Posts Tagged With: Teaching English as a foreign language

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.

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

Teaching English

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An avalanche can be triggered by the slightest of movements, a small rock rolling down the side of a mountain.  As it falls, it gains momentum and slowly a whole face of the mountain follows in its wake, cascading down in a deafening, blinding explosion of snow.  A powerful, lethal domino effect…

To put it plainly, that’s my metaphor for how I went from teaching one hour of English a week to, in the space of two weeks, seven to ten hours a week with eleven different students.

It started small.  An online advertisement sent by a friend.  Another online advertisement that led to a phone call, which led to an interview, which led to another interview.  And now I have more requests for English classes than I can fit into my weekly schedule.  This is why I tell all those would-be-haters, Ye of little faith, back home that while having a liberal arts degree certainly doesn’t stack the odds in your favor, people can and do find work with a B.A. in French.  That and a combination of people you know, being in the right place at the right time, and various other jobs/internship/qualifications.  The most important thing is to have that first job, that first experience, and you are a thousand times more likely to be hired.

All that being said, it’s hard to try to teach ESL classes in Europe, especially in France.  You go to the language centers, and they want CELTA/TEFL certifications.  You go to the after-school tutoring companies, and they want experience.  You go to the middle schools and high schools, and they want you to first pass a national exam and pointless Masters.  You try to freelance it, and you know nobody, and there are a thousand other advertisements online.  Plus the British can always trump you when it comes to visa requirements and hiring priorities.  You go to Paris, and your rent costs too much.  You go to a smaller city, and there’s not the same amount of work as in Paris.  You realize that you might speak your own language but you have no idea why you say what you say.  You realize that everyone outside of an English-speaking country learned jargon that you have never ever heard of (“phrasal verbs” or “modal constructions” ringing any bells?).  And that no matter how hard you try, some people can just not successfully pronounce the letter “H.”

But why should you try? Because, for one, you appreciate that while not everyone speaks English, they make a valiant effort to speak a language other than their own native tongue.  And that you are not more privileged than a non-native speaker English teacher, just because you happen to speak one of the variants of English without thinking.  Do you know how to explain to someone when to use can rather than could or shall rather than should?  Teaching English abroad forces you to question yourself, your language, your perception of the world.  It makes you appreciate being able to communicate in someone else’s native language, to even be able to teach someone in French, let alone a subject as complex and erratic as the English language.  Because, let’s face it, teaching English does not necessarily imply teaching in English, even for purists who insist on full-scale immersion and improving oral comprehension.  If someone is going to pay you fifteen bucks an hour once a week, you can bet that they don’t want to pass those sixty minutes understanding twenty percent of what you are saying.  All they need to do for that is to turn on an American TV show.

But oh what fun and what headaches and difficulties and epiphanies and joy and frustration it is to teach English!  Teaching in itself is tiring and time-consuming, but teaching a foreign language – when only half of your students are actually interested and the rest are either forced to learn it by their parents or required to to pass an exam – is the real gauntlet of the teaching world.  And teaching English in a country where you are barely there legally, and there are one hundred other people who would like to be in your shoes, and the hours are bad, and the pay is subpar… Teaching English in France is for the brave of heart.

I’ve done the Hokey Pokey, I’ve “I spied”, I’ve gotten locked up in London Bridge, I’ve taught the basics of Bingo, I’ve reiterated the rules for pronouncing “-ed” verb endings, I’ve sung “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” I’ve translated ad lib a dozen complex business texts, I’ve “How do you do-ed” and “Nice to meet you-ed” and I’ve traveled all over the city, running to and fro from bus stations and language centers, cafés and campuses.  I’ve worked with four-year-olds, ten-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, twenty-year-olds, twenty-five-year-olds.  And somehow, I have still retained my sanity.

It’s language-learning in reverse.  It’s unlearning, relearning, faking it, ad libbing.  It’s scratching your head at all the various pecularities between British English and American English.  It’s knowing the superlative, the subjunctive, the passive voice, the present perfect, subject-verb inversion, relative pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and so much more.  It’s a whole lot of n’importe quoi.

And sometimes I say to myself, maybe I should move to Thailand or Korea.  I’ve heard there’s better pay.

Categories: Education, Expats, Working in France | Tags: , , , | 2 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

Where art thou, Romeo?

Verona - City viewed from Veronetta district 1. (Photo by Fleur Kinson)This summer, ladies and gentlemen, I will be spending in the lovely land of the feuding Capulets and the Montagues, one of the gems of Northern Italy – Verona.  I’ve never been to Italy before, so I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to live there, with an Italian family as an au pair.  Well, more like a live-in English as a Second Language teacher in order to provide a full immersion experience for two Italian children and give them structured English classes every morning during the week.  During my afternoons and weekends, I hope to get to experience my first taste of Italian life, Italian culture, and maybe a few classes in a language school.  Hopefully I’ll meet some nice Italians!  I’ve been learning Italian on Duolingo.com, and while it’s foreign and new, a lot of it reminds me of French.  Oh, to speak Italian and French, the two most beautiful and romantic languages I know!  If I really exert myself over the next few months and during my two-month stay in Italy, I might become officially trilingual… And nothing could be better for my career as an ESL teacher than teaching for 20 hours a week over eight weeks, getting to work with two children and see them improve with their English.  I feel so incredibly lucky!

In addition to my bright ray of sunshine, I’ve also been getting a little bit more work recently.  One more job offer, a total of four hours of English tutoring this week.  One more phone call interview with a rival tutoring company who also wants to offer me clients through their intermediary.  And perhaps even an opportunity to get some real professional translation experience freelancing with a company based in the U.S.  And soon, so very soon, I’ll be on February break!  Time to start churning out some 30 pages of my Harry Potter Master’s thesis and start prepping for my June teaching exam…

Categories: Italy, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reboot

It’s amazing what a good hard run can do for your self-esteem.  It’s been a long time since I’ve gone for a run, and boy do I regret not getting back into the swing of things sooner.  Of course, I think the main reason I ventured outside of my bubble of an apartment is because the sun was beckoning me outdoors, the beautiful sunshine I hadn’t seen in what felt like weeks.  It came out twice this weekend, accompanied by a delicious warm feeling that makes running a breeze.  Now my legs are rather sore, but it’s the kind of soreness that feels oh so good.

Last week I hit the pause button to reflect, to wait for a sign.  I attended a mere ten hours of class and I mostly wallowed in my laziness.  Motivation is something that must come from inside, and it’s been my driving force for the past six years or so.  I am used to waiting, but not the kind of passive waiting that accompanies helplessness and lack of autonomy.  I’m a doer, not a “let’s wait and see how things will turn out” kind of person.  Living in France, living below my usual standard of living, has taught me a lot.  To quote the old adage, every cloud has a silver lining.  And today it was a shimmering brilliance of sunshine.

Another sunny spot on the horizon is the upcoming summer.  I’ve been filling out applications to become an au pair, partly to have more experience working with kids (it’s been tough to find babysitting jobs in France with no network of parents already established) and also teaching English as a foreign language to children.  My once a week gig is fun, but I’d love to have the opportunity to see dramatic improvement over a period of two months.  I’ve just started applying, but who knows… Maybe I’ll be spending the summer in Italy, or on the French Riviera or in Alsace or Bavaria.  Nothing like the summer holidays to keep you motivated.

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

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].

Academie_d-Amiens

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.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Let the Job Search Begin!

I often get so wrapped up in my schooling that I forget the whole purpose of my pursuing a Masters in France – to find a job!    It’s so easy to relegate everything else to the background when you are balancing a myriad of classes, activities, homework assignments, and thesis-related research.  My first semester, I made a valiant effort to find a job.  That’s to say, I submitted four different applications to the University libraries (already staffed by the time they looked at my application), filled out some information on babysitting websites, dropped off a couple resumes at the few English-language schools in Amiens, and randomly responded to an online ad for cours particuliers in English.  Only the last one ended up happening, but I was too busy worrying about my grades, my group of friends, and my Sunday night cooking extravaganzas.  Which is all good and well, but only a few trees out of the forest.

Since returning from the United States, I’ve had to think differently about my strategy here in France.  One glance at my bank account is enough to convince me that I am no longer a study abroad student, an Erasmus, an American on exchange.  I am living full-time in France without student aid, access to loans, or social benefits, neither from the United States or France.  Now is the time to begin the job search in earnest.

This past week, I’ve been running to and fro between classes and trying to figure out how to find a job – a part-time job, a summer job, and full-time future job, a job for now, a job for next year…  It’s not the easiest thing to do, let alone in a foreign country.  And so I have begun anew, scanning the online advertisements, making phone calls (how I dread that), dropping off resumes, networking with friends, emailing contacts, showing up for an infinitude of classes in the hopes that now or soon or later something will come my way.  And in the meantime, trying to do my best at doing everything well – school, friends, thesis, CAPES preparations.  Certainly a rather tall order.

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For all my fellow expats/foreign traveler and workers, if you have any insights or ideas on working abroad, feel free to chip in your two cents!

Categories: Expats, France, Immigration | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

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

‘Tis (already) the Season

The icicles came up tonight outside my downtown apartment, where they will linger for the better part of two months.  Thankfully, this reflects merely the upcoming holidays and not the cold, although Amiens has been dropping into the lower single digits (Celsius, of course) recently.  The real cold has not hit us yet, but that does not prevent the damp chill from leaking into my apartment room and warping my books.

As you might well understand, I have been much occupied by my Master d’anglais these past two months.  Despite having a break of about two weeks in October, I am well into the season of papers and examinations.  Or, I suppose I should say, I am finally into the season of papers and examinations.  My particular program, and many French university classes in general, often demand little legwork during the first few weeks and much cramming for final exams, upon which most of your grade is based.  Given that I have chosen a literary track, I am also expected to present several “exposés” (oral presentations) and write a few 5-10 page papers.  Not super demanding, although I fear that I am either underestimating the difficulty of my particular program or overestimating my abilities.  As of yet, I have only been graded on two different things: an oral presentation for a literature class concerning feminist American literature and an hour and a half examination translating a passage from English to French.  I haven’t received either grade yet, so there is no way for me to gauge how I am doing.

I am finding that the autumn and winter are much more challenging seasons in regards to homesickness: there’s a slew of holidays (Eid-al-Adha this year, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) that I am used to celebrating with friends and family, family traditions and seasonal food, and the overall sense of changing temperatures that make me long for home.  The last time I spent four months in France, I narrowly missed the snow and transitioned into a gorgeous (somewhat) sunny Spring.  I can’t tell what feels different this time, why the homesick feeling is more tangible or persistent.  Perhaps it’s the feeling of permanence to my decision to live in France, instead of the fleeting stay of a few months that a study abroad offers.  Mostly I think it has to do with my inability to return home until I have a steady job, or any job at all for that matter.  Without money, you inevitably feel much less mobile.

Last week I felt like I sleepwalked through my classes after coming back from a two-week vacation.  I am simultaneously auditing the Master d’enseignement while attending my Master de recherche classes (the two Masters have most of their classes together, luckily for me), as I hope to transition into the Master d’enseignement next year.  I feigned sick on Wednesday and Thursday in order to not have to attend these extra classes and recuperate a bit from a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Today I feel bright and chipper, but that probably has a lot to do with my only having had an hour of class.  The professor who is both my directrice de recherche for my Master’s thesis and teaches a seminar on Great Britain’s children’s literature Monday mornings was sick.  She also was unable to offer the last two hours of approches théoriques required for my Master de recherche, so I was effectively “liberated” from four hours of class today.  The one hour was quite delightful, as I love my translation classes.  The professor who teaches thème, that is, translating from French to English, is a very witty British man who tends to act out our false interpretations or applications of words in the text.

I’ve been rereading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening for that class on feminist literature.  I had forgotten how much I love her writing.  Since I started rereading it last night, I have been glued to my Nook, reading it on the bus to and from the fac (university), on my kitchen table, and snuggled up in my bed.  I’ve never regretted studying literature, language, and reading books for school and enjoyment, but I just hope I can make a career out of it, teaching English here in France or elsewhere…

Other photo updates:

Halloween pumpkin dinner

Hedi’s birthday cake

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

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