Kind of weird to see someone I knew from my 'lil town in Iowa in Paris, France. Some photos from the show (called FOLK OFF!):

The view from the family's terrace

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sundays in Paris

Parisians are not particularly religious; on any given Sunday, churches are relatively empty, despite the strong Roman Catholic traditions. Parisians spend their Sundays outside if weather permits, enjoying the the hundreds of espaces vertes (green spaces--parks, squares, etc.) scattered throughout the city. Street performers are on every corner, bridge and stoop, and lots of roads are closed off to traffic. It's commonplace to see kids and adults alike with an ice cream cone or crepe, fresh from the corner vendor. Bridges are swarmed with all walks of life, from tourists to life-long residents, children to old. For one day a week, people leave their worries at their apartments and enjoy some time away from home. The city thrives with life.

I love Sundays in Paris.

This is the Centre Georges Pompidou, or as the locals call it, Beaubourg. You may have heard of it before--it's a museum of contemporary art and all the pipes are on the outside and color-coded to function. Blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for elevators.

However, my favorite part of the museum is the WORLD'S BEST LIBRARY EVER. It's called the Bibliothèque publique d'information, and people, I don't know how I wasn't aware of its existence the last time around. It's huge, has thousands of documents, and the best part--it has a LANGUAGE LEARNING CENTER. Nerd. Heaven. The downside is that there's no checking out, but it's also kind of nice, because it means the information is always there..which I'm pretty sure is the intention. I did not, however, know this little gem of information on my first visit. So I learned the hard way, i.e. trucking down 10 books to the main floor, asking where I could check them out, only to get dirty looks and a disapproving, "Mais madame, il n'y a pas d'emprunts ici." (Ma'am, there's no check-outs here.) Well thanks for the heads up, Paris. A SIGN would help!

The line was ridiculous today so I decided to take a little stroll around the city instead.

There's always street performers and artists looking for une petite pièce.

The city of Paris encourages the Sunday outings by blocking off certain streets to cars so that kids

can ride their bikes and rollerblade.

Notre Dame

La Seine

A street performer wrote on the pavement: "I love life, I'm invincible!"

Since I was in the area, I decided to make a quick stop at Shakespeare and Company, an institution of Bohemian Paris. It's an English-language bookstore, filled with books from floor to ceiling. I'm not sure how they actually stay in business since so many people just read, but I love it. Loves, loves, loves it.

Some quotations outside the store


"And there by the Seine was a bookshop, not the same, but similar to others I had known.

An utrillo house, not too steady on its foundations, small windows, wrinkled shutters. And

there was George Whitman, undernourished, bearded, a saint amongst his books, lending

them, housing penniless friends upstairs, not eager to sell, in the back of the store, in a small

overcrowded room, with a desk, a small stove." (Anais Nin, Diary, Vol. 5)

Luxembourg Gardens. The leaves just started to turn this last week and the city has turned a

beautiful bronze color.

Well I'm on vacation now, but am still waiting to be I can't go anywhere! :( I have lots of annoyances right now, mostly with the French goverment and the French family I work for, but I won't go into them right now. I'm focusing on the fact that I don't have to work (at school) for another 10 DAYS! Still have to work for two hours for the family make them dinner and speak eyes are rolling but I'll write about it another day.

Good week to all!