July 5, 2010

Coming home

Posted in travel tagged , , , , , at 8:31 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

After 10 months in France, it’s time to return to the United States.
I woke up eaaarly in my hostel in Paris. I’d actually been up since about 5am because it started pouring rain, and I had the windows open. I finally had to face getting all my things from the last 10 months into three suitcases.


Quick run to the bathroom down the hall, and then get myself ready for the long journey.


I was on the 5th floor of the hostel, so I had to lug all my suitcases down the winding stairs.


I took a shuttle to the airport. It’s cheaper than a cab, but you’re sharing a ride with other tourists on their way to the airport. As we left the city center, I began to cry.


I pushed, shoved, and dragged my suitcases into the airport and immediately grabbed a luggage cart. It took a bit of wandering to find the Aer Lingus terminal. Fortunately I was early enough that the line wasn’t too bad, although I did discover that my “carry-on” suitcase was too heavy and I’d have to check it (and pay for it).


My first flight was from Paris to Dublin. I discovered there was another assistant from Bordeaux on two of the same flights with me, so we kept each other company.


I’ve never been to Ireland, and I didn’t even get a chance to explore the airport. The time between our connecting flight to Chicago was so brief that we rushed to get our new boarding passes and make it through customs in time.


I cried when they stamped me out of France, but at least I got a new Dublin stamp. US immigrations barely looked at my claims form before waving me through.


Giant airbus from Dublin to Chicago.


First we got a snack, and then I pretty much passed out from my tranquilizers (I hate flying). I remember hearing the attendant say “When she wakes up, ask her if she wants beef or chicken,” and I bolted up, “I’m awake! I’m awake!” (but very groggy)


Still a long way to go. We did fly close enough to see some of Greenland out the window. I was too tranq’d to pay attention to a movie, so I listened to the Glee soundtrack.


Scone snack. I hate raisins.


Two of my bags came out right away, but the third one didn’t come out until almost everyone else had left. I hate that, it leaves you thinking, “What if….?” Welcome back to the United States of America.


Welcome to (what was supposed to be) a six-hour layover. I only have Euros, so I need some cash (it looks so weird!), and then I hit Johnny Rockets for my first official meal in the US.


At this point, it’s around 11pm to my body, and I’m fading fast.


I officially take the adapter off my computer cord and watch some Mozart l’opéra rock videos.


7pm Chicago time – 2am to my body.


So excited! Finally almost going home!! And then, 5 minutes before boarding, they announce that the flight has been delayed 2 hours. I burst into tears. It would make over 24 hours since I woke up and left Paris.


Finally, finally, at 11:30pm in Chicago – 6:30am the next day to my body, we take off for Cincinnati. I’m so sad the adventure is over, but so happy to see my parents again.


And Mom and Dad were happy to see me too. ❤

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February 4, 2010

Forever a nomad

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , at 9:00 am by Fat Girl Dancing

*this entry is made most difficult by the fact that my “h” key has stopped working and every “h” must be copied and pasted :-\

I’m coming to you live from my third (and what had better be my last!) residence here in Bordeaux!  It took me three days to move, and I still have a few small things at the old place — including my bike!

I seem to have grown into the larger living space while I was living with my roommate and acquired a ton more junk, because what took me just two trips to move last time (one by tram and one by taxi) took me nine trips and three days!  Did I mention I’m living on the fourth floor?  My everything hurts, from my shoulders and arms from carrying all the bags to my hips and legs from climbing all the stairs!  Such a good workout!

I’m still getting settled in my room — it’s impossible not to think of it as a dorm room, because essentially that’s what it’s like.  I got my bed set up on Tuesday, and I’m still unpacking and finding a place for everything, so right now I still have suitcases and bags covering most of the floor.  I’ll show pictures once everything is put away and it looks nicer.

The walls here are super-thin, so you can pretty much hear everything anyone does in their room, but fortunately my neighbors seem to be pretty good about sticking to the quiet hours *knock on wood*  Last night I got home at 11pm and my neighbor had her TV up, but turned it down when I asked.  The biggest problem is the girl across the hall gets up at 5:30am every day.  I need to learn to filter out the sounds of her getting up and leaving so I can sleep through that and not get up at 5:30am every day myself :-\

This morning I had breakfast for the first time here in the new place.  Breakfast is included in the rent and is offered Monday-Friday.  It’s a typical French-style breakfast, and it was very yummy!  I had granola with fromage blanc (sweet and creamy like yogurt, but it’s a cheese), baguette with butter and jelly, and grabbed a banana for later.  I’ll probably eat breakfast Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, because I know I won’t be able to wake up early enough on Mondays and Wednesdays!  Still, it’s nice to not have to buy so much breakfast food anymore.

Things are moving along at school…my little kids are getting sick of learning about numbers, and I’m sick of counting with them.  But they still don’t know all the numbers, even 1-10, and so we drill!  They can count from 1-10 just fine, but when I ask them “How old are you?” they can’t just respond with the correct number in English, but instead must count up to the right number.

I’ve tried playing Bingo with my classes a few times, and I tell you, after this last round I just will not do it again.  They simply do not understand the rules!  I explained, several times, in French even, that in order to have Bingo they needed to mark off four numbers in a line across, down, or diagonal.  I then said the first number, and four or five kids shouted, “Bingo!”  After three or four classes of this, I was exasperated.  “No, you do not have Bingo!” I shouted by the last class.  “You cannot have Bingo after just one number!  I said, you need four in a line!”

“Mais, je ne comprends pas du tout!” they whined.

At least they like story time, which I’ve started implementing at the last 5-10 minutes of each period.  We read half a book per class in English, and even though they can’t understand the words, they like the pictures and they can generally keep up.  So far we’ve read “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Hop on Pop,” “The Shy Little Kitten,” and “Barry, the Fish with Fingers.”

January 14, 2010

Homeless no longer!

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , at 1:08 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Today I signed a contract and handed over a very large sum of money to a Foyer where I will be moving on February 1st!  I’m very pleased.  After a month and a half of searching, I’ve finally found a place to live for the rest of my stay in France!  This Foyer is very nice.

While the most ideal situation would have been to find a place similar to where I’m living now, where I could have complete freedom, the Foyer will offer me free breakfast every morning, cable, a coin-laundry on-site (cheaper than the street laundries), 24-hour staff at the welcome desk, a small fitness center, three separate kitchens, and a sense of community.  The residents get together for cooking demos and weekend trips and game nights.

The only downsides are that I won’t have internet in my room (I’ll have to go down to the first floor), I have to share a bathroom, and the Foyer is women-only, which means I can’t have male visitors.  Not that I generally have a parade of male visitors, but my two friends from Ohio have been nice enough to house me when I’ve visted them in Vitré, La Rochelle, and Angers, and now I won’t be able to provide that.

Still, the pluses outweigh the minuses — the biggest plus of all being I HAVE SOMEWHERE TO LIVE!  I’ll actually be able to UNPACK!  I’ve been living out of my suitcases since December 1st!  I’m so relieved.

Today I heard an interesting point of view from a French person on the French social system.  She said too many people take advantage of the perks offered here by the French government, and a young person who doesn’t work can live just as well as someone who works.  I was very interested in what she had to say, because of course people make the same arguments about social programs in the United States, but although the French complain about them, they also accept them as the way of life, because they know it is helping the few who really need it.  While in the United States we’ll keep it away from the many who really need it to spite the few who might take advantage of it.

December 9, 2009

Homeless in France

Posted in la vie bordelaise, planning tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:52 am by Fat Girl Dancing

It’s been a busy month so far.  I’ve been settling into my temporary home here with another assistant, trying to maintain a balance between living out of my suitcases and unpacking everything when I know I’ll just have to repack it again.  Fortunately I’m able to stay here until at least the beginning of February, so I’ve got some time.  I’ve been keeping up with the apartment search, but it’s so much more difficult here than it is in the States!

I’m primarily searching for roommates, and everyone I apply to has dozens of applicants, so they’re free to pick whom they choose…and it’s not me.  If I were to try for a small studio, I’d most likely find it not furnished — not even with a fridge or a stove! — and I’d need a guarantor, someone here in France willing to put up their last three months paystubs and credit to vouch for me.

I went to change my address, because I still haven’t received my very important CARTE VITALE, and found it was 34 euro just to change my address with the post!  That is one area where the USA definitely wins.  So much for socialism!

France is hard.  I’m not going to lie, in the last few weeks, there were times when I thought about how much easier it would be to give up and just go home.  Yesterday I bought a ticket to see Christophe Maé in concert in June 2010 in La Rochelle, and I’ve got a ticket to see the Mozart musical in April.  I can’t leave, I have concert tickets!

Christophe and Mozart!

Last week I visited the Christmas Market in downtown Bordeaux with a few assistants.  We went Tuesday and Wednesday night.  It’s a beautiful village marketplace set up on the town square with lights and craft shops and HOT SPICED WINE.  It was wonderful the first night, but it started pouring the second night and kind of put and end to the whole evening.  I still haven’t properly shopped through the whole market, since we really just took a fast browse through each store.

Vin chaud

Last Friday I went out to dinner with some French people to the Quebec Music Cafe.  It was way down in Pessac, so I got a ride with someone, which was very nice.  It’s so cool seeing Bordeaux from a car, I see parts of the city I never notice because I’m always on pedestrian or tram streets.  You must go look at their menu, I loved it.  I wanted to eat everything.  I ended up with the “Menu Bistro” which gave me a burger, a poutine, a beer, and a crumble dessert.  I had the three-cheese cheeseburger, the classic poutine, maple syrup beer, and the chocolate-pear crumble.  It was all SOOO GOOD.

Quebec Cafe

OM NOM NOM

One of the guys sitting next to me was excited to try and practice his English, and kept speaking English to me, and then speaking English to the other French people around him.  Eventually one of the women said to him, “She’s here to improve her French, so speak French!”  I didn’t mind him speaking a little English, but I thought it was weird that he would speak English to everyone else.

It’s been quite warm here the last few days — in the low 60s and upper 50s, but we’re about due for a cold snap, in the 40s!  Oh no! 😦

Holidays in Bordeaux

Holidays in Bordeaux

October 2, 2009

First day of working in France

Posted in travailler tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:00 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Will someone please explain to me why I packed a 100% cashmere sweater?  There’s no “delicate” setting on French washers.  I’m gonna have to handwash it, and hope I never get a stain.  UGH.

I received my second package today — the important one, since it had my winter clothes, my jewelry and my PEANUT BUTTER.  I picked it up at the post office in Talence and walked it 2/3 of the way home singing “Peanut butter jelly time” to myself before ma mère et mon père drove by, stopped the car, and ordered me to put the box in the car.  It was mega heavy, but I nearly got it home myself!  Still, I was grateful they came by and helped me out.

Giant heavy box

Giant heavy box

Yesterday I went to my main school for lunch.  I missed the bus I needed to get down there, so I took the next one I thought was going the right way.  When the driver pulled into the terminus and looked at me, I knew I was in trouble.  It turned out I had gotten on the 21 instead of the 21bis.  Who knew?  The driver was incredibly nice, getting me bus schedules and a map and making sure I was ok and talking to me for awhile as I waited for the 21bis.

I ended up being 30 minutes late, but no one was upset.  The teachers were still friendly and helpful.  We ironed out my schedule, and it’s such a mess.  I told them I would see them Tuesday since I had orientation the next day.

I had wasted two bus passes on getting there, so I decided to walk home.  It was a nice four mile walk, although towards the end I was very tired and sore!  It was also quite hot, and I tried to stay in the shade as much as possible.  Still, I was proud of myself for making it all the way home!

When my alarm went off at 6:55am this morning, my first thought was “Are you kidding? It’s not 8:30 yet,” which is when I’ve generally been getting up.  Ugh, it was not pretty.  I tried to keep my morning crankiness to myself as everyone else was up and about as well.

I did have a little skip in my step as I walked to the tram station thinking, “Here I go to work in France!”  The tram during rush hour is packed, as many bodies as can be jammed into a tiny tube.  You get friendly with your neighbors, ifyouknowwhatimean.  I switched lines at the Hotel de Ville and headed north.  Just as I was wondering if I’d see any other assistants on the tram, I heard “Hey Penny!”  It was one of the assistants I’d met last week at our get-together dinner.  We talked a bit, and some people nearby heard us and asked if we were assistants.  They were Spanish assistants from Mexico and Spain!  I listened to them speak to each other a bit, but living in France has destroyed my Spanish *sigh*

We arrived at the high school serving as our orientation site and crammed into a small room for juice and coffee.   I met a really nice girl, C., who told me that I had missed a meeting of primary school teachers yesterday, and that the primary school teachers had more training next week!  I was shocked…I don’t know why I didn’t get the email about the meeting, and what’s more, my schools were expecting me to come teach, or at least observe, on Monday and Tuesday!  C. introduced me to the woman in charge of primary teachers, who told me “C’n’est pas grave,” (it’s not a big deal) and that we’d figure everything out in the afternoon session.

During the morning session all 253 of us sat in a lecture hall room while two different teachers went over largely bureaucratic matters that are really important and also really dull.  It turns out there’s assistants for not only English, Spanish and German, but also Italian, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Slavic!

During a break I chatted with D., a friend I’d made last week and a cute guy from Wales came up and chatted with us.  His accent was amazing.  I just wanted him to keep talking.

Lunch was pretty impressive for a public school cafeteria.  Romaine lettuce salad, assorted cheeses, different kinds of vegetable entrees, meatloaf with lentils, bread (of course) and banana pudding.  I sat with C., D., and another primary school teacher who’s engaged to a French guy in Bordeaux, so this is pretty much her move to France.

After lunch we split into our separate groups, primary teachers going to a room of our own.  We filled out a lot of paperwork and talked about what we were doing at the training on Tuesday.  I told one of the teachers that I’d already talked to my school and worked out my schedule and they were expecting me, and she said “Oh no they’re not!  You are NOT teaching Monday or Tuesday!” She’s going to call the schools for me to let them know I won’t be there until Thursday.  I’m relieved that we’re going to get additional training!  I was worried about being thrown right into it.

I have one last relaxing weekend ahead of me before the real work begins!

September 8, 2009

Countdown: One week

Posted in planning tagged , , , , , at 9:03 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

One week left in the United States with my family and friends.  As my time here dwindles I find myself more and more hesitant to leave, whereas months ago I couldn’t wait to be in France.  Now all I can think of is everyone and everything I will miss and everything that could possibly go wrong.

My host family has been nothing but kind to me in emails.  François, the father, has begun emailing with me in French in accordance with my wishes to practice French as much as possible.  They seem eager to get to know me and will be picking me up at the train station when I arrive in Bordeaux on September 20.  They’ve also offered to take me along to their vacation house on the weekends.

I’ve been in contact with several other assistants who are going to be in Bordeaux, and I think we’re all going to be meeting up for café somtime around the 23rd.

First day of work is le 1 octobre!

My bags are all packed…

All I need to pack

All I need to pack


August 25, 2009

I have a home!

Posted in planning tagged , , , at 12:46 am by Fat Girl Dancing

My French home

My French home

Hooray, I have a place to live!  It’s been a back-and-forth for the last few weeks trying to find an apartment in Bordeaux.  This morning my father and I transferred my September rent to my future landlord in order to secure my spot!

It sounds like it will be just perfect.  It is the home of a couple and their teenage daughter.  I will be renting their other daughter’s room.  They say the house is near my primary school and I can borrow a bike to get there!

And they have two cats ^_^  So I will still have cats to snuggle while I’m missing my own furbabies!

 

The packing is going slowly.  I realized  I had planned to pack way too many clothes, and I had to pare the list down a bit.  I still have too much, but I’m going to see if I can make it all fit!