Sunday, October 17

Finally Somewhat Settled ...

The last time I wrote I was full of optimism after visiting with my friend Sarah and having my host family’s house to myself, and things are still good, but I have truly been through an administrative nightmare. It has come to my attention that no one really knows what is going on here:

-       A very nice Madame may tell you that you need to come back with the following paperwork, and when you return a not so nice Monsieur might tell you he has “aucun idée” or “absolutely no idea” what you are talking about.
-       There is also the possibility you go to what you think is the correct office for something, only to be told you must go somewhere else, to find out you must in fact return to the office in your neighborhood, etc, etc.
-       Also, people tend to make plans to meet at 1:30 lets say, or pick you up at 3:30, but alas will call you half an hour later to see what your plan is for the rest of the day instead forgetting completely your meeting over half an hour ago, or show up early to announce they forgot you were even coming.

It really is hit or miss. And there is a different office for everything. You can’t do everything at once. And of course everything is all over the city, so it takes you about a month to feel as though you are finally settled. Needless to say I have no Internet at the moment, but I have been to the Internet store three times and spent over an hour on the phone with them and it looks like as of October 22nd I will be with wifi. I have been very lucky in that I have (for the most part) been meet with nothing but hospitality even if it means running around the city like a crazy person and acclimating to people not always understanding my French …

Even though I’m exhausted everyday and have very very long days, I’m really enjoying being here. I was less than thrilled about my apartment until I hung up dozens of photos of friends and family, along with some Hepburn paraphernalia, a new Ikea duvet and some candles and I’m almost ready to call my studio chez moi. The other assistants live very close by and we grocery shop together, or go out to dinner, or go for walks, and it is wonderful because they are all extremely nice and our common language is French so I have to speak it with them all the time and they are very patient and unintimidating. They share my interests in wine, American film, American music, discovering new parks, French, and travel, so like they say “it work!”

The English assistants live all over Rennes, but I see them from time to time. Tuesday we went for coffee and walked around sharing our good/bad stories from lessons (it sounds like I lucked out because the teachers and students at Chateaubriand are nothing but nice and accommodating, though I’ve heard it has a reputation for being very smart and a bit uppity, which I don’t find at all, just very nice.) Last weekend, we walked around the market together, and later a bunch of us met for galettes in town and after had a drink at La Laverie, which is a place to wash/dry your clothes by day, and a salsa dancing/beer patio by night – very cool. A British assistant has found a feminist group that meets once a week in Rennes, so once the strikes calm down (see rant at bottom of post), I am going to start going with her and listening in on their meetings.

School is going very well also! I had my first lessons on Monday and Tuesday. Mondays I’m at a neighboring high school for students with psychological, mental, and physical disabilities. For instance if a student has struggled with depression and they are unable to return to a regular classroom they are able to stay at CMP to finish high school. Or if a student has a serious injury, there is a hospital there and they can have physical therapy or doctor’s visits in between classes. This might seem intimidating, but in fact the students are really smart and determined. They speak great English and I have two of them for half an hour just to talk, about anything. We mostly talk about American fast food or American music, or television – some of their favorites are How I Met Your Mother, Dr. House (aka House), True Blood and Desperate Housewives, needless to say we get along fine. Tuesday through Friday I have regular class, and Tuesday I did a lesson on ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ where we discussed global warming, it’s consequences, and what you can do alongside showing clips. I had all boys who were 15 so half of them could fit in your pocket while the other half already needed to shave and were 6 feet tall – but all very polite and smart.  Wednesday I helped them with their project on alternative energy and heard what they had to say about solar, wind, water, and nuclear energy. Fridays I will be leading debates on the subject of the week, this week it is obeying authority and next week it is on legalizing prostitution. The students will prepare and I will pretty much be a monitor, but I think it will be really interesting!

All of this is happening so fast, and I can’t believe next week is my last week before vacation! France has holiday for Toussaint (All Saints) which is November 1st, and sort of our version of Halloween. I have almost two weeks off so I’m planning on heading south to visit my friend Lindsay in Toulouse along with stopping in Marseille with Abbie and Sarah, my sophomore year Bowdoin roommates.

Alors, time to end this painfully long excerpt about my life. The last thing to add would be that yet again the French are striking. There were no buses/public transport on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning the teachers were in a circle in the teachers lounge (where I spend quite a bit of time) wearing signs that said “Je suis en grève” (I am on strike) and holding signs. Apparently this is the same strike that was going on when I first arrived, about changing the retirement age and I had someone explain it to me today. While it doesn’t affect me so it’s not appropriate to strike, it is starting to make a lot of sense and actually effects mainly women in France which is why the female teachers at my school seem to be taking it on very seriously. So I hope Sarkozy starts to listen or else I have a feeling things could get complicated … 

Thursday, October 7

Paolo (grandson) helping with dinner!
Thomas (grandson)

As of Tuesday, I have officially been in France for two weeks. I would like to say for the record, it has poured rain No joke. Welcome to Brittany. That being said, I am so much more settled then I was last week, and I'm starting to get a hold of things. Last week was an absolute blur/disaster - attempting to send in immigration forms, getting my apartment keys, setting up my bank account and meeting all of the teachers from my school (who are all painfully nice and accommodating). I was so lucky because Sarah Marston, one of my best friend's from Bowdoin, is teaching in Brest (which is about two hours west of Rennes), so she came to visit me for the weekend, and we had an absolute blast! Friday we went to the movies and that night I took her to my favorite galette/crepe place, then we met up with another assistant for a drink. Saturday we went to the market, which never fails to amaze me, and we met up with her old host family from Toulouse, who recently moved to Paris, but the daughter, who is completely adorable and our age, is studying in Rennes. We had some more down time before we made an incredible dinner: chicken, with a goat cheese and fresh fig salad - incredible. We went out on Saturday - drinks and dancing - and had a wonderful lazy Sunday with homemade french toast!

Rennes v. Toulouse
She left Sunday night, and I went to the Rennes v. Toulouse soccer game, which Rennes won! Now are number one in the country - allez, allez! Monday was orientation for all of the assistants in Rennes. I was completely exhausted by the end of the day, but it was so nice to meet new people! I met some nice girls from the UK and two of the other assistants at my high school (one German and one Spanish), who couldn't have been nicer. On Tuesday night, there was a little soirée for the new assistants at my school in order for us to meet all the teachers, and each other. The headmaster made a really nice toast while introducing us, and the 5 of us were able to chat a bit and hopefully see each other this weekend as it is suppose to be beautiful Friday and Saturday (finally!).

mmm figs from the market!
Crepe chocolate pear at my favorite creperie
Yesterday (wednesday) I moved into my student housing! It was a really long day, but it feels good to know I'm able to unpack and not live out of a suitcase for the first time since I've been here. The residence has it's quirks, so if I'm not going to hesitate to look for other options, but I'm lucky to have somewhere very close to the school to call home! I also found out I will be teaching at two high schools, and visited the other one yesterday. It is called CMP, and it is for students who have had problems in regular high schools in the past, whether it is because of mental/psychological problems, or physical disabilities, or just troubled and unable to excel in a regular school. I met some of the students and they are really good at English, and super excited to meet an American. I will be having small conversation groups of 2, which will be great.

I still have so much to do and think about so I'm hoping next week (my first full week of work!) I will slip into some sort of routine. I do have to say that one of the teachers from my school has been so nice and driving me everywhere. People in France drive like crazy people and I miss being able to drive myself, so here are some other things about the good ole' US of A that I miss:

1. Ice (no ice sodas, cocktails, no ice trays ...)
2. To-go coffee
3. Driving
4. Wheat bread (sliced, delicious wheat bread, none of the wonder bread crap anymore ... although, why would you eat wheat bread when you can have baguettes all the time?)
5. Skim milk
6. Grilled meats (they rarely eat chicken, and most of the time is some sort of cold cut ham)
7. Mexican/Thai food, not a lot of options as you can imagine
8. Normal sized refrigerators (mainly mini-fridges here)
9. Spatula (for making eggs etc, they only have awkward, flat, wooden utensils that are not as helpful)

So that's a pretty good list consisting of mainly food, but you get the point. It looks like the sun is finally out today, so I'm off to school to say hello and then into town to purchase some necessities.

À bientôt!