Amiens

Hello, Goodbye

What a whirlwind of a week! In less than three hours I will be leaving Amiens, and in a little over that I will be leaving France.  If it all hadn’t happened so quickly, I’d have thought I was still dreaming!  Done with the French Masters, done with the English language school, the private tutoring, les Tombés de la Charrette (although I’ll still be an “honorary” member), the speaking French to buy groceries, the headaches and bureaucratic nightmares, the laid back rhythm of life.  For a good bit of time, I’ll go without seeing good friends and loved ones, and in many ways, my life as an Expat will be temporarily on hold.

I’ll soon be going through the shock of repatriation, and moving halfway across the country in the span of a few weeks, beginning full-time employment in a city I have never seen… in some ways you could say I am expatriating to New England and to suburban Connecticut, a land I had only known from its obnoxious spelling.  I have to find a used car and face a good number of months alone in a furniture-less apartment.  But believe me, I’m ecstatic about the prospect of a new adventure!

Leaving Hedi behind for a few months, on the other hand, is not at all appealing.  Back to the reality of long distance phone calls, Skype dates, and marathon emails.  This time, we know (more or less) what the future will have in store for us, and the total duration should be much less than the last time.  For those of you who have ever had to go through the process of filing for a visa (K-1 Fiancé visa in our case), I sympathize with your ordeal!

It hasn’t all been good-byes this week, even with the four-something going away parties I had attended scattered throughout the week.  I also got to know my future belle mère (such a lovely French term), to pick up a few more Arabic words and sample some delectable cooking.  Every week is a learning experience, every day is a hello to something new.  When you are used to packing up and moving somewhere else, the important thing to keep in mind is not to be sad you are leaving… you are probably going somewhere new!

To all my wonderful friends and family in Europe and North Africa, I will do my best to stay in touch (I am very good at it after years of experience) and I will come back to see you, sooner or later! Now that I’ll be making a decent salary, I’ll finally be able to travel a bit more frequently.  Gros bisous, vous allez me manquer tous et merci pour tout. 

The heart has reasons that reason cannot know

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

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The Visit

Welcoming the pilgrims

Welcoming the pilgrims

Remember that wedding I attended in August in the gorgeous Sand Hills of Nebraska? The (not so) newlyweds are finally on their honeymoon, backpacking across the Camino de Santiago de Compostela over a month-and-a-half period (crazy, I know).  But I was also lucky enough to have had the privilege of hosting my two friends over the past weekend.  They arrived last Friday, bringing with them beautiful spring sunshine and blooming flowers.  The entire day was absolutely gorgeous, and we made sure to take advantage of the Parc Saint Pierre in its full spring splendor.

When you have lived in several different places, be it a few cities or a few countries, one of the great rewards of life is to have a visitor from one of your “worlds” come and visit you at another.  I’ve had my Swiss sisters come to Omaha and see me in Amiens, and I’ve had multiple members of my family visit me in France and Switzerland.  This is the first time, however, that I’ve had close friends from the United States treat me to a visit, spending extra money and going out of their way to see me and my quaint little French town.  I felt like an eager kid showing off his preschool to his parents, everything from his playground friends to his favorite teacher, and I know that Hedi, long accustomed to living in Amiens, was able to view the city with the eyes of a tourist.  Wow, that Cathedral is gorgeous and look at all those old buildings!  Hedi was suddenly thrust into a world of English, and I kept speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.  Rarely have I had such an opportunity to constantly be speaking more than one language side by side, although I’ve already noticed a new stage in my bilingualism since working at a school where English is constantly spoken and returning home to speak and read in and listen constantly to French.

I had a bit of all my different worlds join forces together at My Goodness on Friday night: the old and the new, friends from College, from my Masters program, from my first study abroad experience, from my new job.  It was quite pleasant, especially to share stories about British English vs. American English, to talk about meeting one’s other half (and all the risks of the unknown), and to combine a bit of everything I have ever known.  We were American, English, Tunisian, and French, using a variety of languages and comparing the foreignness of our different experiences.

Time was spent in the Cathedral, walking around the city, visiting the beautiful floating gardens, playing Settlers of Catan, and cooking various delicious meals.  We went to the large souk-like market on Sunday and came back bearing halal roast chickens, more types of olives than my friends had ever seen in their entire lives, loaves of bread, and a variety of honey-saturated North African pastries.  We even got to Skype with a mutual friend to end a weekend of startling juxtaposition.  And off the pilgrims go, on their way through the Northwestern coast of Spain.  À la prochaine!

 

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I have walked a thousand miles…

For all the advantages and disadvantages of living in Amiens – it is a small city that few people have heard of, it rarely sees the sun, and it has the unfortunate quality of not being located on the French Riviera – one incredible attribute of my city, which is particularly important to me, is its walkability.  Partly for lack of trying, I can’t imagine being carless in either St. Louis or Omaha, but Amiens has allowed me to get by despite not being able to afford a car.  Once the clouds part and the sun comes out (sometime between now and July) I will consider renting a vélo vert, the really cheap green public bicycles, but for the moment I have survived the year thanks to a go-anywhere bus route that works 80% of the time and by wearing through a couple of pairs of sneakers.  As a student, I was even able to get a discount on my year-long bus pass, which I’ve probably got the value back on a thousand times over, what with the amount that I take the bus (for school and work).

When the weather’s nice enough, or the buses aren’t running (see La grève des bus or The Tempest: Snow Days in Picardie for two such occasions), or simply because I feel like I’ve been consuming too much cheese and chocolate, I book it on foot.  I live in the very center of Amiens, so I’m used to walking to get my groceries (5 minutes), to go to the bank (10 minutes), to head to the train station (15 minutes), to the Law library (10 minutes), to my favorite evening cafés (15 minutes), to my locavore meetings (15 minutes), to my classes (30-40 minutes uphill), to the park (15 minutes), to the south neighborhood of Henriville (30-40 minutes).  I don’t keep track of the kilometers I cover but the mere frequency of my walking is enough to give you an idea of my lifestyle. Carless, but then again… I don’t have to pay for car insurance, for gasoline, for a permanent parking spot, for the down payment on the car.  I don’t have to worry about finding a place to park it, about rush hour, or bad weather, or parking tickets, or speeding tickets.  For all the downsides and limitations of not owning a car, there are certainly many, many ways it’s “liberating” not to.

But I’ll probably have to invest in a new pair of shoes…

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The Tempest: Snow Days in Picardie

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That is what Amiens looked like and the surrounding Picardie region for a couple of days.  It started to snow Monday, but the buses were still functioning normally.  School was in session, shops were open.  Come Monday night, it started to snow without stopping, snowing into Tuesday morning with great gusts of wind that rattled my windows.  The snowpocalypse had hit.  Normally on Tuesdays (see my earlier post A+ Tuesday) I have six hours of classes – it’s my longest day of school plus I have a two-hour meeting with les Tombés de la Charrette.  I have class from 9 am to 5 pm and am unable to return home and relax until 8 pm at night.  So I found myself at 7 am, on Facebook, chatting with my fellow Masters students about the situation.  Many students, and professors, live outside of Amiens, as it is the only Masters program within proximity of Beauvais, Saint Quentin, and within reach of the major axes of Lille and Paris for those professors who teach at more than one institution.  The situation was epic: roads closed, buses no longer running, trains canceled, people stranded.  I was in my pajamas and not about to attempt the thirty minute walk uphill to find out whether or not my university was closed.  Luckily, a friend of mine ventured over to confirm for all of us waiting passively on our computers that the Campus was closed – not enough personnel had shown up and the scolarité, the administrative office that informs us of canceled classes, was locked.  We got the news an hour and a half later – the entire university system in the region of Picardie was closed for Tuesday and Wednesday, as were all the elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  We were faced with our first official snow days of the year.

You might have expected that I’d joyfully run down my five flights of stairs to make snow angels and snow forts, but despite the lack of vehicle circulation, there was still a lot of foot traffic. People were skiing down major throughways.  The snow had been cleared on sidewalks and roads, and the remaining piles of snow transformed into that ugly gray mess which resembles wads of chewed paper.  And as the day progressed and temperatures dropped, black ice began to cover the sidewalks and streets, turning walking into a very risky business.  I preferred to survey the scene from my balcony up above.  In the meantime, I’ve been watching TV, reading, and finally making progress on my Harry Potter thesis.  I just got an email this morning that my two hours of class on Friday have also been canceled, although the university will officially reopen this afternoon.  I have yet to determine whether I will still be teaching English tonight and tomorrow evening – the buses and trains might not yet be fully functioning.

I have survived the March tempest thus far and am looking forward to day light savings to finally come into effect here in Picardie – nothing like an extra hour of (hypothetical) sunshine to warm up though soul, à la chicken noodle soup.

View from the Tour Perret

View from the Tour Perret

Categories: Amiens, France, Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hiatus

8050434766_b7d46aaec9_zHello there, my fellow Expats and bloggers, friends and strangers alike, I haven’t written in two weeks because, well, like any writer knows, sometimes you just need a break.  For me, this welcome respite came in the form of les vacances de février, one of the many numerous French school holidays scattered throughout the year.

Hiatus n. the pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.

That’s exactly what I did.  From February 22 to March 1 I spent my days lounging around my apartment, occasionally venturing outside to buy bread and cheese and to participate in a lovely atelier pommes, that’s to say a cooking workshop revolving around apples with my locavore group “Les Tombés de la Charette” (our website is now operational, www.alimentonlocal.fr, if you want to see what we’re up to).  I watched more tv than I probably had previously during my entire lifetime (NCIS, “The Voice,” etc.) and I worked not one iota on my school work.  Not to say that I wasn’t studious.  I get antsy if I don’t have some “project” to work on, one I usually abandon within a few weeks, but I have been faithfully studying Italian on Duolingo and Memrise almost every day for the past two weeks.  Io mangio la fragola.  Grazie.

The weeklong holiday (those high school age and younger had two weeks off school, most of whom jetted off to the Alps for a colonies de vacances holiday camp to go skiing) was dark and overcast, the doldrums of the winter months in full swing here in Northern France.  And to make matters worse, very few students were around, most having gone home to their families, traveled to warmer milieu or worked as camp counselors.  I gave five hours of English lessons myself, but I mostly wallowed in my pajamas and woke up around noon every day.  I have tried several more adventurous recipes recently: tortilla española, bricks à la tunisienne, spicy chili, tarte aux poireaux avec une pâte brisée faite maison, crumble aux pommes, velouté à la courge muscadée

My most productive part of the break was the massive amounts of emails that I sent off to friends and the numerous “Skype dates” I initiated during this time.  I even talked with an American in Oregon, at 10 pm her time and 7 am my own! (I promptly went back to sleep afterwards).  It’s been such a pleasure to read all the responses to my emails (friends, you know who you are, and I am so lucky to have you in my life!)  And thank goodness for Skype and for the weekly “conference calls” my family does, which has allowed me to feel very close while being very far away.  I think I can say that I am successfully keeping up with my New Year’s pledge to email once a month and to maintain a good steady communication with my loved ones.

Since Monday, I’ve been back at school, with renewed vigor and focus (*cough cough*).  I’ve slowly stopped going to all those “extra classes” (you see my problem with resolutions and “projects”? I can never successfully audit anything for a full term) and concentrated on my job search and the classes I’m actually getting graded on.  I finally received my bulletin scolaire, that’s to say, my report card for the first semester.  To my delight, I ended up with a 15/20 moyenne (average).  Despite what you might think, approximately half of my classes were taught and evaluated in French, and I am proud to say that I did very well in them.  For my classes uniquely in French, I received 14, 15, 16, 16 and 17! My English to French translation class was my only shortcoming, but averaged with my much stronger French to English grade, I barely scraped past the passing grade of a 10!  What this all translates into is that I won’t have to “retake” any of my first semester exams in the summer, I’ve “validated” everything (grades in France are very different from what you can expect in the US, if you want more details, I invite you to browse through my previous posts commenting on the first semester).

And another “New Year’s resolution” to cross off my list: I got hired at a(nother) local tutoring company as an English teacher, the #1 centre de soutien scolaire in France if I do say so myself.  Between my various “employers” I should be able to generate much more income than what I was previously, enough to help me literally scrape by in these upcoming months.  With a part-time job for now, an exciting job opportunity in Italy for the summer, and a potential job for next year, all that awaits me is to discover what direction my career(s) will take me in.  Sometime in April I’ll find out whether or not I’ll be a language assistant next school year, and the results to the June CAPES (allowing me to be a stagiaire, or student teacher) will be posted in July.

All that’s left of my 2013 goals is to get back into running! I’ve run once this week and look forward to a slightly longer run tomorrow.  The sun is starting to shine more reliably, although it’s expected to plunge back into the 30’s and 40’s over the next few days.  Vivement le printemps…

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Expats, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Crêpe-making Holiday? When in France

As most of the world is aware, France has a very healthy relationship with food, with its complex network of traditions and cultural practices tied up with special meals and desserts.  Each month has a corresponding holiday around food:  in January, it’s la galette des rois for Epiphany, in February you have both la Chandeleur and le Saint-Valentin, and this continues all the way into December, with the bûche de Noël among numerous other holiday traditions such as vin chauddes marrons, and the famous foie gras and canard or lapin for the New Year’s Eve Réveillon.

Yesterday while the United States was busy deciding whether or not the official groundhog had seen his shadow, France was busy celebrating la Chandeleur, a complex holiday that is tied to both the Catholic holiday of Candelmas, which celebrates the presentation of Jesus to the Temple as well as the purification of the Virgin Mary forty days after giving birth (a custom women still practice in Islam), as well as the Roman holiday of light, festa candelorum, which is the origin of the French name, from the French word for long tapered candles, des chandelles.  It also has its roots in Northern and Western European holidays celebrating the lengethening of the days.  Today the holiday is mostly remembered as a time to get together with friends and make crêpes, one of France’s most popular food exports.  It’s a seasonal, religious, and cultural/food-related holiday all in one. Summer, light, and crêpes!

crepes-chandeleur

Surprisingly enough, there is more in common between the very secular American Groundhog’s Day and la Chandeleur in France than simply sharing the same date:

“In France, Candlemas is celebrated with crêpes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m. If the cook can flip a crêpe while holding a coin in the other hand, the family is assured of prosperity throughout the coming year. The French though have a completely reversed view of the weather prospects. They say: “Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l’hiver est par derriere; Chandeleur couverte quarante jours de perte,” a rhyme that means, more or less: “If February 2nd is clear, no more winter to fear; if the Chandeleur is overcast, forty days winter to last.” But then again they also say: “Soleil de la Chandeleur, annonce hiver et malheur” which is “A sunny Candlemas will bring winter and misfortune”. Other traditions include “Si point ne veut de blé charbonneux mange des crêpes à la Chandeleur” which is “if you do not at all wish the wheat to blacken eat crêpes at Candlemas”, and “Celui qui la rapporte chez lui allumée. Pour sûr ne mourra pas dans l’année” which is “whoever arrives home (from church) with it (the candle) lit for sure will not die that year”.” Wikipedia

Luckily for us, the weather in Amiens was absolutely dismal.  It was dark, the sky a slate gray that makes me think more a muddy puddle than a Van Gogh-esque Starry Night, and it was spewing at various intervals cold snow-rain that melted upon touching the ground.  I’m sure hoping that our winter will be a short one, for I’m longing for the mild temperatures of spring and summer in Northern France, and the rare sun sightings in the past few months leave one longing for the gentle kiss of sunshine against your forehead.  I’m looking forward to relaxing in le Parc Saint-Pierre and having picnics and soccer matches and pétanque tournaments to pass the time.

I have been fortunate enough to share many French traditions with friends here in France, many of which I hadn’t celebrated the first time I lived in Amiens two years ago.  The benefit of knowing the locals is the possibility to share in their traditions.  This year, I had two delicious Kings’ cakes for Epiphany, another religiously-based holiday that is also celebrated in New Orleans in the United States and elsewhere in the world.  Unlike the very sweet and colorful New Orleans style Kings’ Cake, the French galette des rois is made of almond-paste frangipane and pastry, with a little fève (originally, a broad bean) figurine buried beneath layers of cake and which many collect.  Tradition has it that the youngest person has to crawl under the table and “decide” who gets what piece of cake as it is sliced in equal portions for family members or friends.  As I was the youngest among my group of friends, I stuck my head under the table.  Whoever has the slice of cake concealing the fève, which in New Orleans is a little figure of a naked baby (originally representing the baby Jesus), is crowned “king” or “queen” for the day, wears a paper crown, and, most importantly, escapes dishes duty for the rest of the day.  I also got to sample a homemade galette des rois with the four French girls I teach, although unfortunately the fève was hidden in one of the remaining slices.

“The cake traditionnally celebrating Epiphany in France and Quebec is sold in most bakeries during the month of January. Two versions exist: in northern France and Quebec the cake called galette des rois (which can be either circular or rectangular) consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane. In southern France – Occitania, Roussillon, Provence,Catalan where it´s called tortell – the cake called gâteau des rois or royaume, is a torus-shaped brioche with candied fruits and sugar, similar in its shape and colours to a crown. This later version is also common to Spain and very similar to New-Orleans king cake.

Tradition holds that the cake is “to draw the kings” to the Epiphany. A figurine, la fève, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in their slice becomes king for the day and will have to offer the next cake. Originally, la fève was literally a broad bean (fève), but it was replaced in 1870 by a variety of figurines out of porcelain or—more recently—plastic. These figurines have become popular collectibles and can often be bought separately. Individual bakeries may offer a specialized line of fèves depicting diverse themes from great works of art to classic movie stars and popular cartoon characters. The cakes are usually sold in special bags, some of which can be used to heat the cake in a microwave without ruining the crispness of the cake. A paper crown is included with the cake to crown the “king” who finds the fève in their piece of cake. To ensure a random distribution of the cake shares, it is traditional for the youngest person to place themselves under the table and name the recipient of the share which is indicated by the person in charge of the service.

Formerly, one divided the cake in as many shares as guests, plus one. The latter, called “the share of God,” “share of the Virgin Mary,” or “share of the poor” was intended for the first poor person to arrive at the home.” Wikipedia

I recently also had the opportunity to attend the birthday party of one of my closest French friends here in Amiens.  The small and intimate gathering was delightful, from the many delicious cold samplings of “finger food”, from delicate quail eggs to bread slices slathered with various spreads, a “savory” caky bread, and little chocolate muffins at the end of the meal.  We played a game that was perhaps as literary and nerdy as our group, which is called À la manière de (In the manner of), which takes a line from the work of a famous French author and stops mid-sentence, allowing those playing along to “propose” a sentence “in the manner of” the famous author. The goal is to sound convincingly enough like the author that when the person whose turn it is reads all the different sentences anonymously, including the “real” sentence the author wrote, everyone will be convinced that your invented sentence is the literary text.

For those of you who read French, here is a sampling of the “sentence endings” I wrote down, with a few “real” sentences that I read aloud at my turn.  Let’s see if you can guess the French author who inspired them :)

  • “…ma femme se rende compte que je veux coucher avec un homme.
  • … je vous tue.
  • … une affaire compliquée et pénible,
  • … tu me saoules.
  • … on a dû tomber du ciel,
  • …quelconque.
  • …périmé
  • … j’ai tout ce que j’ai désiré.”

My own Chandeleur party was incredible, as I get to spend it at a close friend’s house with all the other members of my locavore group.  We spent at least four hours playing a board game called “Zombicide”, which is a hilarious cooperative game in which you try to “shoot the zombies” and race against the zombie invasion while following one of ten different scenarios.

Zombicide

Zombicide

Oh, and the crêpes.  In the 24 hours that we spent together, I probably ate more crêpes than I have in an entire year. Curry-flavored crêpes with leeks and onions and goat cheese and tome de cidre cheese and sweet crêpes flavored with orange blossoms and stuffed with Nutella and Jonagold apples or spread with homemade jam.

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La Chasse au trésor

Information in France is a precious commodity.  It’s worth its weight in gold.  It’s certainly not a dime a dozen.  [Insert clichéd phrase about how valuable and/or hard to get it is].

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Over the last five months that I’ve lived in France, and to a lesser extent, my 13 months previously spent in Europe, I’ve discovered that to do well you not only have to know what to ask but who to ask.  Like most labyrinthine bureaucracies and red-taped governments, France has a lot of administrative paperwork and backlogged offices that prevent you from knowing what you want when you want.  Luckily, my information-getting goals have been relatively straightforward since setting my sights on life in France.  In 2011-2012, it involved figuring out how to move to France, via the complicated and long process of applying to Masters programs on the CampusFrance website.  Since arriving in France, I have been trying to figure out the somewhat complicated procedures for becoming a teacher in France and finding a job in general.

With the second semester rentrée de classe underway, I began my job search in earnest, trying to pick up tidbits of information right and left.  My first week back into classes, I responded to online ads for cours particuliers, tutoring, conversation classes, or homework help.  By chance, I had a response to one such ad from a company that sets tutors up with potential students, in a kind of Kaplan learning center.  The woman who called me the next day happened to work for such a company in Amiens and was interested in my profile in general.  Despite the fact that I had applied online to work for them at least twice over the past few months, I finally had caught the attention of someone.  A few days later and a couple of job applications filled out and resumes sent in, I received a phone call from the same company, offering me a one hour a week job teaching English.

On Monday, I stopped by the Center, expecting an interview or some other formality, but as far as the woman was concerned, I was already hired.  She went over procedures and expectations, and I strolled out of the office feeling slightly better about myself.  An extra 12€ a week isn’t much more than what I was making before, but it’s certainly a start.  The only obstacle I was facing was a phone call to the potential student’s parents, in order to confirm our weekly lesson (and I have a horror of phone calls).

I next ventured over to the Rectorat of the Académie d’Amiens, a maze of a building that houses everything to do with education in the entire Picardie region.  I had initially planned on getting information concerning my eligibility to take the CAFEP-CAPES, the teaching exam that allows you to teach in private schools. However, someone had previously mentioned to me that I should ask for an application to become a substitute teacher, which had slipped my mind completely.  I arrived in the massive building and immediately asked for directions.  The woman at l’accueil handed me a slip of paper showing a map of the building and the bureau I needed to find in order to get my answers.  I dutifully took the map and went up in the elevator, crossing the entire length of the building before arriving.  I gave a ten second spiel (“I’m a foreigner looking for info about the CAFEP-CAPES”), and they immediately told me to go to another office.  This office indeed dealt with private schools, and they offered me a job application for substitute teaching, but they had nothing to do with the concours and sent me off to a third office.  By the time I reached this office, I was convinced that I was on some weird and convoluted scavenger hunt – the third office immediately sent me two doors down.  At last, I had the right people to ask about the exam.  They told me, five seconds into my spiel, that I didn’t have to do anything else to take the teaching exam besides prove that I had my undergraduate diploma and was registered in the first year Masters.  No need to request a casier judiciaire, a background check, or any other nonsense until I actually passed the exams.  Furthermore, the “permission” to work as a teacher in France – the initial object of my search – was to be obtained at the Préfecture, not at the Rectorat.  I had walked 200 meters in a circle for no good reason!

Except, I must remind myself, I have obtained some very, very valuable information.

When I met later that day with my unofficial “adviser”, the director of the English teaching Masters in Amiens who’s been helping me sort all this out, she just scoffed – “That’s France for you.”

Q: What is European heaven?
A: The Germans look after administration, the English are the policemen, the French do the cooking and the Italians are the lovers.
Q: And what is European hell?
A: The English do the cooking, the Germans are the lovers, the Italians are the policemen and… the French look after administration.

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Back to the Grind

Well, I’ll have to say, having five months of my Masters under my belt made this “first day” back to class so much easier than the original first day (see La rentrée for more information).  I have gotten a handful of my grades back, all (with one exception) really good, which has boosted my confidence.  I’ve figured out how my Masters works, how the complementary Masters that I’m going to switch into next year works, the grading system for both Masters and how I’ll be evaluated.  I’ve gotten to know the professors, figured out what they expect of me in terms of translation, in both written French and English, and I’ve even figured out what I need to do to become a high school professor of English in France (see my last post, Round Two, if you’re curious to know more about teaching in private schools in France).

That being said, my schedule for the semester looks absolutely ridiculous.  Part of this is because, in addition to the normal workload of a Master de recherche (4 seminars, 2 translation classes, 1 linguistics class, and “out of class” time to work on my thesis), I am also taking as an “auditrice libre” all the Master d’enseignement classes, with the exception of oral comprehension and expression, which would be absolutely pointless for me to take anyways.  That brings my total to nine classes, and I’m contemplating spending all day at the l’IUFM, where they instruct you on basic pedagogy and set up teaching practicums, on Thursdays, along with the rest of the Master d’enseignement, even though I am in no way required to.  All this because of the CAPES écrits which is taking place in June, six months (more or less) ahead of schedule.  The written CAPES for English will be in the form of a written commentary on a literary or significant historical text accompanied by one to five “annexes” that serve as “guides” in your analysis, à la française, and two texts to translate, one into English and another into French, the latter serving as a starting point for a linguistic analysis on English grammatical terms.  And since I am so new to the whole literary translation thing, especially from English to French, I decided to “audit” a class or two of translation in order to improve.  Hey, you can only get better at translation by doing more translation!

Sample schedule:

  • Mondays: 10 am-12 pm, [audit] Methodology class for the CAPES literary commentary; LUNCH; 1 pm-3 pm, Seminar on traductology taught by my Thesis adviser; 3 pm-4 pm, [audit] Translation class emphasizing English grammar; 4 pm-5 pm, [audit] Translation class on literary translation from English to French
  • Tuesdays: 9 am-11 am, Linguistic analysis class; 11 am-12 pm, Translation class on literary translation from English to French; LUNCH; 2 pm-3 pm, Translation class on literary translation from French to English; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on linguistic theory (all the big names, de Saussure, Chomsky, etc.)
  • Wednesdays: 10:30 am-12:30 pm, Methodology class for the CAPES commentary of a historically significant text; LUNCH; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on Irish literature
  • Thursdays: 9:30 am-4:30 pm, Pedagogical training at l’IUFM
  • Fridays: 2 pm-4 pm, Seminar [undecided, but probably in French medieval literature on Marian poetry in France]

Nevertheless, I will do my best to succeed this semester, as well as in my preparations for the CAPES, knowing full well that the more practice in translation, literary analysis, linguistics that I do, the better off I’ll be.  The worst that can happen is A) I’ll get burnt out and start dropping my classes or B) have to take the make-up exams in June for a class or two and/or retake the CAPES next year if I don’t pass it.  Which means redo parts of my first-year Masters, but with a signficantly lighter workload.  And maybe a part-time job (fingers crossed).

Another reason why today went so well is that I finally know everyone in my Masters, and some even rather well.  It takes time to get to know people, and there’s nothing better than taking the same exams and suffering under the same obnoxious workload to break the ice.  And then, Facebook did the rest.  I am blessed to have had this semester: international friends, friends in my Masters, and friends within my locavore group, a diverse assemblage of wonderful and very different people.  Who would have believed that I had hardly a single French friend (with notable exceptions) the last time I lived in Amiens? There is nothing like setting up a permanent residence somewhere and pursuing a legitimate degree, instead of feeling like a “vacationer” or a “foreign observer” passing through.

So here I am in January 2013, confident, happy, and motivated for the rest of the year and for the grueling work ahead of me, albeit altogether broke!

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, France | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Round Two

It snowed a few days ago here in Amiens (although it melted the following day), and since yesterday it has been absolutely freezing.  I’m from the Midwest United States, so I am not exaggerating when I say that (my three years in Omaha bring to mind many not-so-fond memories of the snow and the cold).  Last night, it dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 C), and even in the middle of the day, it is now only 27 degrees (-3 C).  I have ventured out as little as possible in the past week since I’ve written my last post.

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Now I can finally say, after five months, twelve weeks of classes, and many an exam, exposé or written dossier (or all three!), I have finally finished my first semester!  It’s time to break out the sparkling grape juice and do a celebratory dance… until classes begin again next Monday.  I had my last two exams last Monday and filled eight sides of paper all in French about various theoretical and linguistic topics relating to H.P. Grice’s maximes of communication and the argumentative strategies of Albert Camus.  Hopefully I won’t have to retake those exams, but I won’t know those grades for a while.  I also finally finished my linguistics dossier on English words (anglicismes) used in French food and cooking vocabulary: think cookies, donuts, ketchup, and other such things (whereas they, conversely, have contributed about 60% of all our culinary words, such as bourguignon, à la minute, au gratin, etc.).  Now all I need to do is wait and see if I passed my first semester or whether or not I will need to prepare make-up exams in June for the classes for which I do not have the passing 10 average.

On a professional note, I at last know what is required of me in order to teach in a French middle school or high school!  This Wednesday I traveled to the neighboring town of Beauvais to attend an info session on l’enseignement catholique in France.  As a non-ressortisant(e) de l’Espace européenne, that’s to say, neither a French nor a European citizen, I am effectively barred from teaching in public schools because that requires the fonctionnaire status – as a government civil servant.  Which means, although I only want to teach my native tongue to 12-18 year olds, I would still be considered a “government employee”, and as a non-European, that is not a possibility.  I can always re-apply to be a public school teacher in four and a half years, upon receiving French citizenship, but in order to remain in France during this time, I need a job.  One of those lovely Catch-22’s that you so often encounter in France (See Jennifer Lee’s delightful essay on French Catch-22’s or on Teaching English in France).  Luckily, for those willing to jump through a bunch of hoops, there is a solution: private schools.

However, don’t expect to just show up in France and find a French high school willing to hire you – not if it’s “sous contrat de l’État”, that’s to say, funded and reglemented by the government, which the majority of the legitimate and mainstream schools in France, private or public, are.  No, in order to get hired by a private school, you must have completed both years of your Masters (I’m in the process), pass both the épreuves d’admissibilité du CAPES (the June written teaching exam, I just signed up for it) and the épreuves d’admission du CAPES (the oral exams scheduled for 2014), follow classes of specific pedagogy and work as a student teacher for a minumum of 12 weeks, and get the approval of the regional Diocese in order to both student teach and be hired full-time.  Not to mention the permission of the regional office for the region’s schools (le Rectorat) to teach in France even in private schools.  And eventually, pass through the requirements for applying for a work permit (titre de travail) at your local préfecture.  As 70% of all private schools in France “sous contrat” are Catholic schools, I am going to follow the procedures and begin my long journey between now and becoming a teacher within the regional school district of Catholic schools.  After all, the students learn exactly the same things in the classroom as they do in public schools.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll be a student teacher come September!

I’ve had a last few rounds of delicious meals with my German, Tunisian and French friends before my two close friends leave tomorrow for Germany, before embarking on other adventures.  Tonight is their fête de départ at the same African café-bar where I myself had my going-away party in 2011!

By the way, it’s been exactly two years since I first arrived in Amiens… How many things have happened since!

Mloukhiya, a traditional Tunisian dish that takes 7 hours to prepare

Mloukhiya, a traditional Tunisian dish that takes 7 hours to prepare

Fondue soirée

Fondue soirée

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Food, France | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Manifest’on local

Today feels like a good day for a protest. There’s no sun to cast shadows across my computer screen, just a washed-out gray sky bringing to mind the world of The Giver. It’s not really cold, but there’s a damp chill which creeps into my room, causing mold to sprout on the walls and sealing my envelopes before I have time to send them. My morning is spent in that strange world of translating computer science technicalities into English, and I feel like yelling at someone at the CAF for failing to give me subsidized housing for three straight months. Wanting a brisk stroll, I take my five flights of stairs three steps at time and head to where, normally, the CAF is located. I make it there in record time, passing an unusual number of policemen directing traffic away from la préfecture. Policemen make me nervous, so I give them a wide berth.

The CAF has a sign plastered on the front door, telling me that they’ve moved again. I assume that they are back where they were originally located, a few months ago, and that the interminable travaux have finally been completed. But I’m not too good with street names, so I’m taking a gamble. I gambol along and notice that a lot of the streets have been blocked off and that, again, there’s a lot of policemen. I pass in front of l’armurerie, which is the first I’ve seen here in France. I think of the gun debate that’s taking place in the United States and I shiver in spite of myself. I hear mute pops that sound like gunshots.  There’s a group of people holding signs, marching down the main throughway, followed by a parade of large tractors, flanked by helicopters and motorcycle cops.  I spot les CRS, the riot control forces.  The banner reads, Les jeunes agriculteurs. Is this a protest? A show of pride? There’s currently a national taxi strike going on in the country. I snap a few photos and take a video, feeling slightly subversive.

I reach the CAF, right where I expected it to be located, only to find that on Thursday January 10, exclusively, it closes at 15h45. Five minutes before I arrive at its doors. Police officers are less suitable candidates for yelling at, so I film the manif’ as it progresses along the avenue.

I circle back to my apartment, feeling both rebellious and disappointed.  I’ve just finished reading Everything in this Country Must. I think I’m reading too much about Irish revolutionaries for my own good. I’m channeling Enjolras from Les Miserables. I open my lovely Mac, its face neon in the dim grayness of my room, and discover that yes, I have indeed witnessed a manifestation in the works.

“150 agriculteurs manifestent ce jeudi à Amiens contre une directive européenne qui élargit le périmètre des zones vulnérables. Ces zones pollués ou susceptibles de l’être aux nitrates. Le principal syndicat agricole, la FNSEA estime que cette directive impose trop de contraintes pour un secteur déjà en difficultés.” france bleu

When in France, do as the French do.  And that’s protest.  For Everyone in this Country Must.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, Daily Life, France, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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