Posts Tagged With: 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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Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Expats, United States | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vacationless Vacation

I’ve got an hour to kill in the library, and it’s long past time that I update this blog.  So much has happened in the past three weeks, that I’m not really sure where to start.

I finally got that stable, permanent-contract job in Amiens, known in France as a CDI.  And I love it.  I’m teaching English to adults, following a specific method with a great staff and two fellow English-speakers, a Brittish girl my age and an Irish guy whose full-time passion is music.  The videos that make up the backbone of the learning method are pretty funny, and I’m learning loads about my own language in teaching it.  I have stable hours at a center not far from my apartment, stable (though very low) monthly pay and other job benefits.  Plenty of resources are available for me to use, and I’m gaining tons of experience.  There are nevertheless a few catches : I can no longer go to Italy this summer, as it’s a year-round job with few days of vacation until they’ve been accumulated throughout the year.  And, as a foreign student on a student visa, I am only able to work up to 20 hours a week.  I found a job I really like but am still not guaranteed the security to stay here in France, as in order to change my “visa status” from student to legal full-time worker, I pretty much need a Masters.  And my current Masters is becoming less and less interesting as time goes by…

The past two weeks were officially the semester “spring break,” two weeks without classes in which we were expected to advance on research, papers, or preparations for various concours, competitive contests or exams that pit you against the other candidates for a job.  Instead of focusing on my second semester studies or enjoying myself at the beach, I jumped head first into my new job, with insane 40+ hours the first week in doing both the new job and my old jobs (with various students around the city), and slightly more reasonable hours the second week.  I am starting to find my groove with the method and with how I explain things to students, while occasionally relying on my knowledge of French to explain grammatical points a bit quicker.  What I love about the method we use is that it’s based on communication, on hearing a language without understanding everything and about speaking as much as possible.  Which is pretty much the opposite of how English is taught in the French school system, which focuses on reading and writing instead of confident speaking abilities and correcting pronunciation mistakes.  Instead of being chastised for my “non-British” English and accent, I am valued as a member of the team who offers an alternative way of speaking, in an attempt to value diversity and a variant accent from the academic norm. Not that I don’t speak and write perfect English.  I got a 990 on the TOIEC (variant of the TEFOL exam to evaluate your English level) and always excelled at grammar and written expression.  But the whole point of the game is not to feel humiliated but to get your point across, then communicate – little by little – more confidently, more fluidly, more nuanced, finally assimilating cultural meanings and idiomatic expressions.  It’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past eight years in French, driven by an insane urge to perfect my second language, whether or not I can even advance past my current level (not for lack of trying, believe me).

In short, much of what I’ve learned this year has little prepared me for my current job: not the linguistic analysis of grammar, albeit fascinating in and of itself, especially not the complex literary translations into French in which my language level regresses and I feel like an incompetent idiot, and definitely not the specific points of methodology that are strictly applied to the writing of papers and summaries.  I think I’m a confident and competent teacher because I empathize with my students in learning their own language (French) as a foreign language, because I have spent hour after hour fine-tuning my explanations on specific grammar points and “language traps” such as the infamous phrasal verbs or faux amis, and partly because I stay calm and make it fun.  I’ve come to realize that part of why I dislike the French education system is because it’s an all or nothing deal – one grade you must pass or face redoing a whole year (in some circumstances), instead of a series of exercises that builds up your level, your confidence, your self-esteem.  It’s often about “being wrong,” being corrected as an example for the class instead of praised for your hard work, judged on the form and not the content.  It’s not about the learning process, the learning for the sake of learning that I have always loved about my teachers and my classes in school up till now, but that all-important diplôme that without which you are worth nothing.  You are put in a box : that slip of paper that tells that you are qualified to be a teacher, not because of your personality or your way with kids, but because you can translate from one language to the next without the aid of the dictionary.  And if you want to change careers… tough luck, you’ve got to start from scratch, because your diploma is for the wrong discipline.

Categories: Education, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Riding the Bus

I wrote an earlier post on walking around Amiens (I have walked a thousand miles), but it doesn’t do justice to a full description of my three odd hours spent in the bus every week.  So I’d like to invite you to accompany me on a typical Saturday morning, when I take full advantage of the region’s public transportation system…

It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday morning…

and instead of sleeping in, faisant la grasse matinée (one of my favorite French expressions, which literally translates as “doing the fatty morning”), I’ve a steaming mug of coffee within inches of my face, as I think over my morning’s lesson plans.  Unlike with your average English teacher, my English classes are all a “plus,” meant to complement school, help prepare for an exam, or offer additional “speaking practice” with a native speaker.  I review grammar, correct pronunciation, and help with homework.  As a result, my teaching is rather idiosyncratic, reflecting a variety of individual needs, and often involves a lot of impromptu explanation or off the cuff teaching.  Nevertheless, I have to come prepared to each individual lesson, with the exception of a conversation class with a rather advanced student (where we’re literally just talking), and since I have around ten different students a week, I often find myself early in the morning reproducing my eighth grade English teacher’s verb conjugation chart or looking up obscure terms related to global warming.

This morning, I eat the last of a delicious homemade cake aux pommes (which ironically translates as “apple bread” in American English, although I’d call it a cross between fruitcake and banana bread, altogether delicious) offered to me by my Belgian classmate for helping her study for our upcoming Linguistics exam.  I take a quick shower, try to find a semi-presentable outfit (I really need to go to the laundromat!), and blowdry my hair.  It’s still in the forties here in the North of France, and I am happy to learn that today lacks the Siberian-like wind that nearly blew me across the street yesterday.  I walk the ten minutes to my student’s home, where I spend the next hour and a half teaching English.  To my delight, I discover that I will finally be “paid” today (both companies I work for operate on a coupon-based system, so now that my students have finally paid for and received their coupons, I can register them on the company website… I won’t get paid until the beginning of May for classes I have taught up till now, starting in the middle of March), as I receive coupons from both of my students, worth nine cumulative hours of class.  Once I finish, I idle over to my favorite sandwicherie on the main pedestrian-only shopping street that runs through the heart of downtown Amiens.  I have a good thirty minutes to kill before I need to catch my train.  I order my customary bagnat au thon (I don’t eat most French meat, so thank goodness tuna is ubiquitous) and splurge on a croissant aux amandes, my mother’s favorite French pastry, with its gooey croissant goodness and its flaky, powdered almonds.

I carry my bundle over to the train station, which is about an eight minute walk away from the sandwicherie/ pâtisserie. [French food vendors are typically designated by what they sell, which is why the same place can be called a boucherie/charcuterie (butcher and seller of cooked meats and pork products) or a pâtisserie/boulangerie (pastry shop and bakery), and France is known for its various specialty shops, from an épicerie (grocer’s), poissonnerie (fish shop), brasserie (brewery, but also often bar) to a chocolaterie (chocolat shop) and confiserie (sweet shop/candy store)].

I know the train station by heart, so I walk over to the automatic ticket distributor and begin my coded ritual: Départ immédiatAutresBov-Adultes 1, Cartes 12-25, Oui, [insert rewards card], [insert credit card], [enter pin], Non, [prints out ticket]. I then look up at the overhead screen where my 12:30 p.m. train is mentioned, to see whether or not my voie (platform) is indicated.  I am on the early side today, so I have to wait until I know at which platform my train will be arriving.  I then validate (composter) my ticket, which proves that I took my train at the indicated time.  If you forget this little “validation” step while in France, it can cost you a fine up to €25, even if you bought the right ticket!  (If you do forget, you can always look for the ticket inspector on the train as soon as you board, as he can “validate” it for you, without you having to pay a fee).  While waiting for my platform to be announced, I eat my round bagnat, made of a soft white bread with sesame seeds, unlike the distinctive crusty French baguette.  I save my croissant aux amandes for the train.  Once I know the platform, I can finally make my way to my train, a regional TER which stops at the nearby towns on its way to a bigger metropolis such as Lille, Reims, or Paris.

La SNCF et toute l’équipe TER vous souhaitent la bienvenue à bord ce TER à destination de Paris gare du Nord.  Notre TER desservira Longueuil, Boves, …

There’s always a group of students in the train from the neighboring towns, which heightens the feeling I get that Amiens empties in the evenings and on the weekend.  You can sit wherever you want on a regional train, unlike the TGV (train de grande vitesse, high-speed rail), and I rarely have my ticket inspected between Amiens and Paris, let alone a town ten minutes outside of Amiens.  It is the most direct and effective way for me to get to my next lesson, but unlike the bus, it’s not “free” (that is, I paid for an entire year’s bus access back in September).  There are few trains to and from Boves, a small commune in the department of the Somme with a population of about 2,600 inhabitants.  I settle down in my seat, munch on my croissant aux amandes, and arrive at my destination in the blink of an eye.  Not even enough time to read a full article of The Economist.

I have a ten-minute walk to the student’s home from the train station, which allows me to get a feel for small-town France.  There is one main street through the center of town, which I walk along, passing a cemetery, the town hall, a hairdresser’s and a few other shops.  I can see from one end of the street to the other, about a ten-minute’s walk in length.  In a way, it reminds me of small-town Nebraska, one of my only other experiences of small towns except that of Missouri, which is a whole different story, except here it is utterly devoid of the rugged and Western feeling of the Nebraskan Sand Hills.  I’m afraid of getting lost, so I tend not to explore more than this direct route to and from the train station.

Once the lesson is finished, I sprint towards the bus stop, one of two on this main street.  It is 14:12, and I know that the bus is scheduled to appear in two minutes.  I run on the opposite side of the street, into the incoming traffic, if there were any incoming traffic, so that when the bus turns the corner, the bus driver is sure to see me.  He sits at the stop for a full two minutes as I approach huffing and puffing. The doors swing open and I mumble a “Merci” for waiting and a perfunctory “Bonjour.”  I swipe my green and yellow bus pass at the scanner below the ticket feeder, and I make my way towards the middle of the bus, and am jolted forward as the bus takes off down the road, not stopping until I finally push the button “Arrêt demandé.”  I have to wait for a mere four stops (but too far to walk) before getting off the bus, as this is the only bus that takes me away from Boves.  I must next take another bus in order to get back to the center of Amiens.  Today, lost in thought, I almost miss getting off at my stop, but I get off at the following stop, which is on the other side of the roundabout from where I need to be.  It’s the terminus of this other bus line, so I always have to wait for a good ten minutes before the bus begins its next round. As usual, I am the only person on the bus, so I take out my Samsung phone and read through this week’s The Economist.  It’ll be another thirty minutes before I arrive back at the train station, compared to the ten minutes it took me to get out here.

Finally the bus starts up and we are circling around the periphery of Amiens, with its shopping malls and HLM(high-rise apartment complexes) and with its distinctly rural population and pronounced Picard accent.  I’m not used to taking the bus, back in the United States, although I have taken the Greyhound and Megabus several times over the past few years.  I’m familiar with the mixing of socioeconomic backgrounds that occurs on U.S. public transportation – that is to say, I am familiar with putting myself in a situation where most of the other bus users belong to an entirely different socioeconomic class – but I am not entirely sure what to make of the situation here in the North of France, in the department of la Somme, with much of its population rural, its unique infrastructure issues, and its less densely populated communes.  It serves in some regards as a commuter region, a cheaper almost-suburb to the sprawling, high cost of living that is Paris.  And yet it’s character is altogether different from the cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic melting pot of Paris.  Picards tend to stay in Picardie, and they are highly attached to their region, which is all the more surprising given its less than stellar reputation throughout France.

I once met a local who studied for a semester in Toulouse – you’d think that with its sunshine, colored rooftops and Southern France/north of Spain vibe, it would appeal to a French girl accustomed to partly cloudy skies and a chance of rain ten months out of the year… but she told me that no, Southerners were much more superficial, much less open and friendly than people back at home.  Part of this must have been due to a feeling of dépaysement, of being out of one’s comfort zone and away from one’s network of family and friends, but I have to confirm her description of the Picards people that I have met up until now.  Very friendly, somewhat loud, big drinkers, very community-oriented.

I get off the bus at the train station and walk the fifteen minutes back to my apartment, where I relax for the first time in what feels like a week.  Parts of speech are flitting through my brain as I try to forget about English grammar, about moving here and there and everywhere, and anchor myself to my bed, not moving anywhere.

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

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…

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, France | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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!

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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

Back in Business

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

I promised I’d share both triumphs and failures, and I’m happy to say that I’ve had my fair share of Good News in the past few days. My last class for the first semester ended on December 20, which means I don’t have class until January 21. In the meantime, I had a string of exams the second week of December as well as a variety of assignments to turn in via e-mail. During my holidays, I promised myself that I would take full advantage of my time to spend with my friends and family instead of worrying about schoolwork, so it is only now that I am back in Amiens that I have been crossing things off my to-do list (I’m a big fan of to-do lists).

To-Do List

  • Write a one to two-page report in French on my journée mastériale talking about World War I
  • Write a seven-page literary analysis in English on The Awakening in which I analyze “the sea”
  • Write a five-page comparative analysis in English on two extracts of Children’s literature
  • Submit my application to the Teaching Assistant Program in France for 2013-2014
  • Write a ten-page sociolinguistic analysis in French of the anglicismes in food, gastronomy, and cooking
  • Study for my two exams in French on two theoretical approaches to research
  • Read the intensely boring Reflections on the Revolution in France and the delightful Everything in the Country Must before classes begin
  • Register for the June 2013 CAPES/CAFEP exam for English

So you see, I’m making progress! Nothing like being able to wake up at 11 am and sit around in your pajamas all day, writing blog posts and plodding through the rough waters of papers and exams. It certainly is a change. Speaking of change, AMETIS (the Amiens bus system) changed around their bus lines, much to my advantage (I now have an express line that takes me directly from my bus stop to the Campus in less than ten minutes), and the bus drivers didn’t even go on strike for it! (See my post La grève des bus to learn more about my history with bus strikes).

Since arriving back in Amiens, I’ve been hit with good news like a chain of explosive dynamite. It started on Monday, when I got an email from my professor who teaches that course on the linguistic analysis of translation (see my post A+ Tuesday for more on this professor). In a somewhat unsettling way of seeing my first grade back for one of my December exams – apparently in Amiens, they post all the grades collectively, so you can see what everyone else in the class got, regardless of how bad or good the grade might be – I opened up the attached file only to discover that I had gotten a 16/20! The second highest grade in the class on an exam entirely in French! I was astonished and delighted, considering that the only other grade I had received up to that point was a 4/20 on a translation exam (which will be averaged with four other translation grades, luckily for me). Even assuming I did as terribly on all my other translation grades (which is unlikely for my French to English translations at least), following the French system of compensation des notes, I could still take the 4 and the 16 and average them to make a 10, the passing note for the semester. To my surprise, yesterday, the same professor sent us the grades for our Wednesday class, the linguistic aspects of translation (not to be confused with aforementioned linguistic analysis of a specific translation, which makes up 1/3 of the CAPES written exams). Boom goes the dynamite, and I had 14/20! Not as good as a 16, but still, a very decent grade that will further help me achieve my required semester average. We are going to go over these exams in a few weeks, but I am fairly certain that most of my points were lost for not writing enough and incorrectly translating, “the knife was no longer coming at her. She was moving it up and down.” (Profound, I know). I’m still waiting on three more grades from November/December and five more grades in January, two of which I’ve already turned in the dossier for and now only have to wait for the result.

To boost my confidence on a whole different level, I’ve also had some reassurance that yes, I am making progress both socially and professionally here in Amiens, even if just a little bit. Firstly, I have been teaching something of a conversation class/ad lib basics of English to four French girls aged 7-10, albeit for one hour a week only. It’s a start (I keep needing to tell myself that it will get me somewhere). The best thing about teaching these girls, in addition to their enthusiasm, the flexibility I have to experiment (not typical of teaching English in French schools), and the gales of laughter that tend to accompany my Friday afternoons, is that I have a genuine contract which will last until July. So it’s very official, and the parents can’t just cancel on me without owing me 1/3 of the remaining pay. All this is relevant because for the first month of the contract, we began a “trial period” where, if they weren’t happy with me, they could let me go without reneging on the contract. Three weeks after my first lesson, the father who had initially interviewed and hired me calls me and informs me that he is rather surprised that I’m not speaking as much English as I am French with the girls. Granted, they have had a limited exposure to English and I’ve found that to get them to listen or understand me, I must often express myself in French. I heartily agreed with the father and began giving all my instructions in English before supplementing them with French, but I was slightly shaken up by his out of the blue call. Un peu de retour, he told me. As it is my first independent Teaching English as a Foreign Language job, I had some doubts about my abilities, although I was at least confident that the girls were having a very good time. Whether they are actually learning anything is another issue entirely.

Bref, now six weeks into teaching and comfortably past the one-month “trial period” I emailed the same father to ask for a bit more retour (feedback) with a long list of questions to help me evaluate my performance. Lo and behold, the other two sets of parents were very happy with my classes, and the parents of the two sisters as well, although they were concerned with the sisterly squabbling during the class. My youngest student was also apparently retaining the vocabulary I had taught her and, much to the amusement of her parents, was starting to use an American accent when repeating words in English. The father finished his e-mail with a highly flattering, I encourage you to keep teaching in the same manner. I felt like a million bucks at those words!

My final défi was last night, at our first locavore réunion since Christmas break. My partner-in-crime, N, called me a few hours before the meeting to tell me that she needed me to run, or animer, it. Honestly, I’ve never been in a student association, club, or society before where I’ve had to play a leading role (if you don’t count my years in the French club in high school), so this has been a huge learning experience for me, even being part of the group. The French is fast-paced, colloquial, accented strangely, and I’ve had to absorb a lot of strange vocabulary such as animer, échéance, ordre du jour, compte-rendu, scribe, commision, com’, partenariat, etc. often in the form of abbreviations of technicalities (even when you aren’t counting all the strange anglicismes such as flyers, brainstorming, and the like, all said in a heavy French accent). I’m not exactly shy, especially in English, but I sometimes lack confidence, and the last thing I was prepared to do was to direct a group of strong personalities aged 20-26, albeit close friends. But, as a close friend of mine told me yesterday, Qui ne tente rien n’a rien – (My favorite English equivalent is, Nothing ventured, nothing gained). And now, looking back on the meeting, I think it mostly went well!  Who knows, maybe I’ll be asking for a pay raise soon on my teaching English job?!  Now there’s a terrifying idea…!

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

La fin du monde

Ok, so I admit it, I apparently had the date wrong for the End of the World.  It just appeared so much more logical to me that it would fall on 12/12/12, but today is, according to the same individuals who got all excited about Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and thus, obviously, the end of the world.  So far the signs haven’t quite materialised, but I do live in Picardie and am thus used to random spurts of rain every thirty minutes.

Bref, what I actually wanted to write about was celebrating Christmas here in France in a strange combo European/commercial way (since I don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday).  But I thought la fin du monde would be a catchier title ;)

Here in Amiens, as elsewhere in Europe, little chalets are set up at the end of November for what is known as Le Marché de Noël, a monthlong Christmas market.  So far, I have only visited Paris’s and Amiens’s respective Christmas markets – Paris has white chalets and Amiens red.

IMG_0676In Amiens the vendor stands run along the entire length of the main throughway that was designed to serve pedestrians only – La rue trois cailloux.  You can find holiday fare such as Alsatian choucroute, tartiflettes, vin chaud (mulled wine), chichis (churros), gaufres (Belgian waffles), crêpes, and a variety of other specialities, including Vietnamese nem.  I personally spent some time at the French-Canadian stands, where I bought the best maple syrup I’ve ever tasted and an assortment of cranberry infused items (all at outrageously expensive prices, which, if it weren’t for the encouragement of the Québecoise woman and my nostalgia for all things cranberry, I would have refused).  I haven’t done much shopping myself, due to my incredibly restrictive budget, but I ogled many a display of leather bags, perfumed soaps, French cheeses, and wood carvings.  I’ll probably benefit more from the Marché de Noël next year, when I have a real job (fingers crossed), but I still have two days to do my Christmas shopping.

At one end of the street you come to a large Ferris wheel erected specifically for the Marché de Noël, and at the other end, you find a miniature roller coaster and a darling carousel, probably the same one that sat in front of my apartment until the end of August.

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Carousel

I’ve got to admit, I’ve been programmed to love the end of the year that accompanies the changing of seasons and the coming together of family members.  The way Hedi recounts it, this time of year in Tunisia is more characteristic of the end of the summer, when all the expats come home to the pied-à-terre where their grandmothers or aunts and uncles live, basking in the heat and the relaxed way of living that is even more détendu than the French.  For me, it was so important to come home this holiday season as I begin living abroad for an extended and indeterminate amount of time.  I wasn’t sure when next I’d see my three brothers and parents, and I hoped to take advantage of a short trip to the U.S. to touch base with a few of my friends.  Nothing helps more in creating enduring friendships than meeting face to face every now and then.

I have been blessed by the generosity of my family, which will allow me to head home on December 24.  I have to pass through Brussels and then multiple airports, but it will be worth arriving the evening of Christmas Eve in order to share some of that togetherness that is so sacred at this time of year.

Here in Amiens, I have been so fortunate as to build a little family, a community of friends and colleagues, that have helped me readjust to living abroad, through times of homesickness and all the difficulties of grad school in France.  I am hoping and praying that I will have succeeded in passing my first semester, but whatever comes, I am grateful to have spent a beautiful, full four months thus far in Amiens.

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Amiens in its Christmas best

Besides working on my various papers, I’ve been organising with my friend Anna another atelier de cuisine for my locavore group, Les Tombés d’la Charrette.  This entailed visiting the Saturday farmers’ market for the past few Saturdays and doing our best to come up with a palatable recipe for winter root vegetables.  We ended up with galettes au panais (parsnip pancakes), which, although sometimes difficult to make, turned out great, complimented by my dégustation of various underused vegetables – including purple carots, turnips, celeriac (also known as celery root), and a rutabaga – roasted in the oven and tossed with olive oil and herbes de provence.  Yum!

Last Saturday, to celebrate the last weekend where my group of six friends would all be together, we had an evening for making German and American Christmas cookies.  It was slightly chaotic, as we attempted to make six different varieties of cookies along with a black sticky gingerbread (see 101 cookbooks for the recipe), but we managed to successfully finish mere minutes before being kicked out of the Residence hall kitchen (which technically closes at 11 pm).

Work in progress

Finished product

Finished product

Merry Christmas to all those celebrating! I’ll see you on the other side of the ocean to update you on my travel adventures…

Categories: Amiens, France, Seasons | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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