Friday, November 30, 2007

Good news and bad news.

Good news first.

I really really really think I've found something that makes me truly happy in life. I really like this job. It must be said that I do have an amazing network of people around me, from the teachers I work with directly, the other English teachers, my supervisors, to the people at the high school. I'm very lucky. It must be said that I do have a basic understanding of pedagogy and how a language class should work. But man oh man. Do I LOVE elementary foreign language classes. It is amazing to see even ONE student be able to utter something in another language. It is amazing when a little girl from my most difficult fourth grade class (guess where...School Three!) say, and I quote, "I really like English with you, Miss D." It is amazing when lessons actually work and students make visible progress. It is amazing that my students can't copy their own damn handwriting correctly. I would be in heaven if I could continue this line of work for the rest of my life.

This discovery may also be due to one of the stages of culture shock: over-romanticizing and a self-induced euphoria about your new environment. I am believing that I'm just truly happy.

This afternoon I sat in on the non-pregnant Karine's senior English literature class. It was amusing and I learned a little bit. They translated the first two pages of the book they're reading, which reinforced just how much I loathe translation. You lose so much of the real sense of the text. Just...jeepers, just learn the language. Hahaha.

I received a letter today from the Préfecture or the county office saying that my carte de séjour or residency card is ready for me to come pick up!! In Tulle!!...ah France. Well in any case, this means I'm legal. I wonder when or if I'll get my social security card. That's pretty much the only thing I don't have. Way to go Rose!

Rocio and I went to centre ville tonight to do some shopping...oh so dangerous. And then we went to one of the Turkish restaurants for a kebab. A kebab is basically a gyro, but the meat is on a huge rotisserie contraption and gets shaved off. It's only about the best thing the Muslim immigrant population has contributed to France, and I'm not being racist with that remark. This is pure deliciousness on a plate (or in a pita, depending on how you order it). Rocio agreed.

Also, I bought a winter jacket. It's super sweet. It's black and has warm sweater cuffs that close around my wrists. It was around 60E. The only things I don't like is that the hood looks ridiculous and that it buttons instead of zipping. But it's awesome. I had originally ordered a jacket but it was going to take three weeks to get here. And then it was backordered another FOUR weeks. No. It's cold now. So I canceled it without penalty and found this jacket in town.

Tomorrow I'm doing some housekeeping and lesson planning - only a few more to go before vacation! My tutoring student is coming later tomorrow evening. Sunday, I am probably going to Neuvic, a little town about 20km south of us (Ben bikes there a lot) to hear a concert with one of my district supervisors, Madame Mouty, her husband Olivier and their daughter Camille. Next weekend, I'm going to the marché de Noel with my other district supervisor, Madame Renson, and possibly Sashi, the Indian assistant in Brive-la-Gaillarde and Courtney, the assistant from DC in Tulle. Lots of things to do.

Now the bad news.
I cannot sleep. It's almost insomnia. I cannot fall asleep at night. I cannot clear my head. And when I do finally wear myself out tossing and turning, I wake up a lot. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I feel paralyzed. I can't get out of bed. I'm so tired from not sleeping and I get myself too worked up about the day ahead. It's not like I'm not tired at night. I get back from school and I'm exhausted, physically and mentally. It's really mentally straining to have two languages swimming in my head at once. I actually prefer speaking only French or only English - mix the two and I'm lost. (This may bode ill for future endeavours but whatever.) I could easily go to the pharmacie across the street and they could direct me to the nearest pill; that would be so French. The French have a pill for everything. A simple head cold will warrant four prescription medications and a doctor's note to miss work. But I know my problem is more mental than anything. Once I figure out how to really clear my head I hope I'll sleep better. But back to the main point. I can't sleep. At all.

Well, no one's answering my IMs so I'll try this sleeping thing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Big huge happy smiley face.

I am very happy.

Today went much better than I had anticipated. I would still like to know why I have to repeat directions three times to the class, and then at least twice to individual students. I asked Vous comprenez?, why did you say oui?? Anyways. I was very pleased with how the activities went today. I especially like when S* in School Three's third grade class tells me before class starts (they have recré right before anglais) "I'm going to be good today." Ohhh that makes me want to just HUG them. I really do like these little kids. There are even moments when I think, Yes, I really do like elementary foreign language education. I'd be really stoked if I could spend the rest of my life doing this - teaching elementary kids languages, developing materials and curricula, and educating other teachers. Ahhh I love little kids, even if they do make waaay too much noise. All. The. Time.

Today after school at School Three, I had a meeting with Luc, a fourth grade teacher who also teaches two classes of English. I just wanted a teacher's perspective, because it's so easy for me to get really tunnel-visioned and lose sight of the purpose of my lessons and activities. But apparently Astrid, a preschool teacher at School Three who also teaches at least one class of English, Madame Mouty, my district supervisor, and Virginie, the teacher whose class of third and fourth graders were also there. So it was really a nice little chat about what should be happening in English class. I was also told I really should be following the (damned) books. I don't like the books so much. I am not familiar with British English and it's really awkward and unnatural for me to say "Have you got a pet?" But it was really nice. Yay!

Also today, we got PAID!!! It is more than last month's salary, but according to my information (aka the amazing forums at, it all evens out eventually. In any case, it's exciting to have cash. Now to see how fast I'll use it up...hopefully I'll have enough for my upcoming Christmas vacation and sending people cute little French packages of French things with French stamps. Yay.

Ben and I went to dinner tonight with the substitute English teacher. Her name is Marie and she's from Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean. She's subbing for one of the Karines who is very pregnant. She was really neat to talk to. She's currently doing her PhD in English, and her thesis is on dreams in Shakespeare's plays. Um, wow. But her company was very welcome and she's nice. Yay.

So yes. Many "yay"'s, and happy Rose. Tomorrow may be shaky because I have Catherine's fourth graders at School Two and she always has this mildly disapproving look on her face...but I'm driving through because it's almost the WEEKEND. Omg I cannot WAIT for market day.

Love you all. So much.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

And what actually got accomplished today, part 2:

4. Successfully disposed of dirty sheets and procured new clean and freshly starched sheets from the high school The washing lady was super sweet and complimented me on my French. Awww! I'm very happy. I have clean sheets. Two months is really gross to go without washing your bed. Ewwwie.
5. Planned out the rest of this période. It's getting to crunch time. However, tomorrow's and definitely Friday's lessons are not very well planned out at all. I just know when the évalutations will be, when we're writing letters to Mom's and Maggie's students, and when we're doing serious review. Ahhh tomorrow is going to be ROUGH.
6. Ben and I recorded some listening exercises for my fourth graders!! It worked really well. Now I just have to hope that whatever CD players are available in my schools can read CD-Rs. Fat chance, but whatev. I'm so stoked. We had fun with it too. One of the very few times we've spoken English to each other.
7. So apparently it's normal that the magic internet box finds its new favorite satellite every day. What's not normal is that it takes FOREVER to do so. The very patient man at France Orange told me I should call Tech Support, to which I groaned and said oh my goodness please no, those ladies on the phone are really mean. Well whatever. Ben was equally disappointed.
8. I totally cleaned.
9. I made hotel reservations for Christmas break! I'm visiting Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, and Dijon. I will post a more detailed itinerary including links to the cities' tourism office pages and hotels. Yay for vacations!!

Happy happy day. France is silly but I'm a happy girl. I will be sooo depressed when I'm in the States...

Things I have done today so far and things to do still:

What I have done this morning:
1. I went to my bank to figure out why I haven't been able to access my account online. It turns out that about two weeks after I opened my account, they updated their networks and my access code didn't work. While I saw this notice online and in the window of the bank itself, I'm a little perplexed as to why they didn't tell their clients (I can't possibly be the only one!) that their now old codes wouldn't work anymore. In any case, a quick ten minute visit to a very friendly bank a tout bien reglé and I am very happy.
2. I messed up the washing machine at the laundromat (again!) but at least now I have clean undies.
3. I went to the papeterie which is basically like a giant bookstore/office supply store, aka my paradise. I bought a handwriting workbook for second graders to practice my French cursive, some notebook paper, a planner (finally!) and some index cards.

Things I still have to do today:
1. I need to drop off my dirty sheets at the high school laundry room. Since they're the sheets lent to me by the high school, I'm not obligated to wash them myself. Yay for less laundry to do.
2. Plan out evaluation schedules - oral, writing/reading, listening - and review lessons.
3. I have a really sweet idea for the review and listening part and hopefully Ben will be able to help me out.
4. Burn a CD of the pictures of Oradour-sur-Glane for Pascal the history teacher.
5. Go to France Orange to recharge my cell phone and also ask why the magic internet box has to find its new favorite satellite so often and why it takes so long.

Today is a good day. It's sunny and I'm happy.

Oh also I should probably make some plans for Christmas vacation, considering pretty much everything will be booked.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I have completed, submitted, and paid for my very first graduate school application. University of Minnesota is DONE!
This is very exciting. Now I only have three more to do...until I find more.
I'm celebrating with wine. Good quality wine is inexpensive in France, so I have delicious wine.

I'm very very very tired.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It has officially been two months of life in France.

And so far, it's been pretty good. Slight hiccups regarding communication connections and teaching is not an easy job, but I'm very thankful for Ben, Rocio, Françoise (Madame Varrierras), the English teachers Blandine, Karine, Karine, and Marie-Jo, Alexia, Jean-François, Madame Renson, Madame Mouty, the teachers at School Two Madame Cousty, Merci Madame, Sylvie, Christophe, Catherine, and Marie-Pierre, Monsieur Paillous and Madame Menardi at the high school intendance, and the numerous other random teachers who take the time to talk to us. I'm thankful that I have parents who support me and help me out in any way they can. I'm thankful for my supportive and loving boyfriend. I'm thankful for my brothers who answer my random IMs with "hiiii rosie." I'm thankful for my best friend who is helping me out immensely and sent me the best care package ever. I'm lucky to be in a school district where I'm wanted, I'm needed, and I'm cared for. I'm lucky to be in a tiny town that still has a train station, the best bakery ever (omg their bread is so tasty, it reminds me of why I missed France), an adorable bookstore I have yet to purchase anything from except a calendar, a laundromat, and a super-supermarket. I'm lucky that the weather is decent. I'm lucky to be paid (in Euros!!!) for less than part-time work and still get full health insurance, paid vacations, and a safe clean roof over my head with people I care about and who care about me.

Yeah. I'm doing ok. I'm doing good.

This weekend was mostly spent arranging the University of Minnesota application and preparing lessons. My tutee didn't come on Saturday evening due to a death in the family, so I spent that time writing lessons and writing papers. I also cleaned the bathroom, toilet, my room (finally!), and the living room. I did the living room because that's where the tutoring sessions are and I like that to be clean. I love Ajax powder. And degreasing disinfecting Monsieur Propre (Mr. Clean!). I dislike the Swiffer-esque mop gadget, but I'm getting used to it.

Tomorrow is the start of running around, trying to get this application to Minnesota in time for the deadline that is FRIDAY. This may be logistically impossible but I refuse to be anything but positive. I can do it.

Since Karla is not coming for February break, I have made a blanket call to other English assistants if they'd like to accompany me on a whirlwind two-week tour of Spain. So far, two girls have responded; Lauren is a high school assistant and Mira is a primary assistant, and they're in the same school district. I wonder if they've met. Anyways. Whatever happens, it will be an exhausting two weeks, with or without travel buddies. Rocio has a cousin in Granada, so I'll be staying there :)

I'm also very much so looking forward to Maggie's visit in April. I'm debating whether or not to do the real 'backpacking through Europe' thing and stay in a hostel, or to splurge and get a nice hotel with served breakfast, a pool, and free wifi. The difference is Maggie's experience and also about 100E a night. Haaa.

France is fun. I'm still looking forward to seeing my family again.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Update in list form

1. I have been very busy at school and applying to graduate school.
2. Madame Cousty, the principal at School Two, told me I was "bien élévée" which means I was raised well and that my parents would be proud of me. Have I mentioned that this is my favorite school?
3. I went to Oradour-sur-Glane on the high school field trip. It was very very very interesting, and my pictures show some really neat things. Wow what a trip. It was also exhausting as it was five hours straight in a bus.
4. I didn't have any classes on Tuesday because the teachers went on strike.
5. I only had one class on Friday because all of the fourth and fifth graders in the three schools were essentially "running the mile," or in this case, running as far as they can for twelve minutes and if they run far enough, they qualify for another race. I went to cheer on my kids - and realized that I don't know a lot of their names - and they were excited to see me there.
6. I have successfully done "les bises" with two people: Alexia and Katell, a fourth grade teacher at School One whose class I take to do English. "Les bises" are the kiss-kiss thing you do on the cheek to greet people you know well. This is monumental because I have done les bises with two people and it's two months into my stay. A cultural benchmark, if you will.
7. My third grade class at School Three is totally walking all over me. I plan to implement a different tactic toward basically being a bonehead, and hopefully we can actually get some English done. No longer will they make me cry.
8. The high school students went on strike on Thursday to protest the plan to make universities "autonomous," or basically make the French university system exactly like the American system. The university students are also on strike. Um, if it will make your diplomas more meaningful and make you take your education more seriously, then...I say go for it.
9. I am rethinking my February vacation plans.
10. Grad school application deadlines make me nervous.
11. I did a Thanksgiving lesson with all of my Thursday classes and told them it was their fault for making me miss it. Joking, of course. But they enjoyed it. Apparently it's not very well known at all in France.
12. Jean-François from School One gave me some apple pie on Thursday. Wow. He's so sweet. I shared it with Ben and Rocio. Our own mini thanksgiving.
13. Just have a lot on my mind. Miss you all. Look at the pictures - they all have captions now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Whole lotta not so much stufff

Sunday afternoon was very enjoyable. J-F AND Alexia came by to pick me up in separate cars - Alexia with her son A* who is a student in my third grade class at School One, and J-F with his daughter E* who is also a student in third grade at School One. Add another twist: J-F and Alexia are a couple. Nifty. We first went to this ancient farmhouse in the country (as opposed to the booming metropolis of Ussel?) that J-F is renovating. It's a cute little house that needs a ton of work, but. But. BUT. It has a view of the mountains. The center of France has a chain of very extinct volcanoes, and you can see them PERFECTLY from his front door. Un-friggin-believable. I've never seen mountains like that before. They were beautiful. Go look at the pictures. So after walking around his property and looking at the various stuff in his sort-of-house, we went to Alexia's apartment for tea and cakes :) Delicious cakes, all homemade by J-F (he's apparently quite skilled), and delightful conversation. I finally felt comfortable enough to use the familiar "you" form with at least Alexia. I don't know about J-F; he seemed really ill at ease the entire time, which makes me feel like I was making him uncomfortable. I dunno. In any case, I really enjoyed their company, and Alexia started to feel more like an old friend. Really. She's so super sweet. Ah I love them.

So today I usually have three classes: third and fourth graders at School One and Marie-Pierre's fourth graders at School Two. J-F totally forgot to tell me but no biggy that my fourth graders at School One were going to the movies on a field trip and because their usual English teacher was at the field trip, could I do English with them. Well sure! No problem :) No really, it wasn't a big deal. Except they took FOREVER to color flags. It's not hard guys...really. My third graders at School One are starting to worry me - we accomplish less and less every day. I told their teacher Fabienne who said she'd talk to them and that next Monday she'd sit in on the class. Ah she's a nice lady. So after School One I usually have to book it to School Two...except I totally forgot that Marie-Pierre's fourth graders were also going on the field trip to the movies. No biggie, but wow do I have an awful memory.

Today I worked a little more on my application for Minnesota. Ahhh I'm nervous and that's impeding my progress on my personal statements...but I'm plugging through.

Tomorrow, the teachers are going on strike so I don't have any classes. I told Monsieur Modeste, the principal at School One, that it's too bad the kids don't have class, to which he responded, "Well, how great is it that the kids have teachers who are keeping their best interests in mind?" Touché! A perspective I haven't thought of. However, I still think the strike is symptomatic of many systematic and social problems in France, and my online buddy Skylar (who is also an assistant but much farther north) ranted well on it. I'd give you the link but her blog is protected.

So instead of teaching my fourth and fifth graders, I'll be doing laundry, going shopping, asking the internet people why the magic internet box keeps blinking, asking the bank people why I can't access my account online, and perhaps finding a different liberry book because the one I have is way too hard.

And I'm hormonal and that's intensifying my homesickness, which usually stays quiet.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Time flies when you're...drinking amazing red wine.

So whenever I make it tothe grocery store, I make it a point to pick up a bottle of wine because it's super cheap and it's practical. I know I like dry reds (thanks Mom) and I haven't yet developed a taste for any whites. I have found that I looove Côtes de Rhone, a very smooth and dry red from the center of France. So I picked up a bottle completely at random and apparently it was excellent. Delicious.

Anyways. Blog entries have been sparse because apparently the magic internet box has to "reset" itself periodically. My manual says it should take "une dizaine" or a couple ten minutes of so to do its blinky business and find its new favorite satellite, but my magic box is apparently remedial and takes DAYS. I don't understand it. Let's be insular Americans and mark this oddity in the "Golly France is silly" column.

Friday night, Ben and I went to the Eglise Saint-Martin to attend a Corsican music concert. We were warned ahead of time by the marketing teacher Karine that these sorts of things could either be very very good or very very bad. About half-way through the concert, we realized that we had no perspective to decide one way or the other. So we decided that it was delightful and entertaining and truly a nice way to spend a Friday night. The concert ended around 11:00pm. As we walked home, we realized two things: (1) Ussel has no nightlife. 11:00pm on a Friday night and the streets are deserted. (2) Because there are no cities for a good couple kilometers, the night sky is FULL of stars. Unbelievable. We forgot the icy night air that was freezing our tootsies and just stared up at the stars. Beautiful.

Saturday I went to the market to find veggies, bleu d'Auvergne, fruits, and a hat. I found the cheese and bought a (unnecessarily expensive) hat that looks super-cute on me. However, it's November and the produce is pretty pathetic. Yay for rickets.

Saturday evening, my private English tutee came over. If she was my daughter, I would be so proud of her. She's so conscientious, intelligent, bright, quick, and sweet. Oh my goodness. Since the first lesson was basically a getting-to-know-you deal, this lesson I actually planned. Although I wasn't entirely sure if the activities I planned would work, be helpful, or too easy or hard for her, it went very well. We did some grammar exercises from my Bedford Handbook that Mr. Bender made us buy in 11th grade AP English Language and Composition. That went really well. There's an entire section in my edition of ESL trouble spots, and she did really well. Granted, it's pretty much what they do in class but I think it was still really beneficial. Then we did a pronunciation exercise. I found this Learner's Dictionary from Miriam-Webster for ESL learners, and that was awesome. She's so good. Since in class they had been studying social class and the Industrial Revolution in England, I found the most amazing Wall Street Journal article. She read it aloud and we discussed it. She's really smart and expresses herself well. A very enjoyable and easy hour and a half!

Today I am going to visit Jean-François and Alexia from School One. J-F is a preschool teacher who is doing his "habilitation", or basically being certified to teach English, and Alexia was a French assistant in Scotland. I've mentioned this. But I'm going to hang out with them for an undisclosed and probably uncomfortably long amount of time this afternoon. I'm bringing a bag of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups I brought in my suitcase. They're still good, I tested them.

I have started the application for the Second Languages and Cultures Masters at the University of Minnesota. Here's hoping that anyone responds to my plaintive emails for recommendations! Ahhh.

Good times. Ben is going to the store to buy toilet paper so it's a good day. Now to be productive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 53

So yesterday was an adventure. Tuesday, November 14, was the start of the train strike. All of the train station workers - counter clerks, conductors, anyone - was striking against wages, pensions, retirements, and basically the system itself which is slowly trying to privatize. I think. Whatever, in any case, this was the singular worst day my contact, Madame Renson, could have picked for a meeting of the primary English assistants in the Correze. Thank you Madame. So this is how my day went:

My bus from Ussel left at 6:00am. Normally, I'd take the train that leaves at about 7:00am to get to Brive a little after 8:00. However, because of the strike, I had to take a bus (not typical) that stopped at Tulle, a city about mid-way between. Now at Tulle, I had to wait another hour and a half until the bus could take me to Brive, arriving at 9:30am, a good half hour after the meeting started. No biggie, Madame Renson totally understood. In fact, Courtney from DC lives in Tulle and she was going to take the same bus so that would make two of the four of us late. So I'm at the Tulle station frantically, I don't know why frantically but probably because that's how I am, asking every bus that comes by "Are you going to Brive?" All of them tell me no, this is a school bus. So I go to the closed train station to verify for the umpteenth time that my bus really isn't arriving until just before 9:00am and that I have a good hour and a half to do NOTHING. This (French) girl comes up to me and asks, "Are you looking for the bus that goes to Brive?" Well yes! "Well me too, let's go search things out." So we ask a couple other buses, but she's obviously in more of a rush than me but I'm more frantic about it, and she finally says "Ok, this is pointless. My dad will drive us." WHAAAT? Are you serious? I don't even know your name!! Are you sure? I ask. "Oh yeah. We have to get to Brive, don't we?" Well I guess. It's at this point - less than TWO minutes after this girl started talking to me, that I realize that I'm getting a ride from a girl I hardly know in her dad's car to Brive. Um, ok. I finally have to introduce myself. Her name is July (pronounced Julie). Her dad doesn't want gas money. Ok. A half hour later, I'm in Brive. She gave me her cell number in case something happens. Basically I almost hitchhiked. It was amazing. I couldn't thank her or her dad enough. Her dad seemed mostly put out because the strike was messing with his life. That's about the only reason the French don't like their own strikes.

So the meeting went well. It was me, Courtney from DC who works in Tulle, Eleanor from London and Sashi from India (wow) who work in Brive. Madame Renson is the best. She's so kind, she really sympathizes with us, and she genuinely HELPS us. We got some good redirection for our lessons, some ideas on how to give the evaluations for the end of the marking period, shared some materials, and are possibly going to a Christmas market in a tiny little town north of Brive with her! She's the best. She's also going to come observe our classes just for hints and pointers. I'm nervous, as always, but I know it's never to criticize us or to point out our faults, but to improve the lessons and teaching techniques. I love Madame Renson.

So Sashi wasn't feeling well - the cold is really not agreeing with her - so Courtney, Eleanor and I went out to a creperie (restaurant that sells sweet and savory crepes, salads and ice creams) for lunch. It was really great. They're such sweet girls, really. I'm glad to know them at least. Eleanor is a riot and Courtney is so familiar. Anyways, it was fun.

So by the time I got to the train station in Brive to figure out how to get home, it was about 2:30pm. However, the only dude there, mostly directing people to appropriate buses, told me that in fact the bus I needed would leave Brive at 4:00pm. Yay for more waiting. And that it would bring me to Tulle, where I would have to wait for another bus to leave at 6:50pm. OMG MORE waiting. So the bus came and I got to Tulle, where the station was closed. Now there aren't a lot of things to do around train stations in general, and I don't really like cafes or bars because the cigarette smoke really bothers me, so I spent a good 45 minutes outside. Not a good idea. I finally gave in and went to the cafe across the street where I spent 1.10E on a coffee to sit for the other hour I had in Tulle. Finally the bus came and I got to Ussel at 8:00pm. I text messaged July to tell her I got home ok.

What a DAY. I did the impossible - travel in small-town France during a nationwide public transportation strike! I almost hitchhiked! French people are nice!

Today classes went well. The nationwide strike is also hitting the schools, and two of my three schools have told me that next Tuesday, the 20th, the teachers whose students I have won't be there. And if the teachers aren't there, the students aren't there (there is no such thing as a substitute) I don't have classes. This sucks, sort of, both for my lesson planning and also because the kids miss English class. However it's kinda cool because I'll get to experience the French school system during a strike, and well, I get to sleep in. I enjoy sleeping immensely.

School One's fourth graders did beautifully today. I think it's the new seating chart their classroom teacher implemented. It's awesome. School One's third graders did well too, which was cool. School Two's fourth graders couldn't wrap their heads around the concept we were doing and I kind of lost it with them...I couldn't understand why they couldn't understand...I hate that. What I really don't like when they don't understand is they completely shut down without trying. I'd understand if they tried at least once and got it totally wrong, but they don't even try. My wait time is SO long with them. It's frustrating. I had lunch with School Two's "Merci Madame" and Sylvie, the mother of the girl I tutor at School Two and we had a good conversation about food quality and frozen foods. I invoked the Mom and Dad's freezer full of homemade strawberry jam and pork products. Ah I miss home. School Three's fourth graders did amazing. Even F*. He said "I decided to do well in English." I think he took his medication, but whatever. He was active, responding appropriately, and making a REAL effort. I was so proud of him. I told him so. Ah if he turns out to be my success story I'll be so happy. School Three's third graders basically made one of their classmates cry. "T*'s crying." What's the matter honey, you have to tell me or I can't make it better. "There's so much noise, everyone's talking and I'm not learning anything." WOW. Guilt trip? Well honey, that's partly my fault because I'm not managing the class very well, but it's also your classmates' fault because they refuse to listen and they make stupid comments. Do you understand what you're supposed to do here? (They were doing a little coloring activity.) "Yes." Ok. You tell me if I can do anything to make you feel better. I also sent S* out of the room because he's disgusting, makes inappropriate comments, and is basically an obnoxious asshole. When I sent him out, he protested sooo much, "No I'll stop, I'll be good, I promise." No, absolutely not. I warned you enough. Go to the principal's office and tell him you're wasting your classmates' time. While the class was working in their notebooks, I went outside because I knew very well that he didn't go to the principal's office, he was standing outside the door. We had a good talk and he behaved for the rest of the class. And I told him so. I feel terrible because there are three students - C*, L*, and T* who are genuinely interested and make a real effort. But there are also students, one of whose brother is the very attentive T* in the twinned fourth grade class, whose minds are anywhere BUT school (it's not just me, I know), and other students who think that this is joking play time. NO, it's school and it's serious business. We're here to learn!

Anyways, today was a good day. I like my roommates a lot. Ben and I are probably going to a Corsican music concert tomorrow night at the church (Rocio declined due to the 10E ticket price), I'm going to the market and this adorable Williams-Sonoma style store on Saturday, and on Sunday Jean-Francois from School One and I are going to get together...hopefully to talk about something other than elementary school English as a foreign language. Ben and Rocio are going to Brive because the Spanish assistants there have found a Salsa night in town and invited any and all assistants or exchange students. And because Rocio likes to experience things from her own language's culture and because Ben doesn't refuse basically anything, they're going. I'm not because it will invariably be in a very smoky bar. Also I don't want to.

Mostly good.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 51

Today went well. My most frustrating group of fourth graders behaved much better when I sent F* out of the room and also when I told them of the possibility of American penpals. We'll see if that even pans out though. Who knows. They really did get the hang of "Do you have a pet? I have a dog. His name is Fido" and so on. It was really exciting. My other fourth graders, even the smart ones, struggled with it. It's so weird. I asked their classroom teacher Virginie if I could observe her class: not tomorrow because I have a meeting, not Thursday because I teach all day, not Friday because they have a field trip (to the movies?), sooo maybe Monday morning.

My original contact in France, Madame Renson, called me last night around 7 to say that there was a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) in Brive, another city about 1.5 hours in the train from Ussel. Thanks for the advance notice and luckily I don't have anything on Wednesdays. However, when I went to the train station this afternoon to buy my tickets, I remembered: the massive country-wide strike is starting tomorrow! France likes to strike, and while I sympathize with their reasons, I don't believe the people striking should strike. It's just ridiculous: the train stations, the Paris Metro, the post office, the teachers, the water company, the gas company, and the students all have strikes coming up. It's ridiculous. So this means I leave Ussel at 6:00am tomorrow morning to arrive in Brive at 9:30am, a half hour late for my meeting. Luckily Madame Renson understands, but still. So frigging annoying. But I've text-messaged the other girls I know will be at the meeting and we're going to do lunch: Eleanor from England and Courtney from DC at least, and I haven't heard yet from Sashi from India. Yay! More comraderie. Unfortunately, this silly strike means I won't be able to leave Brive until about 6:00pm and get to Ussel until about 9:00pm. Fantabulous.

I finally got the courage to ask someone to go grocery shopping: I asked Francoise, the first lady to welcome me here in France. Remember I stayed at her apartment for two nights before I moved in with Ben and Rocio? We did a power-shop because we got to the grocery store about 45 minutes before it closed. I'm very happy. I have obscene amounts of good French food. I love Francoise. She is hands-down the sweetest woman here. I told her - "You're not my mom but you act like it. Thank you so much for everything you do." And she replied, "But I AM a mother." So true. She's awesome. I need a picture of her. And I also need to buy her flowers or something. SOMETHING.

So for dinner tonight at the high school cafeteria, all three of us - me, Ben, and Rocio - all went together. This is a big deal because Rocio doesn't always eat at the cafeteria for dinner because it's really early for her (7:00pm is early for Mexicans, apparentlt). However, I looked at the menu, and it clearly said "saupiette de kangourou" which sort of translates to "kangaroo chunks." Oh really? I asked the nice man who serves us - he kind of knows our faces now - and I asked him point blank:
Rose: What meat is that?
Man: Kangaroo.
Rose: I'll have the potatoes and brussel sprouts please.
Man: Would you like a cordon bleu?
Rose: Omg yes PLEASE.
So Ben and Rocio took the "kangaroo." I asked Ben:
Rose: So how's your Australian jumping animal?
Ben: It's not that bad.
Rose: But it's a friggin kangaroo!
Ben: Well either kangaroo tastes exactly like beef, or it's beef.
Rose: The dude at the counter totally said it was kangaroo.
Ben: Yeah, I heard too, but I think "kangaroo" refers to the cut or the preparation of the meat rather than the meat itself.
Rose: No.
Ben: Yes.
Rose: Well, you find me the town called "kangaroo" and it's famous beef plate and I'll believe you.
Ben said something witty here but I forget. He apparently enjoys eating, or at least tasting, exotic foods. I do not. I enjoy chocolate, pastries, and their combinations.

School good. France silly. Rose happy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day 50 of...who knows

Ok, so I think I'm getting a little manic here.

I have amazing days where I feel great, I enjoy my job (really!), I feel happy and safe and content and that my life is going in positive directions.

And then I have moments that refuse to budge where I feel completely alone, tired, useless, like I can't express myself, and just generally awful.

These bad moments aren't just Bad French Days, because even on Bad French days I've felt really good. But it's like these moments come without warning, and I'll be in the middle of a lesson with my third graders and I'll be fighting back tears! For what?! Because I'm homesick or I miss real American fast food? It sounds petty but I guess it's true. In the great time I'm having here - and I have to stress I'm really enjoying myself - there are horrible moments that just won't leave where I have a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

It's very frustrating.

Also, I have about a half a dozen people's phone numbers in my cell phone. And I need to go grocery shopping, badly. But I'm having trouble finding the courage to ask someone. Eesh. I'm such a wuss.

Today was ok, in terms of work and France-ness. I'm trying to think positively for the coming weeks even though the entire freaking country is going on strike in a few days for various reasons. I will not be joining the strike both because I have no right to based on how I'm compensated, and also because I don't think it's useful. Actually, I think it's ridiculous and petty and stupid and I hate this part about France. They strike for everything.

Ahhh, France.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Things I have done this weekend:

1. I went to the Saturday morning market. It is becoming progressively smaller in terms of the number of produce sellers, but the Turkish dry goods sellers (shoes, clothes, random stuff) are still out in full force. I bought some tomatos, strawberries, Orangina (ok at the little minimart) and a baguette. It was FREEZING, like below 32 degrees F.

2. My private tutoring student came for her very first session! It went very well. Apparently, to pass her high school exit exam (it's called the Bac, short for Baccalaureat), she only has a written English section. But because after high school, she's going to a two-year prep school and then a private business school for the equivalent of her bachelor's degree (I think), she really wants to practice her spoken English. Her spoken English, by the way, is impeccable. Minor idiomatic errors, minor pronunciation errors, some weird word choices, but her verbs are conjugated correctly and she speaks fluidly and without hesitation. I'm really looking forward to this hour and a half each Saturday, and hopefully Monique will be able to bang out a letter every once in a while to her. That would be sweet.

3. It's really cold here. It rarely precipitates, thank goodness. (I hate rain.) The water in France is notoriously hard. I don't drink a lot of water despite the French obsession with bottled water. I spend at least an hour outside every day walking to school. Add all this up and my skin is VERY dry. So I went to the pharmacie across the street to find some lotion. All I said to the very nice pharmacienne was that my skin is dry and I need some lotion, preferably without a scent. She was very helpful. As she was ringing me up, she asked, "How long have you been in France?" BUSTED!!! Ah she was really nice though. "No, you express yourself very well, your verbs are conjugated correctly..." Oh good. My teachers would be so happy to hear that. But anyways, I have nice French body lotion that already made my skin feel tons better last night.

4. I like planning lessons now that I have a very familiar format to follow with all of them, I know what I'm going to do, and I know how to do it. I have all my lessons for this entire week planned out - all six of them. Ah it's a rough life.

5. During the week, I eat lunch and dinner either at the high school cafeteria or at the school I'm at around lunch time. This is nice because it's really cheap, there are people to talk to, and the meals are very well-balanced (appetizer, main, cheese, fruit, dessert, and bread). During the weekends, I cook for myself. I've developed a really yummy pasta recipe:
-one serving's worth of long pasta (pasketti or the like)
-sauce: clove of garlic sauteed in oil or butter with salt, pepper, and an herb blend called "fines herbes" (no idea what's in it but it's good) and a chopped tomato
Cook both at the same time in different pots obviously and then toss the pasketti with the sauce. It's really tasty and has veggies and starch so I feel ok about it.
I also drink unnecessary amounts of tea.

6. I'm also starting grad school applications. Schools I'm seriously considering:
The University of Iowa Ph.D in Second Language Acquisition
The University of Minnesota MA in Second Languages and Cultures. (this is also where my long-time buddy and childhood friend Erin is sutdying to be a vet!)
University of Wisconsin - Madison MA in Professional French studies (this was highly recommended by a former English assistant in France)
Mom emailed me the world's longest list with virtually every school in the continental US that had a linguistics program. Thanks. I'll, um, look through it.

France is cold. France is silly. But Rose is feeling fairly content.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I am a lucky lucky girl.

This is an amazing job. I officially work 11.5 hours a week, give fifteen classes of forty-five minutes each, and teach six lessons a week. This is sah-weeeeet.

Good things from this week, in list form:
1. School Two is consistently my favorite school. Marie-Pierre asked if I wanted a table in front of the room to put my stuff on. My teaching style usually involves putting the materials I'm using on a table in front of me, so it was basically like she read my mind. She brought me up to the school's ATTIC (yes, an attic) and I picked out an old student desk. I may change it up because I pretty much have carte blanche in that school. The principal and the lady I only know as "Merci Madame" have taken to making sure that they eat lunch with me on Thursdays to provide company. It's amazing. I teach a total of four classes there: two 4th grades and two 5th grades, and three of the teachers stay in the room with me. Marie-Pierre doesn't, but it's all good because these students are amazing. They're intelligent, well-behaved, interested, make good efforts, and are just too plain cute. I'm starting weather with my 5th graders, and we sang the Incey Wincey Spider song. If you've never seen 26 10-year-olds sing and do the hand motions for this song, it should definitely be on your to-do list for life. Ab-so-friggin-lutely cute. And apparently there's a direct French counterpart, about a spider climbing up a water spout...whatever that is.
2. School One is so pleasant. Jean-Francois teaches the other section of 4th grade English there, and we just finished planning out this next "marking period" for topics to cover. It's so great to have someone native to this system to bounce ideas off of, and it's especially cool because he's studying with Madame Renson, my original contact and ultimate resource. J-F is great, I really like working with him. Alexia is another teacher at this school, and she was a French assistant in Scotland a few years ago. When she introduced herself to me, she spoke in (adorably Scottish accented) English and gave me her phone number. I only have two classes at School One, and they're really decent. The 4th graders can be a handful, and the 3rd grade class is entirely too big (there's more than 25 I'm sure). But it's decent and they grasp concepts fairly well. Very encouraging.
3. I GOT PAID!!! This is my first paycheck in France. Being in the Academie of Limoges really makes a difference - it's so well-organized, there are fewer assistants than the other academies, and the people we deal with know us personally and are genuinely invested in our experience. I didn't ask for the advance, but my very first paycheck was not delayed like it has been in previous years, and was deposited immediately in my French bank account. I was paid 700E for four weeks. This is the biggest paycheck I've ever received. It's pretty special.
4. I love Rocio. She's so friendly and we have really pleasant conversations. There's about a six year age difference between us, but we get along so well. It's really nice to have someone else to speak with, whose French is on the same level as your own, and who also speaks Spanish!! She's awesome and I'm so glad there's someone like her here.
5. In case Ben reads this, he's pretty cool too. :) People at the high school are surprised that we don't speak to each other in English, but honestly, it'd be weird if we did. Our first encounter was among other French people, and usually Rocio is with us, and it's kind of rude to speak a language that other people don't understand. So we're about 90% of the time speaking in French, even the times when it's just him and me. But he's intelligent and amusing and I enjoy that.

Not so good things that happened this week:
1. I got so fed up with my 3rd and 4th grade classes at School Three. I'm so angry at them. They REFUSE to listen to me, they don't listen to their classmates, they refuse to even attempt to understand. A song I tried with the 3rd graders:
Red, orange, yellow and green
These are colors I have seen
Black, white, purple and blue
These are colors I know too.
I don't do anything differently with them than I did with the 3rd graders at School One, but for some reason, these students have absolutely zero interest in me, English, or even just behaving. I've sent the really naughty ones to the principal's office, I've made them copy lines, I've made them sit in silence for the last fifteen minutes of the lesson (that was probably harder for me), and yet nothing works. Their classroom teacher, Virginie, has been nothing but sympathetic and supportive. She suggests ways to discipline them, which I try, but they refuse to behave. I'm so frustrated with them!! And there's only eleven of them! I've already written them out of the penpal project with Mom's and Maggie's classes, with maybe the exception of C*. He's so attentive and I really worry, as I bet he does too in his little 8-year-old head, that he'll lose his English. I'd love to work with him because he TRIES. The others don't. They crack jokes, they punch each other, they make fun of each other, they start a phrase and then start laughing because they think they're saying it funny...I don't know what to do. Ideally but lazily, I'd find a way to eliminate them entirely because I only have an hour with them a week and we really don't accomplish anything. We've done numbers and "What's your name?". That's IT. Very frustrating. Ah. Maybe I'll find a moment to talk with Virginie on purpose about my difficulties. Maybe she'll let me observe an entire regular class. I'd like that.

I have my very first private tutoring lesson tomorrow with the daughter of one of the teachers from School Two. I don't have anything prepared except we're going to snack on Goldfish (thanks Mom and Dad!) and I'm going to gauge her English proficiency and she's going to tell me what exactly she'd like to work on. I'm so excited! It's also 15E for 1.5 hours, so go me.

I'm in FRAAANCE and I'm happy. Happy happy happy Rosa.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Back from vacation!

So my October (Toussaint) vacation went fairly well. I spent entirely too much money that I didn't have but it's the memories that count, right? Right. Here's the recap:

Saturday, October 27: Arrival in Les-Eyzies. This is my first town, because I hadn't yet figured out how to get to Montignac. Upon arrival at Les-E, I discovered that the town consists of one road with the National Prehistory Museum, an ancient prehistoric encampment site, and three cute little souvenir shops. That's it. I found the tourism office (as Karla puts it, the "i" always saves you - it's the symbol for any information or tourist booth). At the tourism booth, and at the Les-E train station, I discovered that there is no mass public transport to Montignac. The dude at the train station said I could walk or bike. It's 25km, and not on roads I would ever walk or bike. Think Route 5 Auburn-Camillus. No. The lady at the tourism office, who looked like she wasn't entirely thrilled with her job, told me that I could take a taxi there for 40E one-way. No. I was very disappointed that I wasn't going to be able to see the famous Lascaux Caves, but comforted in the fact that there were other prehistoric sites to see in Les-E and that I'd have...FOUR DAYS to see them.

So in Les-E, I went to the Musee National de la Prehistoire (National Prehistory Museum). This visit took an entire morning. It was fascinating. So much ancient stuff. I took a picture of a stuffed moose because I thought it was funny. It was really cool, and I was really glad I went.
I also went to the Abri de Pataud (Pataud Shelter), which was excavated by a Harvard archaeologist who discovered a prehistoric encampment. You can tour the "cave" which has been modernised to showcase more prehistoric artifacts, and the archaeological dig itself which has long since been finished with but they still have all the markers in place. So neat. WOW! I saw something old and important.
Then I walked about 1km out of town to the Grottes de Font de Gaume, which are caves like Lascaux. The tour guide led us in to the cave, turned on lights, and showed us paintings and markings in the stones. And he would talk and explain what they were thought to have meant, the materials used to make the drawings and carvings, and so on, and then it would strike me: these paintings are 10,000 years old. In-CRED-ible. Just really impressive.
By this point I pretty much exhausted Les-E and wandered around taking pictures of quite possibly the more boring little French...crossing of unimportant roads (I'm not even going to call it a town). So I spent a good deal of time in my hotel room watching TV, trying desperately to get into my liberry book that is too hard for me, and doing Sudoku puzzles. Finally it was the day to go to Sarlat.

I arrived in Sarlat on Wednesday, October 31. Apparently, and my guide book didn't tell me this, but there's not much to do in Sarlat other than walk around. And walk around I did...on Wednesday and Thursday. I got kind of bored, so I went to see a movie. I saw Le Premier Cri, a French documentary I kept seeing profiled on the hours of TV I watched in Les-E about women giving birth all over the world. It was really fascinating. The French know how to make a good documentary. And then I got some ice cream because I like it, and it was delicious. Sarlat luckily had a HUGE market going on Wednesday which provided endless entertainment. Markets are funny places. Lots of people, some doing real shopping, some just looking, and tons of children getting in the way. And dog crap. Goodness I can't stand French dog shit. It's friggin everywhere and despite ubiquitous doggy bag stations all over the cities, no one ever cleans up after Fido. Rar.

I arrived in Cahors on Sunday evening. It was only on the bus from Sarlat to Cahors that I discovered the private bus route that links Montignac and the Lascaux caves to the rest of the world. WTF, guys. No one could tell me about this? Annoying. Anyways. Cahors was a welcome sight. About the size of La Rochelle, there was a huge carnival (arcade games, about twenty versions of bumper cars, and all the delicious carnival food you could want), an organ recital at the beautiful cathedral that had painted rather than carved walls (this was interesting), a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a bridge (gorgeous!) and tonnnns of shopping. It should be noted that by this point, my newly purchased French boots had broken in and were also breaking my foot. So I had to buy new shoes. Sounds more fun than it was, as I'm trying to stay on a budget (haaa that's funny) and French womens' shoes are unnecessarily pointy and heeled. But I managed to find some inexpensive and reasonably sensible boots that I would never have bought in the States, but when in France...Cahors also had a really cute old town which was fun to walk around in. I had my own room in the youth hostel, and it was 30E for two nights, two breakfasts, and sheets and blanket rental. What a steal. Especially considering my two previous rooms in Les-E and Sarlat...oops. There was also a lookout point from a hill on the other side of the river that basically encircles Sarlat...but after walking nearly an hour in the direction of what I thought to be this lookout point, I saw no sign of it, nor a sign. So I turned around. I was cold and it was getting around 4:00pm, and I don't like to be out and alone in cities where no one knows where I am. Safety first, sort of. Cahors also had a Museum to the Resistance (don't laugh) and Deporation and World War II, which was not very well profiled in my guidebook, I must say. For free, I wandered around the admittedly small museum that had six small rooms with the most text I've ever seen in a museum. It was more like a library with documents and pictures and articles and exposes on so much. There was a model plane collection that showed the different models of American, British, and German war planes; there was an amazing room dedicated to the deportation of the French (from Cahors even) to German concentration camps; there was an enormous section for the French resistance in Cahors (seriously, it wasn't much but the fact that there was even the idea of a Resistance gave some hope to the French who were feeling pretty betrayed by their leader Petain). Such an amazing place. I'm so glad I got to see that.

Then to Lourdes. Lourdes is known for a 14-year old girl named Bernadette Soubuirous who, in the early 1800s, saw visions of the Virgin Mary in a cave. The water in the cave turned out to be healing, the visions told her to build a church on the site, and Bernie became a nun and later a saint. Her body is actually in perfect condition 150 years later. No more than 10 years after her visions, the grotto where she saw the visions became a pilgrimage site for Catholics, and when the church was built, an enormous religious complex (I'd say bigger than San Pietro in the Vatican) sprang up. I mean it's huge. About 2/3s of the town of Lourdes is hotels and their attached restaurants and crap shops (think plastic bottles in the shape of the Virgin Mary for collecting the holy water at the spring). But the church that was built is absolutely beautiful, and I have to say that even I was moved to tears. It was partly the enormity of the site, and also homesickness, fatigue, loneliness, and just overwhelming emotions of being in's really something. I mean, this is really the most amazing opportunity of my life. I get to live in culture that I've studied for ten years now, get paid, access one of the best social security systems in the world, and pretty much do as I please. It's amazing. So Lourdes was pretty cool. Other than the extensive religious complex, there is also a castle on a hill with amAZing views of the Pyrenees mountains and the town (although that isn't so interesting). There was also a little museum of traditional Pyreneen life that was cute. The town of Lourdes also has a private wax museum, and after remembering Casey and my experience at the Joan of Arc wax museum, I couldn't resist. My favorite scene was a wax recreation of Da Vinci's Last Supper. This was monumental for me because I missed out on seeing the original in Milan, and also because my new favorite comic, the British Eddie Izzard, does a hysterical sketch about Jesus and Pals (Jesus and the twelve Apostles) "posing" for the picture. "We can't all do big arms! Ok, now a fun one..." I laughed the entire time I was in that room, and it was not at all appropriate. Wax museums are funny. There is also another lookout point in Lourdes, just as there was one in Cahors, but it was closed "exceptionally" the day I tried to go. Thank you France. I was more disappointed because I didn't have anything else to do, rather than missing out on a view of the mountains.

Anyways. The vacation was nice but I was SO glad to be back in Ussel finally. I had been text-messaging my roommate Rocio the entire time while we were on vacation (she went to Paris) and when I finally got home, I gave her a big hug. Oh was it good to see her! I'm really happy that I got to see what I did on this trip, and while it wasn't necessarily the most productive trip in terms of patrimony and history, it was interesting nonetheless. I took about 100 photos and have yet to figure out where to post them. Apparently it's possible to for non-members to access Facebook photo albums, so that may be a possibility because that's a really simple and familiar platform. I'll let you know.

Anyways, I hope you received my postcards. You were all thought of, I promise you that.