Des notes divers

It’s bizarre to think that my time here in France is almost over—1 more week at Méchain, 2 weeks of vacation, 1 more week at Claudel, and finally 1 week of…something (relaxation? travel? sleeping? crying?) before I fly back to the US on May 8. During these past five months, I’ve seen and heard and tasted and experienced so much—the expected and the unexpected, in ways both positive and negative. It’s been a long, unpaved road, full of beginnings and middles and endings. I’m still trying to process everything, so as things start to wind down, I’m dumping a mélange of miscellaneous notes here.

Vacation:

Caen: April 7-11

Plans: Mont Saint-Michel (for me) and Bayeux (For my English major friends…I don’t actually know how I managed to collect so many, considering I didn’t even major in the subject.)

Galway: April 11-14

Plans: Cliffs of Moher

Dublin: April 14-20

Plans: Trinity College, National Library and Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Howth, relive my Engl 381 essay on James Joyce

April 28 – May 7:

Good question. I have no idea what I’m going to do after the end of my contract, though I low-key want to visit Giverny and Rouen.

After TAPIF:

I’ve been sitting on this news for two weeks (only my friends and family know), but I’ve been accepted to a non-profit program called City Year! From mid-July of this year to mid-June to next year, I’ll be tutoring/mentoring at-risk kids in DC. My two future roommates and I have already been looking at potential apartments, and I’m excited for this next chapter. In many ways, TAPIF has been a wonderful opportunity, but being split between two schools, I get the impression that I’m being used as an accent rather than a near-peer asset. Hopefully, City Year will give me the opportunity to help students on a deeper level. I also just want to be able to do something after this nightmarish election, and if that means working long hours for a meager living stipend, then so be it. Funnily enough, a fellow Amiens assistant will be in DC, too, though for different reasons. Small world.


On a completely unrelated note, I really need to break this habit of somehow ending up with more books than I brought with me to study abroad/college/TAPIF/wherever. At this rate, suitcase packing is going to be such a pleasure. Somebody please explain to me why Hermione’s magical, bottomless purse hasn’t been invented yet?

Miscellaneous Moments, Part XI

  • Me, when there’s unexpected sunlight in Laon: “Sorry, I can’t work today, I have to…go outside…and photosynthesize.” That’s a legitimate excuse, right? (It’s gotten so bad in the north of France that a) my solar powered-watch stopped working last month and b) what I thought was a permanent watch tan has nearly faded.)
  • The highest (or lowest, depending on how you look at it) peak of my adulthood: eating soup with a baguette.
  • I got the strangest sense of déjà vu when I was in Amsterdam, and then I realized it was because I was walking down the exact same street to Dam Square that I’d been on two years ago with my parents.
  • Although I despise the smell of cigarette smoke, I decided to stay outside and talk to the French assistant I’d met just outside the hostel earlier, and she joked, “I’m not smoking what they’re smoking.” (This was Amsterdam. I’m sure you can put two and two together.)
  • I told a guy “De rien” on the train…except we were in the wrong country. We were in Amsterdam. Don’t let me be an adult.
  • On the walking tour in Copenhagen, there was a group of Americans studying abroad in Lyon, and one of them was considering TAPIF. Small world.
  • I almost cried when I found an entire tub of lemon cookies in my mailbox from M-L because I’d helped her with something. (Don’t let people do nice things for me.)
  • “Take one napkin. Save the environment,” the cafeteria napkin dispenser says as I pull out 10 of them and wrap a slab of still-bloody beef to smuggle to my room and cook for dinner because I can’t handle the French style of rare meat.
  • I was about to walk down a steep hill on my way to Méchain when four of my students walked past and shouted, “Bonne chance!” after me.
  • Ml sent me a topic that she said her students would debate, and asked me to explain it in my own words. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but if you need to email a native English speaker and ask them for an explanation, isn’t it logical to, you know, not have the students debate the topic?
  • When Ak asks you if you can come to her class the minute before it starts and says, “I’m sorry I couldn’t ask you earlier,” but you’ve run into her three times this week and she has your email address ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (and then you do nothing the entire hour except be used as an accent and read a short article out loud).
  • Good god, some of these children are so horrifically behaved—yelling, throwing pens, hitting each other with rulers, giggling over their phones, and taking selfies during class. They’re so…privileged.
  • Shout-out to F for agreeing that I shouldn’t be doing any grading at Méchain because it’s ethically and morally wrong (her words, not mine! Although I wholly agree).
  • After sending me a passive-aggressive email, Ml told me that she wants me to prepare a 55-minute long activity when I take her entire class by myself (illegal under the assistant contract, sigh). Don’t even try being passive-aggressive with me. I have three more days at Méchain and absolutely nothing to lose. (Sorry if I’ve been sounding salty lately, my pent-up salt is all spilling out at the end of the year.)
  • I couldn’t help but laugh when R was talking about what he did over the weekend and proudly announced, “I pet a cat.” He was trying to say, “I babysat a cat,” and looked so dejected that I told him “pet” meant caresser and gave him the word “babysitting,” which he promptly modified to “cat-sitting.”

What Happens in Class, Doesn’t Stay in Class IX

 

  • Claudel spent a week forcing students to take mock exams and recruited me to do five hours of proctoring. I got antsy an hour and a half in because I’m a fast reader and had only brought one book, and was about ready to stab myself with my pencil. France, please don’t make your high schoolers take five-hour exams…or anyone, ever.
  • Discussing appearances in the workplace and in general with a student:
    • Him: “I don’t think I’m the best-looking guy in the world, but I think I am handsome. Being handsome helps.”
    • Me: “Has being handsome helped you?”
    • Him: “No.”
    • Well, at least he admitted it.
  • There’s nothing like quietly screaming in the corner while J tells a class that you never put an article in front of “next” or “last.” Or when a teacher thinks that the sentence “I’m looking forward to the spectacle” is incorrect since “spectacle” means “glasses.” (There’s too much grammar nerd/writing tutor in me.)
  • Jn had asked me to prepare a presentation on Hitchcock, but the projector wasn’t working, so he told me to go ahead and start. Unfortunately, my PowerPoint was on the computer he was trying to fix, so I was note-less. But I somehow managed to start extemporaneously BSing the lesson without panicking—sixth-grade-me would’ve been so proud. Still, I’ve never been more relieved than when he finally got the projector to work.
  • A student realized they didn’t put enough blanks on the board for Hangman, so they added another one, saying, “There is a letter who is missed.” Somehow, that sounds much cuter.
  • Ml told me to come up with a Prohibition-related activity, so I gave the kids a list of items like eggs, oranges, syringe, and baby carriage, and told them to smuggle alcohol into a speakeasy. Some of the students figured out to use the syringe and replace the egg innards with alcohol, while others said to inject the alcohol into the baby and make the baby drunk—I worry for those kids.
  • An actual quote from one of my students: “We’re going to play Rock, Paper, Scissors like men.”
  • One student, attempting to English: “This is not ça du tout.”
  • A student saw me standing outside the classroom and immediately lit up, saying, “Ah, j’avais forget!” and later asked if the class could throw me a party.
  • Me: “True or false? If you can successfully hack Facebook, they will pay you $500.”
    • K: “Can someone explain what she said in French? Émilie?”
    • Émilie: (in French) “You get $500 if you enter.”
    • K: (in French): “Enter into what?”
    • Émilie: (in French): “Enter into someone.”
    • K and I attempted to remain straight-faced, succeeded for two seconds, and then promptly dissolved into laughter.
  • While trying to get Mg’s class to guess “astronaut” in response to the black story, “A man was just doing his job when his suit was torn, and he died three minutes later,” Mg hinted, “Think about what his job is.” One kid guessed, “Gangster?”

 

Through the Laon Looking Glass

At Claudel, after talking to the assistant principal’s secretary a grand total of once during lunch, he offered to drive the other assistants and me to see the highlights of Laon that are reachable solely by car. It’s not like there’s anything to do in Laon over the weekend (he’s been living here since 1990 and said that the city is dead on Sundays), so I figured, why not?

Yesterday afternoon, he picked up S and me, and the trip went fairly smoothly with the exception of two hiccups. Our first sight was the Lac d’Ailette, an artificial private lake that’s a popular vacation destination during the summer. Next, we got to see a little bit of the Chemin des Dames, a road along which several WWI battles were fought. There, in la France profonde, in what felt like a sketchy gas station in the middle of nowhere, we encountered our first hiccup. D proposed we visit La Caverne du Dragon, or underground barracks that have since been converted into a museum, but it was closed due to construction.
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Instead, we drove to Craonne, which was the most sobering part of the trip for me. Once upon a time, before 1917, Craonne used to be a quaint little village. Unfortunately, the war completely destroyed it, and there’s practically no evidence it ever existed. The story does have a heartwarming ending, at least: the site of death is now a site of life, or an arboretum.

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Finally, we paid a visit to the Abbaye de Vauclair, where S and I experienced our second hiccup. We’d just climbed out of the car when D announced, “Two minutes,” turned towards the nearby copse of trees, and reached for his pants, causing S and me to hurriedly walk away. (Someone please explain this to me—is this a French thing or an old man thing???) Anyways, only in France can you find families and their children spending a sunny Sunday afternoon casually running through a set of ruins. (Impressive as the ruins were, I admit I was slightly terrified by the signs that cautioned, “Beware of falling rocks.)

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Lessons learned: the Picardie countryside is incredibly verdant, full of lush, rolling hills and golden valleys that are peppered with picturesque villages so tiny, children of all ages have one teacher and learn in the same classroom. Also, it’s forbidden to light fires in the Vauclair Forest because, well, leftover munitions + fire = boom.

Paris, Take…I Lost Count

When in France…run off to Paris for your birthday? Anyways, here’s the story of turning 23.

March 9:

  • Spent my actual birthday getting scolded/yelled at by Ml, because the schools seem to constantly forget that I’m an assistant, not a teacher. A fresh graduate with zero professional training. N’s really the only teacher out of the fourteen that I work with who seems to understand the meaning of assistant. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Casually sobbed in the school bathroom for five minutes because you’re not supposed to grow older than your older sibling, at least not at this age
  • Got to surprise work with N, who gave me a cute little piece of chocolate
  • Saw an incredible sunset when walking back home (sometimes you just need a little [sun]light to tell you that life will be okay)

March 10:

  • Got the entire Airbnb and the amazing balcony view to myself, since the owner was traveling. Okay, not entirely to myself, I shared the apartment with the cutest, cuddliest cat called Nouka. Poor thing was being fat-shamed by her owner: “yes, she is FAT”
  • Finally satisfied my bubble tea craving
  • Paid the Louvre a late-night visit with O, S, and two other assistants, T and P
  • Went into a bar and had a glass of rosé for the first time

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March 11:

  • Popped by Galeries Lafayette purely for the architecture and the terrace view, because let’s be honest, I’ll never be able to afford any of those clothes
  • Soaked in the sunlight at the Jardin des Tuileries (shockingly, it was warm enough that I started to overheat in my jacket and scarf)
  • Gazed in awestruck wonder at Monet’s water liles in the Musée de l’Orangerie so that Madeline could live vicariously through me

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  • Visited le Panthéon, where famous people like Voltaire, Rosseau, Hugo, and the Curies are buried

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  • Met up with P, who I met while studying abroad in Nice, and saw le canal Saint-Martin
  • Got a cute lanyard shrimp from the owners of a sushi restaurant

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  • Saw the Eiffel Tower at night

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