De la Mer à la Merde

Well, I almost succeeded at writing two blogs this last week. Almost.

It’s becoming more and more difficult, as we enter my second month in France, to sum up each week’s events in a few hundred words. I end up having to pick and choose, excluding an array of delightful anecdotes.

For example, last weekend, I was invited to go to the coast with a group of French kids (which I briefly mentioned in my last blog). We had a lovely time, spending our days lounging on the unseasonably warm beach, sipping wine, munching on fresh baguettes and a variety of strong cheeses (my favorite actually had a line of blue mold running through the middle of it—nummy).

Sunday night, on the way back to Lille from our excursion, the highway was inevitably clogged up with other weekend vacationers returning to the city for the work week. After a few hours of Rest-Stop-less travel, and with another hour of sitting in the car to go, we were all facing a slight dilemma. We needed a toilet, and we needed it fast. Our driver pulled over, and I scurried off to look for an enclosed area. Finding a dark ditch, I thought that I had hit the jackpot, forgetting one tiny fact: Lille is surrounded by farms. Some of these agricultural establishments happen to have cows on them. (Do you know where this is going? Not yet? Okay, hang on. It’s about to get really good.)

As I began to slowly inch my way down the side of the ditch, I lost balance, falling into what I thought was a muddy creek. By this point, I’m swearing in two languages, grasping at whatever plants I could find to pull myself up the slippery slope. With a lovely slurping sound, my legs came out of the goo. I managed to do a sort of graceful crab-walk up the side, and as I was about to triumphantly pull myself out of the ditch, warmly greeted by my friends’ laughter, I tripped, falling into a prickly plant, which caused my hands to almost immediately break out into tiny red spots.

Trudging back to the car, it finally dawned on me, as the brown substance caked onto my pants began to emit a rather pungent order, that I had fallen into cow crap. I was forced to strip down before reentering the car, as I, while cracking up, attempted to explain the situation in French to my compatriots. My hands were fine the next day, it was just a sort of instantaneous allergic reaction that was bested with a friend’s magical cortisone-based creams. All in all, it was quite the weekend, including a full range of emotions and experiences, which can be summed up in a fun play on words: “de la mer à la merde” (from the sea, into crap).

Following that episode, the rest of my week was fairly tame. I continued the observation period at my second middle school, Flines-les-Roches, meeting the majority of teachers and students with whom I’ll be working. The teachers are still friendly, and the kids are still adorable. In one class, the teacher presented me to her students, without telling them any information about me, wanting them to use their English skills to discern my name, nationality, etc. Upon hearing my accent, one boy asked if I was Australian. Another, after hearing I was from the US, asked if I lived in the city of Scotland. Other questions ranged from “are you married?” to “have you eaten escargot?” to “do you speak French?” They were shocked to find out that I wasn’t married (everything above twenty is ancient to preteens), that I had eaten escargot, and that I could speak French. I’m looking forward to actually teaching these kids!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn a bit about the differences between French and American middle schools. For example, rather than dividing the classes into three grades (though I suppose that depends on the middle school), collèges have four levels, labeled 6ème (the entry level, 10-11-year-olds) through 3ème (the last level before high school, 14-15-years-olds). Here, students attend classes from eight in the morning until five or five thirty in the evening, Monday through Friday. Some schools have classes on Saturday mornings rather than on Wednesday afternoons. Each class is about an hour long, and the lunch break lasts for two hours. Upon entering a class, students line up behind their desks, until the teacher invites them to sit down. Drinking and eating in the classroom is strictly prohibited, something I learned as I pulled out my Nalgene in the middle of a lecture. The entire class, including the teacher, turned around and looked at me in amazement. Little did I know that I was providing the class with a real-life example of American classroom culture (something that the 5ème students are in the process of studying). As far as courses go, I’ve also learned that in addition to the standard, required English classes, some students opt to take two extra hours of English per week. These students are grouped into the more advanced “Euro” class level. From what I’ve ascertained, I’ll be spending a lot of my time here working with these students, who have already shown a high interest in English.

Tomorrow, I begin my “Formation,” or training period, at the Collège du Pévèle. I’m not exactly sure what all will be entailed in my training, though I assume that it means that I’ll be taking a bit more of an active role in the classroom.

A bientôt!
flowers from the sunday morning market

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