May 31, 2010

After all this time, almost time to leave

Posted in planning, travel tagged , , , , at 12:42 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

I bought my train ticket to Paris today. My last ticket to Paris. The ticket that will take me to Paris, and nowhere else. Not back to Bordeaux. My heart broke a little when I told the cashier it was a one-way ticket. Because from Paris I will go to the airport and from the airport I will go to Dublin, Chicago and then home.

I teared up a little. I’m counting down the days until I’m outta here. 26 days till I leave Bordeaux, 29 till I leave France. But I’m so not ready to leave. It’s the biggest catch-22. I can’t imagine living anywhere other than France.

When I left in 2008, I remember standing on a bridge in St. Jean de Luz and saying “I will live here.” I made it my goal and I worked towards it, and I did it. I lived here.

I will return.


April 20, 2010

Classroom update

Posted in travailler tagged , , , , , at 8:52 am by Fat Girl Dancing

For the last six weeks, my 6th grade honors class has been working on a group presentation on the United States. Each group chose a state to present on (in the midwest) and they’ve been studying different aspects of the state each week.

We spent the last two class periods working on tying everything together and making posters, and on Friday they’ll present their projects for their classmates (it’s a combined 5th/6th grade class, but I only have the 6th graders; they’ll present for the 5th graders).

They act like little monsters (this is a class that’s had their game privileges permanently revoked because they get too out of control), but I’m really proud of how well they’ve done with this project. They were really nervous to present in front of their peers, and a lot of them reverted back to French, but most of them were able to recite what they’d learned in English and did fine.¬† I was especially impressed that they could say the population of each state, since we’d only spent two class periods learning large numbers!







The Tennessee group didn’t get finished in time the day I took pictures, so I never got a picture of them with their poster ūüė¶

November 10, 2009

The rain in Spain falls mainly on France

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , at 1:10 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

If I could sum up Bordeaux in one word, that word would be: RAIN.  Rain rain rain rain rain.  Rain.

Bordeaux lured me in when I first arrived with 20 or so days of warmth and sunshine and not a drop from the sky.

“This isn’t bad at all!” I thought, as I walked around in tank tops and admired the bright blue skies.

And then….everything changed.


It has been raining nearly every day for over a week.¬† Rain is forecasted for every day into the foreseeable future.¬† Sometimes I’ll refresh the forecast and they’ll tease me and take the rain out for one day, but then I refresh again five minutes later and it’s back in.¬† Rain.¬† Every day.¬† For the rest. of. my. life.


In school news, my students are already eager to talk about Christmas.¬† I told them there’s another American holiday in between Halloween and Christmas that we’re going to start talking about beginning on Thursday.

I have sung “Where is Thumbkin” 16 times this week, and I’ll sing it 16 more before the end of the week.¬† They love it.

Yesterday I asked one of my students, in English, “Have you glued it in your notebook already?” and he nodded and showed me, and I smiled and said to him in French “You understood a sentence in English!” and he looked so proud of himself.

October 25, 2009

Sunday morning musings

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travel tagged , , , , , , , at 5:42 am by Fat Girl Dancing

It’s hard to wake up from a dream where I’m home and holding my kittens again and snuggling them after so long.¬† I like it here, but it’s so hard to believe I have to be away from them for another 9 months : (¬† Last night I dreamt I was holding Sabrina, and I was so happy to have her in my arms again, but she didn’t really remember me. : (

It's hard not to miss her!

It's hard not to miss her!

I remember when I could just throw some clothes in the laundry two hours before going to work, and have them washed and dried by the time I needed to leave.¬† No longer.¬† The cleaning process is at least a two-day operation here.¬† Hope you didn’t need that for tomorrow!

Absolutely no hope of throwing something in the dryer for a minute or two on a cold morning to warm it up.  What a luxury!

I find it weird that my US phone and my US-based laptop computer both automatically updated themselves for Europe Daylight Saving Time, but my French phone didn’t.¬† For the next week, I’m only 5 hours ahead of everyone on EST!

I was thinking of going out to the Jardin Public for a pique-nique today, but it’s been rainy, so the ground will be wet… And I’m not sure if I feel like going all the way into Bordeaux.¬† Maybe I’ll just have a lazy day here in Talence.¬† I have bread, cheese, and smoked salmon, anyway.¬† What more do I need? (maybe some wine…)

I’ll be heading up north on Wednesday!¬† I’m doing a whirlwind tour in a week.¬† Bordeaux to Nantes to Vitr√© (with a day to visit Rennes) and then from Vitr√© to La Rochelle and then back down to Bordeaux!

October 22, 2009

Impractical boots

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , , , at 12:32 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Woot, Bordeaux won the football match last night!¬† It’s nice to be in a town that actually wins sporting events.¬† Yeah, I’m totally looking at you, Cincinnati Reds and Bengals.¬† And Dayton Dragons, while we’re at it.

Yesterday I went into Bordeaux and spent a good chunk of my savings (that I hadn’t already spent on tickets to London or Wicked tickets).¬† First I bought some ridiculously impractical and expensive new boots.¬† But I wanted them.¬† I wanted them more than any of the other practical or cheap boots.¬† Plus they were warm (the only impractical aspect is that they have 2-inch heels! Well, it doesn’t snow here…)

Impractical (but warm!) boots

Impractical (but warm!) boots

I also bought a set of hand weights, so I can continue my workouts here.¬† I’m getting in a lot of good walking, but my arm muscles are turning to jelly from lack of use!

I continued walking up rue Ste. Catherine, the major shopping street in Bordeaux, and entered the SNCF office.  It was still an hour before they closed and the place was packed.  Moments after I took a number, the manager locked the door and removed the number tickets so no one else could come in and get in line.  I just made it!  I waited nearly 45 minutes to buy train tickets from a very nice woman.

I needed lots of different tickets because I’m city-hopping instead of going directly from Bordeaux to Vitr√©.¬† I needed a ticket from Bordeaux to Nantes and then from Nantes to Vitr√©, and on the way back I needed to go from Vitr√© to La Rochelle and then from La Rochelle to Bordeaux.¬† She printed the tickets, I paid for them, and then she asked me if I planned to make a lot of trips around France.¬† I said yes, and she asked me why I wasn’t using a discount card.¬† I explained I was too old for the 12-25 discount card, and she told me about the Carte Escapades, which was only good on weekends.¬† Which would normally be when I’d be traveling in France — when I’d want to make trips down to Pays-Basque or other close towns.¬† She re-ran all my tickets with the new discount — even though they weren’t on weekend days.¬† She was incredibly helpful, and I thanked her profusely as I was leaving.

I bought a croque-chevre from a patisserie for dinner and ate it in the square near where my language group meets.¬† It was pretty much a chevre pizza on toast, but it was delicious.¬† As I was eating, a little girl about 5 years old entered the square, pushing her family’s garbage can out so it could be emptied; it was taller than she was.¬† She came over to talk to me.¬† She told me about taking the garbage out and about her mother, and then she asked what I was eating.¬† She asked if she could have it, and I laughed and said no, it was mine.¬† She said, “Please, just a little?” So I relented and tore off a corner for her.¬† She ate it and scampered off.¬† She came back out several more times to talk to me, in-between running in to other places on the square.¬† At one point I saw her run into a bar and come out with bread and cheese!¬† I don’t think she was homeless, judging from the trash can and good coat she had on.¬† She just wanted food!

I declined going out to the bar with the folks from the language group because I didn’t want to stay out too late and disturb my host family, plus I had to get up really early this morning.¬† I got home a little before 10:30pm to find they were all already in bed with the shutters drawn and all lights off!¬† Very odd, since sometimes we’ve only just barely finished dinner by that time!¬† I climbed the stairs in complete darkness, not wanting to wake anyone.

Today was my last day with my secondary school until after the vacation!¬† We worked on Halloween words, and I gave the two older classes a conversation to practice reading.¬† They have real trouble reading English words right now, but that’s to be understood, since they’re completely unfamiliar with them.¬† My older class (around 8 years old) did the best, and I was able to have two groups stand before the class and read the scenes in front of everyone.

They were very basic, but incorporated everything we’d learned:

“1: Hello.

2: Good morning.

1: What is your name?

2: My name is Dracula.  I am a vampire.

1: Nice to meet you.  I am a witch.

2: We are very scary!”

I showed several videos at the end of class; since it’s right before vacation, I can’t expect them to work too hard.¬† They loved the video for the Monster Mash and also The Skeleton Dance; my youngest class wanted to watch the Skeleton Dance again instead of something new!¬† And I’ve now heard the Monster Mash so many times it’s like I was home hearing it on the radio.

One more day of classes!¬† And it may not even be a full day, since it’s at clusterfuck school, and I heard they’re planning a Halloween event in the afternoon, so I may not teach my afternoon classes!¬† But of course no one’s told me anything yet!

October 8, 2009

Thrown to the wolves

Posted in travailler tagged , , , , , , , at 12:23 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

In a combination of nerves and some neighbors playing drums until past midnight last night, I didn’t get much sleep last night. I stumbled around my room this morning, repeating to myself over and over the things I needed to do before I left: put my jump drive in my purse, write down the words to the song to teach, make lunch, etc.

I quickly ate some cereal (all French cereal seems to have chocolate in it, even the adult cereal), and set out for the bus stop. I left within plenty of time, and still arrived just in time to see my bus speeding by. Bugger! He was 7 minutes early! I debated walking versus waiting the 20 minutes for the next bus, and decided to wait it out. It would take me nearly an hour and a half to walk, and I would certainly be late. Fortunately the next bus was on time, and I still made it to my school before my first class.

All French schools are locked to outsiders, so I stood at the gate and waited for someone to let me in. It turned out to be one of the teachers I would be working for who let me in and showed me around. She also told me what my exact hours would be at this school, and what grade levels I would be teaching. I knew I would be teaching the older students at my main school, so I had planned my lessons for them. When I found out I would be teaching the younger students, I got a bit nervous! I had only prepared one lesson, and I would have to adapt it to the three different levels I would be teaching today.

My first class was with the youngest group that Assistants are allowed to take, I believe they are 6 and 7 year olds. The teacher shares her classroom with them and an even younger group, so I take the 10 kids to another building for their English lesson. The orientation stressed that it’s important to build rituals early for the students, so I decided that we would sing “Following the Leader” from Peter Pan as we walked to and from the classroom. The kids had no idea what I was singing, but they went along with it.

This first class went very well, even though I broke a little rule by having them write. Kids that young aren’t supposed to write in English, because they’re just barely learning to write in French, and it messes them up. But since I’d only planned one lesson, I just went ahead with it. From now on, I’ll design a separate lesson for them.

All the kids in the three classes I had today were very cute and very French. The first class was the only class where I was entirely on my own. In the other two classes, their teacher is at least in the room to yell at troublemakers.

We sang two songs, a “Hello song” that I found on the Assistants forum and made up a tune to and then I began teaching them the words to a song I loved from Girl Scout camp. They can’t understand the words, but it’s got lots of movements and it’s silly, and they liked watching an adult do the silly movements.

The last class I had were the oldest, and although they had had English before, I started them at the same place, since no one had really told me anything else. We worked on “Hello,” “My name is,” “What is your name?” “girl,” and “boy.” Most of this group caught on quickly, although there were still a few that simply didn’t understand what they were saying and were just repeating the weird words because I told them to. This tells me that a refresher is probably not a bad thing for this group, but I can speed it up a little and maybe add some more content.

I ran out of material early in my last class, and asked the students (in French) what they knew about the United States, to try and bring in some culture. They knew that Obama was president and Bush was the former president, which is pretty impressive. If you ask any American elementary student who the president of France is, they would have no idea.

I walked to my other school after teaching my last class, because at my last discussion with them they had said something about Thursday afternoons. When I walked in and asked the Director if he needed me today, he said no. He did ask me for several papers such as a copy of my passport and bank info and such, so I can get paid, so I at least got that taken care of. And he finalized my schedule:

Mondays   13h30 Р16h15   Jules Ferry

Tuesdays   9h Р15h                Jules Michelet

Wednesdays FREE – No elementary school on Wednesdays

Thursdays  8h30 Р11h15   Jules Ferry

Fridays   9h Р15h                  Jules Michelet

So tomorrow I teach at Jules Michelet, and I’ll use the same lesson plan, but maybe beef it up a bit, because the students are all older.

I came home and collapsed for a few hours. I’m having some lovely sinus drainage that’s left me with a sore throat and a queasy stomach. I’m fighting it with some hardcore vitamins I brought from the States, but right now I just feel pretty run down.

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 m√®re et mon p√®re 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!

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!

June 17, 2009

The paperwork begins…

Posted in planning tagged , , , at 11:18 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

I just received an email from my French Embassy contact that the Acad√©mie of Bordeaux requires a copy of our passports, and the copy that was sent with my original application isn’t good enough.¬† It’s not just me; every assistant in Bordeaux has to submit a new scan of their passports directly to the Acad√©mie contact in France, and my arr√™t√© will not be sent until they have it.¬†

I don’t want to wait until after I get out of work tomorrow at 1pm to try and run to school and scan it — with the time difference Thursday would already be over in France by the time I got it sent, so I’d lose another day.¬† I’m going to have to run home after I get off work at 9 tonight, grab my passport, and run out to Kinko’s.¬†

Oh,  France!  Hopefully by getting this to the person in charge of the Académie by Thursday, I should have my arrêté within the next few weeks!


I’ve been reading people’s descriptions of daily life in France, just buying baguettes and going about their daily routine, and I am SO eager to get there and get started!¬†

My French teacher helped my friend Wes and I by reserving a room in the H√ītel Henri IV right in the heart of Paris!¬† We’ll be there from September 16-20, just soaking up the wonderful Parisian culture before heading off to our separate regions.¬† I can’t wait!

June 4, 2009

Bought the ticket!

Posted in planning tagged , , , at 10:59 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

After debating back and forth with my mother, Travelocity, Priceline, and my friend Wesley, who is also going to France as a Teaching Assistant, we finally bought my plane ticket on Tuesday! 

Wes bought a ticket on the same flight, so we’ll be going over together.¬† We probably won’t be able to sit together, but it’s my goal to take some xanax and dramamine and SLEEP my way through the flight.¬† I’m still very nervous about flying, especially in light of the recent Air France disaster from Brazil.

I’ll be leaving Cincinnati on September 15th and arriving in Paris on the morning of September 16th.¬† I’m hoping to spend that week in Paris before heading on to my assigned city in Bordeaux (I still don’t know exactly where I’m going yet!)

I had a bit of sadness last week when Alexandra, the cat I had been hoping to take with me to France, became very ill.¬† She was not eating or drinking, and after much testing it was discovered that she had lung cancer.¬† She still refused to eat or drink anything, and so it was time to put her down.¬† I miss her terribly, but I’m glad that she’s no longer suffering.¬† She was 19.¬†

Alexandra ~February 1990 - May 27, 2009

Alexandra ~February 1990 - May 27, 2009

It does mean that I will be going to France just me, myself, and I.  I will miss having a kitty in my house so terribly! 

For now I’m just waiting for my¬†arr√™t√© — my placement of city and school in France.

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