Friday, October 24, 2008

Teaching and the Pilgrimage

I taught my first lesson this week! I worked with a class of Terminale (senior year) students on an excerpt from a John Jakes novel called American Dreams. We started the discussion with the concept of “The American Dream” and what that connotes—they were so articulate with their responses! We only got started on the text, going over some of the main ideas. I am going to pick up with that lesson when we get back from the vacation (the first week of November), covering the vocabulary and syntax in a more thorough way.

I also said something in my French literature class today, which is only a big deal for me because the class is obviously conducted in French. They had been discussing the identities of African immigrants, and Sophie asked me to speak to the class a little bit about African-American identity in the northeastern US. I managed to express my thoughts on the matter relatively clearly. Sophie actually commented afterwards that my French has improved markedly since I’ve been here, which surprised me, because I find myself increasingly aware of my linguistic deficits. Ah, well. I’m proud that I contributed a little something to class today.

Another interesting experience from this week was a class I had at the IUFM with a bunch of teachers from Algeria. It was incredibly interesting. The main topic of the day was the difference between FLE (France as a foreign language) and FLS (France as a second language)—because both terms are used here. In the US, when English is taught, it is taught as ESL (English as a second language) or something similar; there isn't a suggestion of "foreignness", there is rather a certainty that one will adopt the language and become integrated in the culture. The terminology leads to some complicated cultural tensions here—tensions which show themselves even more in Algeria than they do here in France. Funny language terminology detail here in Europe—when people talk about the “first language” they learned, they don’t mean their native language—they mean their first foreign language. That’s because everyone learns at least two. They are always puzzled when I say that most people in the US are barely proficient in one language besides English.

We had lunch with the Algerian teachers, which was cool because we just got to talk outside of the intense classroom discussion. We somehow ended up discussing holidays, and someone brought up Santa Claus, so everyone at the table looked at me, because the American image of Santa Claus is the most extreme and the most dominant. They said that kids often see Santa Claus on TV in Algeria, and asked why he never comes to bring them gifts. It really struck me when they said that, because I am aware of how widespread American culture is, but I don’t always think about the effects it has in very different countries. We had really great conversation all afternoon. When we returned to class, I was telling one of the teachers that I think Arabic writing is beautiful, so he wrote my name in Arabic! I didn’t realize that they apparently have an alphabet that’s almost equivalent to ours. The characters are obviously written extremely differently…and backwards.

Last night I went to the movies with the German teachers to see Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which was about two Americans going to Spain. Europeans are obsessed with Woody Allen, so it’s one of the few conversation points on which the American viewpoint is not challenged. We went out afterwards and had some great conversation about traveling, about the differences between France, Germany, and the US, and about what really constitutes “culture”—i.e. the division between sports, academics, and the arts. I really love talking with them. And the conversation always challenges my French vocabulary.

The movie’s Spanish setting got me psyched for the pilgrimage! Vanessa and I are leaving on a night train this evening. We have a basic layout for the trip at this point, though it’s not set in stone. The only things that are absolutely definite are our arrival and departure. Here’s the general plan:

Friday, October 24: night train to St. Jean Pied de Port (the starting point in the South of France)
Saturday, October 25: spend the day in St. Jean
Sunday, October 26: train to Pamplona
Monday, October 27: train from Pamplona to Leon
Tuesday, October 28: train from Leon to Lugo, bus to Sarria
Wednesday, October 29: we start walking! Sarria to Portomarin
Thursday, October 30: walk from Portomarin to Palas de Rei
Friday, October 31: walk from Palas de Rei to Azura
Saturday, November 1: walk from Azura to Lavacolla
Sunday, November 2: walk from Lavacolla to Santiago (the end of the pilgrimage!)
Monday, November 3: spend the day in Santiago
Tuesday, November 4: fly back to Paris

I hope to return with excellent stories and beautiful pictures!

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