Monday, October 13, 2008

Summary of the last week or so

I guess I will start this much needed update with my last couple of days in Angers. We spent our last Saturday visiting Mont Saint Michel, which is absolutely beautiful. It is essentially a little island of its own, so it is stunning, but I think everything is sinking bit by bit as the years go by, so I know there are issues as to how much money should be set aside to preserve it. I guess it’s a tough question, since there are so many things that money could be devoted to, but it really is a magnificent place.

It was hard to say our goodbyes in Angers, since we felt that we were just getting settled in and comfortable. My friend Vanessa and I had been assigned to the same French conversation partner, an English history/literature student named Estelle. We got along very well, and it would have been great to spend some more time with her before we left! And, of course, I was not ready to say goodbye to Jean-Pierre and Marie, nor to their friends Brigitte and Francois. They all devoted so much time and effort to making my time in Angers valuable, and they increased my confidence in my spoken French by conversing with me often, and about practically everything. I spent my last morning in Angers visiting Brigitte’s preschool, where I watched her teach for a few hours. I was nervous about whether the students and I would be able to understand each other, but it went really well! They were comfortable starting conversations with me, telling me about themselves and what they do at school, as well as asking me about my life. The students in the class range from ages 2-5, so besides the cultural differences I got to observe, I was interested in watching how Brigitte and her classroom aides balanced the class so everyone was engaged and involved. The students are truly fortunate to have Brigitte for a teacher—she is incredibly motivated, organized, and thoughtful. I got lots of hugs and “bises” (kisses) from the kids when I left, and they all gave me pictures that they drew. Such a fantastic way to end my weeks in Angers.

I then arrived in the Paris area, and moved into my apartment in Saint-Denis. Saint-Denis is a banlieue (suburb) situated to the north-east of Paris, but is still on the subway line, so I have relatively easy access to the center of the city. The connotation of "banlieue" is much different from that of "suburb" in English—Parisian banlieues generally have populations made up of poorer, immigrant families, so they are very different from the more well-known areas of Paris. Though it might be easier in terms of transportation to be located more centrally in Paris, I am grateful for the opportunity to have a picture of another urban way of life. And, of course, it’s nice to be living with other international teachers doing similar programs.

I have spent a little time at my IUFM in Creteil (to the south of Paris), but haven’t really started classes yet, so more on that to come. I did begin observing courses in Pablo Picasso high school, where I will eventually teach a bit (located in a banlieue to the east of Paris…I move around a lot). I was placed with two different teachers—Sophie, who teaches French literature, and Lek Sang, who teaches English. So far I have only observed with Sophie, and I have loved it! Sophie teaches students who have struggled with academics, and are given two years to complete their middle year of high school (French high school consists of three years—Seconde, Premiere, and Terminale). Her class is small, only 16 students. The students are pretty polite, a little calmer than some classes I have seen in the US, and consistently have interesting perspectives to share. It certainly helps that Sophie runs the class well—she keeps it laid-back but focused and busy. Something that makes French high school different from American high school is that French students finish their high school studies by taking a big exam, called the Bac, which essentially determines what they can do afterwards (much moreso than the SAT in the US—and it’s more complicated, and covers more subjects). So it’s interesting for me to always hear the Bac being mentioned. When I first arrived, Sophie asked students to kind of fill me in on what they were studying, and she told them to speak to me as if they were in their Bac interview. I didn’t know what this meant at the time, but I came to note that whenever students speak in class, Sophie always discourages them from mumbling and using slang, reminding them that they will be judged by very specific standards for the Bac. Also, the French value their language in a very distinct way, and from what I see, French individuals are expected to be able to shift from casual conversation to a higher diction with ease. Anyway, my first few days at Picasso were interesting; the students and teachers seem cool overall. I will keep you posted on my progress there.

I have generally been trying to take advantage of my access to Paris, as well as the nice weather, by doing some exploring. When I’m on my own, I enjoy walking around near Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter, right along the Seine (top photo). It’s a beautiful area, and there seem to be so many interesting things to see and do. The other day, I turned a corner and found Shakespeare & Co. (bottom photo), a famous English bookstore. I loved browsing through the books; they have a really unique selection of titles. I will definitely be making many a return trip there.

Vanessa (whom I mentioned earlier) lives in Paris--near a statute of a big thumb (top photo)--so she and I have been spending a lot of time together. We have tried some cool restaurants. Notable ones include Pain, Vin, Fromage (Bread, Wine, Cheese), where we had a fondue of chevre (goat cheese), camembert, calvados (apple liqueur), and garlic, as well as La Grain de Folie, a little vegetarian place in the Montmartre district. Walking around the streets of Montmartre, we visited the area around the cathedral of Sacre Coeur (bottom photo), which is beautiful at night.

This weekend, we went to see the gardens of Versailles, where there was a big display--the fountains were on, and were accompanied with music (to which the small boy is pointing). We also went to an art exhibit called Picasso et les Maitres (Picasso and the Masters), which sets pieces of Picasso’s work next to related pieces which influenced him in some way. We were surprised at some of the influences we hadn’t quite expected, like Rembrandt. It was also cool just to be surrounded by artsy Parisians.

So, overall, things have been going well here. Though I’m not quite “in” Paris here in Saint-Denis, I love having endless access to it. I know I’ll never be bored in my time here. There are so many things I have yet to see. Nonetheless, I can’t believe I’ve only been here for a week. I feel like I have done a lot and, surprisingly, I’m getting to know my way around! Hopefully I’ll have some more interesting updates soon.

1 comment:

Tonie said...

I have gotten absolutely NOTHING done for the past hour b/c I've been reading your blog from top to bottom...I am so happy you are doing well! I miss France so much, I adore your pics, and reading about how good your Angers host family was to you!! Lek-Sang was my mentor teacher at Pablo Picasso. If you can remember, please tell her I say "hello from Tonie."