So many goodbyes

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They made me sit at the front…

So that’s the end. My year abroad is all over and done with and I’m writing this from my beloved Leeds, which I’ve genuinely missed while being away. The good news is that I think (I say think with my fingers crossed), that I’ve made huge improvements in speaking French so I guess that probably means it was all worth it.

I’m struggling to know what to write in this post because there’s just so much to say. I also don’t want to get all mushy because that’s not cool. I’ll only go as far as to say that this year is up there as one of the best experiences in a long time and I’ve learnt so much.

This will most likely be my last long post about my year abroad; I have to stop pretending that I haven’t got other more important things to do now I’m back in England. I do want to write something about memorable/funny things that happened in France when I get round to it in the next couple of days.

One of my biggest achievements this year is making one class want to move to England after I told them how cheap beer was compared with France. The fact that this is technically teaching them about British culture makes this achievement even better.

Jokes aside, I knew that this year would be challenging. I’m not a teacher, I have never trained to be a teacher and I do not want to be a teacher. So it was only natural that being asked to take classes of crazy french teenagers alone sounded like a daunting task at first. But I got used to it, and quickly learnt what worked and didn’t work, largely based on thinking about whether I would have enjoyed the activities I had prepared for my students. If the answer was no then I’d quickly ditch it and move on.

I really wanted my students to enjoy my lessons, and like me too. That was really important for me. It’s the nicest feeling to hear your name at school and see some of your students saying hi or waving at you. Most of the time, that is. There are exceptions…

When it got to the last few days of school and I saw the lovely messages and presents that my students and teachers had got for me, I kind of realised that maybe I had been doing something right for the past seven months. Hurrah. Two of my classes gave me a box filled with messages and drawing, and others gave me lots of other lovely things. Not even going to deny that it made me teary. For my last week of lessons I made a game show consisting of British-related trivia questions, rounds of scattergories and guess the British celebrity/logo style questions. One of the questions asked each team to draw the Queen from memory, and there was some good drawings and others which would probably have made the Queen cry they were so horrendous.

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Tragically, I’ve never felt so loved

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For one of my classes I wanted to make something traditionally English so choose to bake a Victoria Sponge Cake. It tasted so good but was undeniably not very tall. I’m 100% blaming the lack of proper baking powder in France for that one. All of the students loved it except one, who gave me a sassy look while telling me that she found it weird to put jam and creme inside a cake. So French. Or maybe a sandwich cake is just way more English than I ever thought it was.

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At least most of them liked the cake

For another class, I made a ridiculous amount of scones, over 40, because there’s so many students. No baking powder problems were encountered in this one thankfully and the students loved them. The funniest part was trying to explain that on each half of the scone you put jam then cream, or cream then jam depending on which side of the Devon/Cornwall debate you’re on, and then eat each one obviously. My students decided to make scone sandwiches, which made me laugh, but at least they were enjoying them. I also bought some Marmite for them to try too and they all thought it was absolutely disgusting. I’m so glad they shared my hatred for it.

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So many more goodbyes. I said goodbye to various French friends I’d made, other assistants, and teachers. My last evening in Sedan was spent having a meal with the teachers I’d worked with in one school.

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The next afternoon I flew back to Manchester and had never been so happy to hear Northern accents and see a man wearing a Leeds scarf on the platform. The first thing I did when I got back was have a cup of Yorkshire tea and that says it all really.

It’s so nice to be home.

Grace x
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I love my job but no, I don’t want to be a teacher

Today I had one of my favourite classes for the second to last time and it made me sad and happy simultaneously. They’re a lively bunch of 17 and 18 year-olds in the school I work in that teaches cooking, hotel-related things and tourism and their level of English is very good (and don’t some of them know it). I like them also because they have as much of a laugh as I do in class. Today we played a team word guessing game related to hotels and when ‘chandelier’ came up everyone burst into song.

We played a hilariously funny game today during the lesson. I searched around my room and kitchen last night for random objects and chucked them all in a bag to take to class this morning. I split the class into teams and asked them each to close their eyes and pick two random items from the bag, without telling them what they were going to do with them.

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They each picked out two items with their eyes closed, including garlic, a whisk, onions, my Casio watch, my sunglasses, an open bag of pasta, a chocolate egg, a plastic cup, my bobble hat, foil, some dried parsley, a fluffy halo headband from Halloween. You get the idea…

Then I asked them to create a story and act it out using the props and the picture of the celebrity I had given them: Justin Bieber, Francois Hollande or Miley Cyrus. Each student had to play a different character. After some preparation time each group performed their piece in front of the class and it was HILARIOUS.

I thought it may be fun to give you a summary of the stories they created but scroll down if you’re rather not hear about Miley Cyrus being wrapped in tinfoil.

Story number one: Justin Bieber storms into the restaurant wearing sunglasses demanding his dinner. The waiter asks him for his order and he demands chocolate pasta. The chef in the kitchen prepares some pasta complete with chocolate egg on top, served in serving in a plastic cup using a tea strainer as a spoon. In true JB style, he demands for his food to be made quicker and gets sassy when it’s taking too long.

Story number two: Miley Cyrus is making coffee in a cafetière for her two friends. She serves them it and they tell her it tastes absolutely disgusting. They ask why. Miley tells them she has put garlic in the coffee as she thinks it adds flavour. Her friends are not happy, declaring they are no longer friends. Her punishment is being restrained with a bobble hat over her face while being wrapped in tinfoil… She then got exiled to Bruges and was forced to learn French from a phrase book as a punishment.

Story number three: François Hollande is on presidential visits around France. He visits the Ardennes, and Woinic, a giant metal wild boar on the side of the motorway in my region of France. (This boar is REAL, see below). Hollande gets bored so finds a leaflet to Sedan castle (Sedan is where I live) and pays it a visit. There he finds tourists from the South of France wearing sunglasses even though the weather is bad and being annoying. He meets the tour guide, who hands him some Tipex because his teeth are yellow and need whitening and tells him his breath is bad because he’s just eaten too much basil. Offended, he storms off and vows never to return to The Ardennes again.

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This is the emblem of the region I live in…
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Hundreds of people help transport him to the motorway…

Through this activity, my students had to think of vocabulary and sentences in English, plan a coherent story in English and act it out in front of their classmates in English and that’s not easy. But they loved it!

Okay, maybe you needed to have been there to really appreciate it but you have to admire their creativity… I won’t describe the other stories but I can guarantee that they were equally as hilarious.

ANYWAY

It’s already my final school holidays as a language assistant. I can’t even begin to comprehend that it’s the 1st of April. The last month of my assistantship always seemed so far away but we’re now into the month during which I officially leave France and finish my seven months here. I only have five weeks left now and I’m really struggling to believe and also accept that this is the case.

So many amazing things have happened so far and there are many more to come. More travelling. Woo. When my year abroad has finished I’m aiming to write little reflective travel guide-type-things about where I’ve been which may be useful to some people. We shall see…

You’d think with 12 hours a week of lessons that us language assistants have all the time in the world. This is not really true. I mean it could be true if we didn’t bother to put any thought or effort into our lessons. That time doesn’t include planning fun and creative things for our students that are actually interesting to them. And that takes time. Frequently a lot of time. Often too much time.

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Two days ago I found out that one of my schools, the one in which I’m living, has been ranked very badly in a results table compiled by newspaper The Figaro. It came 1574 out of 1617 high schools in France and 37 out of 39 in the region. I knew the school had problems but hearing that really did just put the cherry on the cake. The reasons for the school’s not so great reputation are numerous and lengthy. Essentially, it stems from a lack of investment, culture and care into Sedan and the wider region, resulting in many of the young people there being pushed to go to schools they’re not interested in and also lacking motivation when at school. I wrote an 2000 essay on rural france for university this year and I needed about another 8000 words, there’s so much to say.

It makes me happy to know that I’ve always tried my best for my students, wanting them to enjoy my lessons and walk away feeling like they’ve learnt something, whether it’s new vocabulary or a newfound confidence in their ability to speak English. And when they do it makes me so happy. I don’t even care if that sounds lame. I want to end my seven months feeling like I’ve contributed something to my student’s learning and made them laugh a bit too.

I’m pretty sure all my students think I’m crazy anyway to be honest because I tell them funny anecdotes while jumping around the classroom and animating them using actions. For an assistant though, I think a little bit of craziness is good. You want your students to have fun with you and feel at ease in your lessons, and being serious and introvert isn’t going to allow you to do that. That’s just my opinion but I feel that it really is fact.

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I once taught some students the expression “have the balls to” when discussing a Diesel clothing advert involving a girl lifting her top up and exposing herself to a CCTV camera. This sounds so wrong out of context, but I was teaching a lesson on the objectification/sexualisation of women in advertising and my students really enjoyed it. And I even found out that there is a French equivalent to his phrase in French. Bonus. Obviously going to be using that on a regular basis.

Although we are called ‘language assistants’, we are definitely not just assistants a lot of the time. Remember when you had a French or Spanish assistant in your class who you’d maybe speak to once or twice for 5 minutes to talk about your favourite hobbies or sports in preparation for your GCSE oral exam? You wouldn’t really take much notice of them; in fact, you’d pity them for being placed in your school. I certainly did – I wouldn’t have wanted to be placed in an underperforming high school in suburban Leeds with kids who couldn’t have given less of a shit. That’s not what it’s like in France.

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During most of my scheduled hours, I take classes by myself, albeit usually no more than 10 students at a time (let’s not talk about the times I’ve had a group of 12 15-year olds behaving like animals. (Codeword = nightmare). Teachers send me students and I have to entertain them in some way or another for usually half an hour or an hour. What you have to remember is that teachers follow a syllabus and have books to guide them. Some of the time I’m given a theme to loosely base the lesson around. For example, the final year literature students study ‘the power of money’ and ‘spaces and exchanges’ or I’ve been asked to prepare things on hotels, accommodation, prepositions etc.

Often I’m told to do whatever I want, which can be challenging when you’re not feeling creative or particularly inspired. I’ve always been one of those arty, creative types but even so, planning lessons from a blank page is a challenge. Sometimes what you think is a great lesson plan can go down like a lead balloon with a class. This rarely happens now due to my processes of trial and error at the start and I feel I’ve not figured out what my students will find bien ou terrible. If they think it’s terrible, they won’t be shy about it. I’ve had students before who looked like they’d literally rather be any else in the world than in my random lesson.

The main thing I’ve seen is students’ initial unwillingness to be creative and I blame the French school system for this. In general, lessons are much more dictation-listen based than in England with the teacher mostly talking and the students often saying very little. For this reason, in the first couple of weeks when I’d ask them to use their imagination, write a story or think of the future for example, they would tremble in their seats like I’d asked them to perform a thank you speech for The Oscars.

Language learning is difficult for many people but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be made interesting and enjoyable. And that’s where I think the role of the language assistant really comes in. I’d like to think I’ve brought at least some of them out of their shell a bit and made them realise that learning English doesn’t have to be boring or so difficult that they give up easily and lose interest.

At least I’m having fun.

Grace x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never judge a book by its cover

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‘Never judge a book by its cover’ seemed very appropriate as the title for this post. I bloody hate clichés but I’m living in France and cliché is a french word so that makes it allowed. No, I don’t understand my logic either.

With only six weeks to go until the end of my assistantship, I’ve been thinking about how I felt when I found out I would be living in Sedan for 7 months of my life. There was tears. Only a few, but they were there nonetheless. Excited pre-year abroad Grace had been eagerly awaiting this letter for many weeks and was so excited to find out where she would be. A few months previously I found out I hadn’t received my first choice, Montpellier.  I probably couldn’t be further away from Montpellier now if I tried.

Having found out I was given a place called Sedan, I immediately googled it and well, just couldn’t really find much information. Following this, I went on Google Maps and well, just couldn’t really see anything of interest when dropping the little orange man on random streets. This was topped off by a look at some stats to find a 27% unemployment rate in the town. Friends were going off to Paris and and trotting around Le Marais while I was about to spend the next 7 months in a small French town in the countryside with noone but myself for company. Help me.

Of course I needn’t have worried. I always knew I would have a great time wherever I was and I really couldn’t be happier here. For that reason I’ve decided to write some ramblings to reflect on this. Enjoy.

Being in a small town in the North East of France (and in the middle of the countryside) means there are absolutely no English people here. Winning. Maybe they’re just hiding from me. Either way, outside of class I’ve had to speak French in the majority of daily social situations and that’s a pretty good thing considering it’s the reason I came here in the first place.

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Just this morning I was speaking to an old man about the demolition of this building…

The streets of closed-down shops and restaurants makes me sad everytime I walk past. BUT this only makes me want to encourage my students even more to do well at school and do something fulfilling with their lives. I think I’ve developed some kind of attachment to this little French town and I haven’t concluded yet if this is a bit weird.

Small town doesn’t mean bad transport links. I can be in Paris in 2 hours on the high-speed train. Then I head straight to L’As du Falafel for what can only be described as the best falafel in the world. Luxembourg and Verdun are an hour and a half away and Belgium is only 20 minutes away too. The only annoying thing is that a car really is necessary and sometimes the trains are a faff.

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GIMME

I’ve realised that I need to chill out a bit. It’s the most annoying thing ever when the centre feels like a ghost town at lunchtime and banks, shops, cafes, everything is closed. Why? People go and spend lunch eating with their family as opposed to wolfing down a sandwich at their desk while looking at their computer screens or running errands. I’m so guilty of the latter and it means I don’t really sit down and take some time out and I definitely should.

The lack of clothes shops here means I actually can’t spend money on clothes unless I order online. In France this is more hassle than it’s worth so I just spend all my money on travelling instead. French schools get so many holidays it’s ridiculous. I have never been so desperate for Urban Outfitters and Topshop to be back in my life.

I’ve been given opportunities to do things I could never have predicted. It’s not every day that you have to plan an hour-long lesson for a group of 15 teenagers in five minutes. Nor are asked to interpret for a Saudi Arabian Prince or watching 10-year olds play handball for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon. Or go to a pilates-boxing-hybrid-type-thing exercise class with a group of middle-aged women every Monday evening (don’t be too jealous of this one…)

It’s nice for students to have someone from a different country in their lives. What I believe to be my mundane, boring life is really interesting to my students. They especially love it when I show them pictures of my family and university. I showed a few classes a picture of the York campus and they were like “woooooooooow that’s so cool!” At least some people like the Central Hall spaceship.. Many of my students aged 18-19 have never been on a plane and I didn’t expect that. Maybe I just take it for granted that I’ve been able to travel.

There’s lots more to say but that may come in another post sometime soon.

Until next time,
Grace x

What do you actually do in France?

I do actually teach even though Facebook makes it looks like I’m just off travelling around Europe.

There’s now less than two months left of my year abroad and it’s a lil bit scary that time is flying by so fast! I do, however, feel as though I’m making the most of my time in La France (much cheese, much wine, so many clichés).

I planned to blog so much more than I actually have and so to make this up to myself I’m going to try and write more posts and spam Facebook with it. Sorry.

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When you ask your students to describe a scene from The Simpsons in English to their partner without looking

I’m not sure that I ever even explained much about my job here, more specifically the schools that I work in. Better late than never, ey?

For the past five months I’ve been working in two lycées, the French equivalent to high schools. I teach students taking the baccalauréat (usually aged 15-18) and also the BTS (a qualification that students take post-baccalauréat, usually 18 – early twenties) with the aim of finding a job afterwards or going to university. We don’t have a BTS equivalent in the UK so I had no idea what it was when I arrived. The good thing is that you can do a BTS in a range of subjects and it’s a highly respected alternative qualification for those who may not want to go to university. I kind of like it and wish the British government would have a little read into it. Who knows, it might even help reduce uni dropout rates…

Lycée number one is called Pierre Bayle.

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It’s a huge school that teaches the baccalauréat général, so students can specialise in science, literature, management or economics among others.

Pierre Bayle is the epitome of your standard French high school. It’s a big, unattractive building with horridly yellow walls and students making out in the corridors. This, I have remarked, is worse than in English high schools. The number of times I’ve seen my students just going for it in plain view of EVERYONE is crazy and actually makes me feel a bit weirded out. But whatever, we’re in France.

As the school teaches the general baccalauréat, I almost always have complete control over my lesson topics and plans: i.e., the teacher will usually say do whatever you want or I will be given a topic the class are working on and have to prepare something related in some way. Sometimes I work with the teacher but it’s really nice to have control of my own class. I’m not getting too comfortable though. I’ve been asked so many times “so, do you want to be a teacher then?” and before they’ve even finished the sentence I’ve already screamed “NO”. Being a teaching assistant is so much fun but I am not, and never will be a teacher. Non, merci.

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My favourite lesson plan so far: 

I did a lesson on the future with my 15 year-olds and made them a worksheet asking them to predict the future of celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Kanye West and One Direction. The answers were very imaginative… Justin would be in jail for drug dealing, Miley had disappeared off the face of the earth, overdosed or become bald, One Direction lost another member and had to split up. Finally, Kanye went crazy and got divorced from Kim. Maybe my students are psychic and predicted his recent Twitter meltdown.

 

Lycée number two is called Bazeilles.

Bazeilles is a Lycée Technique d’Hôtellerie, Restauration et Tourisme where students learn to cook, waitressing and housekeeping skills and can study the tourism industry. Many of my students want to be chefs or restaurant managers in France or in England (yay).

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Cooked for by our students in the restaurant

You often see students wandering around in chef whites or with all their cooking equipment, and the school has huge professional kitchens where students learn the tricks of the trade.

I don’t think I could have been assigned a better school… You only need to look at my token Instagram food photos to know this. When I was assigned Bazeilles and googled it I had no idea what the school was because similar establishments just don’t exist in England. I wish they did.

Students are doing the equivalent of A-Levels in subjects such as cooking and waitressing to a very professional level and it’s amazing!

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Where are my students?

At this school, I teach English lessons usually with a focus on hotels and food as well as in a more practical way (role-plays, during cooking classes, etc). As everyone is probably aware, I’m food-obsessed so I love helping out in cooking classes and teaching lessons about food-related things.

It’s not really work to be making patisserie on a Tuesday morning is it? I also partake in role-plays such as the check-in and check-out of hotels where I play the token English guest for example. It’s lots of fun and not what I expected to be doing on my year abroad!

There’s lots more to say but I think I’ve waffled on enough for a Friday evening.

Until next week’s ramblings..

Grace x

 

 

Life as a language assistant

I started writing this blog post on a very early 05.30 train to Paris and I’m finishing it on my flight to Copenhagen. Free wifi, thank you very much Norwegian airlines (I’m very happy about this). I’m going on a mini trip to Scandinavia as it’s the holidays and that means travel. Post-Christmas until now has been great teaching wise but I’m ready for another little getaway I think.

Saying that, I almost didn’t make the train because I underestimated once again the distance to the train station that I go to every week. Picture a bleary eyed Grace running, yes, literally running, around her town at 5 o’clock in the morning with a little suitcase and a baguette. It was that bad. I made the train with 1 minute to spare and it was not my finest hour.

Anyway, in my zombified train slumber I was thinking about what I have experienced so far and thought I’d write a little list post that may be useful to future assistants and might, (I say might), be marginally entertaining.

Here goes:

1. Expect the unexpected, always. Having to make up lessons on the spot, acting serious when a student makes a funny mistake in English, learning how to act when your 15 year old students declare their love for you. You can’t learn these things in books and even if I come back unsatisfied with how much my French has improved, the life experience I have gained is invaluable.

2. You will feel like a celebrity for the first and last time in your life while at school. I walk down the corridors and people whisper to each other “ohh c’est l’assistante.” Once I was out running in the dark and I heard those very words. Another time I tied my hair up for the first time and someone in the corridor said “elle a changé le style”… Small town life doesn’t move that quickly.

3. My golden rule of my year abroad holds true: accept every opportunity to speak the language. Whether it’s dinner with a prof or talking to the supermarket owner about the problems in your town. Yes, you may feel out of your comfort zone but that’s a good thing. I’ve learnt so much French from situations like these and even made some friends (yay).

4. Life as an English language assistant isn’t as glamorous as you may think… I didn’t envisage running to the school office twice this week to inform them that singular shared toilet didn’t work. Trying to magic up toilet-related vocabulary was great fun.

5. It’s awkward when your students add you on Facebook and you just kinda leave their request hanging. Let’s be honest, it’s not appropriate to have your 15 year old pupils on Facebook no matter how nice they are. I always feel guilty when I teach students who have done this to me but I never want to bring it up. Hopefully they’ll get the message. Conversely, I am friends with the students who are almost my age and who I’m not allowed to teach. That’s different.

6. The year abroad truly is what you want it to be. It’s up to you what you make of it. I almost cried when I googled the town where I have been placed. It certainly wasn’t the beautiful French town I had been dreaming of when I applied but I couldn’t be happier here. I speak more French than my friends in bigger towns and have a lot of French student friends. I’m learning lots of French slang ready to present to my professors in my French oral exam when I get back to York. I’m sure they’re going to love that.

7. Try really hard not to laugh when you walk into one of your classes which smells of weed, and you have to watch the teacher give one of your best pupils a talking to. Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone but I had to mention it because it was such a funny and awkward experience.

8. In our beloved country we take a lot of things for granted that just do not exist in others. There is nowhere to get a coffee on a Sunday in my town. Nowhere. What’s worse? Coffee is codeword for espresso, and if you ordered a latte where I live I honestly don’t think they’d have a clue what you were talking about. The same applies for supermarkets. Never have I yearned more for a Sainsburys local or Tesco express when I need cake and biscuits in my life. At least cheese is in abundance everywhere you go.

9. It takes a while to grasp telephone etiquette and I’m still not there. You don’t learn this stuff at school. Trying to act like a native French speaker is challenging when someone’s speaking fast down the phone and you’re discussing your health insurance or something equally as boring and important. Closing the conversation, however, results in me being like “uhh d’accord, ok, umm bonne journée.” Perhaps that needs a bit more work.

10. Travel, travel, travel. Never in your life (well in mine anyway) are you going to have such nice amount of money and time to go wherever you please. I’ll be reminiscing about all this when I’m sat in the library with endless red bulls and coffees crying about fourth year.

That’s all for now, I will post something about my trip when I’m back,

Grace x

Interpreting for a Saudi Arabian Prince

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So today I was an interpreter for a Saudi Arabian Prince. I had to come out of blogging hibernation to write about it because I’m still amazed and humbled that it happened to be honest (and also worried that no one understood a word of what I was saying).

I was asked by the Mayor of my town, who teaches at one of my schools, if I could be an interpreter for Prince Fahd, who speaks English but no French. At first I was hesitant to agree – I knew it was an enormous responsibility and didn’t know if my French was good enough. But I decided to say yes. My golden rule for my year abroad was not to turn down any opportunities that were offered to me and involved speaking French, so I agreed. I don’t think I have never been so nervous in my life as this morning.

You’re probably wondering how on earth this situation came about. Why was a Saudi Arabian Prince in a small, poverty-stricken town in Northern France?

Football. Of course. He has signed a deal to invest a large amount of money into the town’s football club, CS Sedan Ardennes, currently sitting in the French 3rd division. The deal was secured very recently so he came to Sedan today in order to talk about the details and the strategies that will be put in place. He confirmed an investment of 50-60 million euros into the club which is amazingly good news for Sedan and The Ardenne.

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This morning I arrived at the club expecting a few regional journalists to be there while I casually interpreted the Prince’s words. What I expected was not in any way what I found. I stood next to the Prince and the owners of the club during a full blown press conference with regional and national journalists. I was translating their questions as well as the owner’s speeches into English for the Prince and also interpreting his words into French.

And it was bloody difficult. I am in no way trained to do this kind of work and no wonder it requires a Masters to do it professionally. Trying to comprehend long spells of speech from French speakers who were speaking extremely fast, then translating them into English was not an easy task. Likewise, I felt I was being judged by the room of sports journalists when I translated the Prince’s words into my University-level French, their native language. So, so difficult, but what an experience.

I then found myself sat on a sofa with the club’s owners and the Prince in front of a room of supporters and regional officials. That was so scary. I interpreted for the Prince once more and I *think* that went okay, but who knows. The nicest thing is that he came up to me afterwards and thanked me for helping him. I could only respond with a mumbled thank you!

Regardless of whether I made any sense to anyone or not, it has been one of the best experiences. Everyone always says that your year abroad is full of surprises and I don’t think there will be a better one than this.

http://www.ouest-france.fr/sport/football/national-sedan-lactionnaire-saoudien-va-mettre-de-largent-3989619

http://www.lunion.fr/645581/article/2016-01-22/live-tweet-ce-qu-il-faut-retenir-des-annonces-du-prince-fahad-pour-le-cssa-et-se?_ga=1.11781491.650190755.1452198693

 

 

 

 

 

Toussaint holidaying part II

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So here comes my fourth blog post having finally got round to writing it while on a 5am coach to Strasbourg (more about that in blog posts to come). The Vacances de la Toussaint now feel like such a distant memory despite it being just under a month ago. Time really is flying by. I can’t believe that I’ve been here for over two months already.

The second week of the holidays involved yet more travelling and living out of a tiny suitcase. I think I surprised myself with how I managed with such little stuff, concluding that the Yorkshire blood in me refused to pay to check-in a big bag or a ridiculous fine for an overweight suitcase.

I didn’t return to my little French town until the penultimate day of the holidays, which really did make me happy.  As well as being able to speak more like a native, I also wanted to make the most of my time in France while having some money and time to explore.

After this post, I promise I will resort back to regular posts. I just think it’s nice to share where I’ve been as it may be helpful for you all if you fancy a European city break or two.

Week Two: Sunday – Wednesday

Amsterdam

From the place that I call home (miss you Leeds), I flew directly to Amsterdam to meet four other assistants who are also working in l’Académie de Reims, having met them at the October induction for assistants in the region. Amsterdam has always been high on my ‘to do list’ of European cities so it was nice to finally make it there, and also love it just as much as I’d imagined I would. 

What initially shocked me was just how small the city was. We were staying at a Hostel called Hans Brinker. A.K.A “the world’s worst hotel” (Google Hans Brinker and see 2012 Daily Mail article). The hostel was just between Vondelpark and the main area, but nothing was more than a 20 minute walk from us.

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Being tired and queueing isn’t a good mix

You can walk the space of the city very easily without trams or buses which also gives you a good excuse to hire bikes like we did and cycle around with no idea where or what we were doing. 

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What a beautiful city. I’m not surprised that my Facebook newsfeed is constantly saturated with those bloody bridge photos (guilty). You turn a corner and are faced with yet more beautiful buildings and restaurants and cafes bordering the many canals that make up the city centre, complete with bikes everywhere. I can’t count how many times we would walk past the four-storey townhouses and sigh in unison while someone said “Why isn’t this my house” or “I want a hanging rack of Le Creuset pans in my kitchen when I’m older.” In our dreams. 

We visited Museum Gardens, took our obligatory Amsterdam letters photo and went to the Van Gogh museum, which was great. Four flours and several hours later I felt I could deliver a lecture on Van Gogh’s life. We also waited 4 hours in the queue for the Anne Frank House, which was worth every minute. Having been given her diary to read on loan from the local library by my dad, aged 13 Grace had dreamt of nothing more than going to visit the house that provided the backdrop for such a wonderful book.

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I just like organisation and maps that’s all

During this week I somehow acquired the name ‘Map Girl’ or ‘MG’ for reasons that are fairly self-explanatory.

Week Two: Wednesday – Saturday

Ghent and Bruges

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We then spent four days in North Belgium wandering around and drinking lots of beer. Belgian beer is so cheap and so good as you would expect, especially when drank in the traditional beer houses which are just so cosy. You only need a few days in Ghent. It’s a lovely city but in terms of tourist attractions there aren’t a whole host of things to do. It was nice for us to walk around and just relax, as Amsterdam had been so hectic in our race to see all the tourist attractions that we wanted to.

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We also took a day trip to Bruges. It really is as beautiful as it looks in the film although we didn’t see Colin.

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Wandering around the canals was absolutely lovely, and we took a boat ride through them which was well worth doing as you could marvel at the medieval architecture that makes Bruges so charming.

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And so many chocolate shops – I think I read that there was fifty, which means around two on every street as Bruges really is tiny. Naturally we also ate waffles, and they were really good. If they weren’t I would have given up hope. If you can’t get good waffles in Belgium then where else can you? Bruges was lovely but I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tourists, pretty much all British, who were everywhere. With these tourists came hefty prices for food and drink and I couldn’t wait to get back to Ghent and drink a reasonably priced beer again.

And that was that. My next post will be in the next couple of days and talk about what I’ve been doing here in the past couple of weeks.

À bientôt,

Grace

Toussaint holidaying part I

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Did you even go to Paris if you didn’t take a picture like this?

I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks which is terrible of me. However the reason is because I’ve been holidaying and far too caught up lesson planning. Que sera sera (cliché french phrase number one successfully inserted into a blog post, yay).

I’m going to talk about the first week of my Vacances de Toussaint in this post and the second week in one which will follow. There’s lots to say – I somehow managed to visit seven cities in the space of two weeks and it was so much fun. I feel as though I gladly made the most of my *paid* holidays by travelling around, eating and drinking far too much beer, although I’m not complaining.

Week one: Saturday to Tuesday
Paris

I caught the train to Paris and arrived to the smiling faces of three friends from my course at York, also doing assistantships around France. As much as I love my job and living in Sedan (despite my students telling me its “bof”), I couldn’t have been happier to get away and do some exploring. I’ve been to Paris several times before but there was still so much that I hadn’t seen. There really is so much going on and Paris never fails to charm me with it’s je ne sais quoi (Cliché french phrase number two successfully inserted into a blog post, yay).

As you would probably expect, we revisited all the usual tourist sites, drank lots of coffee and ate lots of patisserie.

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Just us being all cute
Just us being all cute

The picture above is in Le Marais district, which is just beautiful. Square Léopold Achille in the picture is so pretty, not forgetting the cobbled streets with the little boutiques. Within Le Marais is the Jewish district of Paris, famously known for its falalel and shawarma wraps – we had the latter from one of the well-known places and it was delicious.

We also went to Versailles to see the grand Palace, although stupidly forgot that France just does what it wants when it feels like it, consequently meaning that the Palace was closed when we arrived. The gardens were still open so we had a wander round. I’d like to revisit and actually go inside as it looks so beautiful from pictures I’ve seen. We’re hopefully going for my birthday in December.

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Paris is one of those places where I can’t walk onto another street without going ‘aahhhh’ and ‘oooooh’ about some aspect of the architecture that is around me, be it windows, balconies, gold decoration. There is just so much gold everywhere in the centre of Paris, it kind of puts London to shame. But the difference is that the whole of the centre of Paris in general is just so rich, consequently things like property prices and the cost of food *€13 for a croque monsieur? No thank you* is through the roof. Whereas I feel that there isn’t really a ‘centre’ of wealth in London, everything is just kind of more spread out there than in Paris.

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A bit of research led us to Rue Montorgueil, a quartier in the 1st and 2nd arrondissement, which quickly became of our favourite streets in Paris. From a bakery on the street I purchased the best bit of patisserie I’ve eaten in a long time. I’ve never been so excited over a strawberry tart. The street is pedestrianised, which only adds to its charm. You’re welcomed by charcuteries, cheese shops, greek food, turkish food, french food, boutiques and it manages to maintain such a lovely atmosphere.

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Like pretty much everyone that has visited, I really do love Paris. Yes, I am envious of my friend Sophie who is living in the capital and also working as a teaching assistant. However, I’m not sure that living there would have been right for me this year. Getting a sweaty, cramped metro to school every day wouldn’t have been good for my stress levels.

Week one: Tuesday to Thursday
Rouen

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From Paris I headed straight to Rouen to spend some time with one of my friends there. Rouen really is beautiful! The city centre has so much character with the wooden beams on the exterior of houses which are all kinds of colours. There are also so many nice restaurants and bars with proper homemade French food. We had a five course meal for €20 which was such good value. One thing that always makes me laugh in class is how around 75% of my students tell me that kebabs are their favourite foods. I did a lesson on traditional French and British foods with a few classes this week and it amazed me how little they knew about the famous dishes in their own country. They don’t seem to appreciate that for many people French food is some of the best in the world and instead love a kebab for their lunch, or failing that a Subway… Each to their own I guess.

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After walking around and drinking Delirium (best beer), I spend a large amount of time just standing in front of Rouen Cathedral and admiring it in all its gothic beauty. So pretty. IMG_0355

I feel as though this blog post is long enough as it is so I won’t go into any more details about how I spent the remainder of the week, except the fact that I miraculously squeezed in a visit to Leeds and York. It’s times like these (and probably one of the few times) when I thank myself for going to university so close to home; it was nice to see my parents and friends even just for a few days. Any longer than that and I would have been fidgeting about ready to move on and explore somewhere I hadn’t yet been.

I’ll be talking about Week 2 in my next blog post which will hopefully follow shortly. Perhaps not tomorrow though as I’m day-tripping to Epernay, the home of champagne making to… drink lots of champagne.

Have a nice weekend everyone,

Grace

Three weeks in

So today is the first day of the Vacances de la Toussaint which means that I have officially been living in France now for three weeks. Crazy. Definitely the fastest three weeks of my life so far.

Three weeks ago my lovely parents left me in Sedan, a small town of 20,000 inhabitants, after a very long car journey from Leeds. There they are below posing for a photo in Sedan, around the corner from the famous castle.

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It may be a small town but it has a castle. Having driven from Leeds to Folkestone, stayed overnight in an awful Travelodge and woken up at 5pm the next day to get our three hour delayed Eurotunnel, we finally arrived in Sedan after a day or so of travelling. After settling into my little studio next to one of the schools I’m working in, we were invited for dinner at the house of one of my ‘professeur de contact’, Laurence, who I’ve been emailing all summer about my stay here. We drank champagne, ate an abundance of cheese, a delicious French-style chicken dish, and then dessert. Tarte aux cerises (cherry tart) and Tarte aux Sucres, (a delicious sweet, French dessert laced with sugar), and also delicious. Of course the theme of eating good food continued (my mum doesn’t say I’m obsessed with food for nothing). The next day, we went to the ‘fête de la gastronomie’ in the town where we drank local beer and ate cheese, pastries and lots of cured meat – so good. Being so close to Belgium is great because there’s so much amazing beer around here. I’ve always loved cherry beer and drank it during every visit to France, so it’s great that it’s really popular around here.

 

Fete de la Gastronomie

 

A bit of geography 

Sedan is situated around twenty minutes from the Belgium border and an hour from Luxembourg. It sits in the départment des Ardennes, situated in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, known for its champagne (of course), and the beautiful Cathedral city of Reims. It really is a beautiful region; think countryside, quaint villages, and boulangeries on every corner. Sedan is, undoubtedly, a very, very small town when compared to my hometown of Leeds. Growing up in a big city and going to university in York is very different to the experiences of the students that I’m teaching here. In fact, the majority are not shy about voicing their dismay for The Ardennes. Not one of my students has openly voiced their love for Sedan or the surrounding area, instead I have never heard the word “boring” in French accents so many times in my life, ever! Hearing such things has really made me think about how lucky I am to have experienced what I have, travelled where I have, and the many opportunities that I have been given during my childhood and teenage years. I don’t think it has ever really hit home in such a way before now. And if anything, it makes me ever more determined to get to know my students and help them improve their English, as maybe the latter will inspire them to travel and make the most of new opportunities after they finish at the lycée.

What have I been up to?

One word ADMIN. Admin, admin everywhere. Okay, this is not strictly true. I have also been teaching and attempting to make French friends but more of that in my next post. Before coming to France, I thought that being an editor of a student newspaper would prepare me for the madness that is the admin associated with being a British Council teaching assistant. Alas, I was wrong, so so wrong. The months leading up to France consisted of filling in paperwork, applying for an international crb check, figuring out where the hell I was going to live, etc. You get the general idea. The first two weeks following my arrival consisted of MORE admin. In typical French style, I’ve had to send several forms twice because French companies just lost them, and also had to tell every staff member I speak to that my surname is Marsh, not Marsth or Marsch (thanks to the school secretary for spelling my name wrong on all my forms).

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But, the worst is now over. The majority of the admin is done, with only small things to do throughout the year. *fingers crossed.*

That’s all from me for the moment. My next post will talk a bit more about my first weeks of teaching and what I’ve been getting up to in my spare time. Until next time, Grace x