Sun in the North of France

(Almost caught up…)

Believe it or not, after having finally (more or less) caught you up on my adventures from the last paid vacation, I’m about to go on another. T-minus 11 days until Amsterdam. City of canals, art museums, and…coffeehouses.  Until then, work and play.

This week, I’ve worked a total of six hours. And I’m already completely exhausted. It’s a bit pathetic really. I went from sleeping a majority of three hours per night, juggling a full class load, a part-time job, and a couple of extra-curricular activities at U.P.S., to working one 12 hour-a-week position.

An attempt to justify my fatigue: I haven’t actually slept a full night in the foyer. The walls are paper thin, and my bed is riiiight next to my neighbor’s door, which tends to squeak and scrape open every couple of hours during the night. Additionally, I have the sneaking suspicion that the intersection right outside my window is frequented by drag racers. Or at least motorcycle enthusiasts.

It also takes a wee bit of effort to get to and from school, a two-hour round trip that begins with squeezing myself onto the metro with the business crowd, the moms soothing the perturbed children, and students of various ages, energetically slapping at each other, and gossiping in low, raspy whispers. From the metro, I follow the busy morning stream of travellers through the station labyrinth, up to the train platforms, purchase my ticket, and huddle next to the enormous space heater until my train arrives (if it does-my train line seems to be cursed with an inordinate amount of repair work). Once on the train, I have anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes to relax (normally 15, but the trains have recently taken to randomly stopping due to various vague technical reasons), and enjoy the sunrise over the foggy French countryside, before I arrive at my school.

Once there, I spend all day attempting to wrangle classrooms of screaming French kids for half hour periods of time. (Okay, that might be a slight misrepresentation. The kids are, for the most part, eager and bright, and at worst, overly-enthusiastic. There are only a few classes filled with opportunists who choose to simply disregard my presence. But they are, after all, middle schoolers).  

Justified or not, by the time I get home around 7 pm, and even on the days when I only work until 12:30, it’s pretty darn difficult to resist the urge to go straight to bed. Most days, I cave. Afternoon naps, along with scoping out the perfect pain au chocolat, have become one of my specialties. Especially now that the skies are clearing up nicely, and the air’s a bit warmer. Half work-days usually end with me coming home, throwing my window open, and crawling back under my duvet with a trashy book for a couple of hours, recharging in the sun-spot that has conveniently taken up residence in my bed.

This week, at my bigger middle school (the one with 900 plus students in Orchies), I’ve spent the majority of my time doing one on one interviews with 6eme kids. This means that for two hours on Monday, I sat in the language lab, tape recorder in one hand, coffee mug in the other, asking one student after another the basic questions (“What’s your name?”, “How are you?”, etc.). While the majority of these interviews went pretty smoothly, some of them yielded pretty amusing results. The most entertaining response: a look of utter incredulity, quickly followed by “What?!” Most aggravating response: a look of disinterest (from a 10 year old, mind you), followed by (in French) “I don’t understand anything,” and then the now oh-so-familiar-French noise of dismissal “Pfft.” Most common response: a look of comprehension, followed by an eager nod and a “Yes,” which would be an acceptable answer, if it wasn’t trailing every question, including “Where do you live?” and “How old are you?”. At my smaller school, I’ve been able to work mainly with the 6emes as well, in smaller groups, full of adorable kids, eager to learn. So far, so good.

As far as playing goes, the weeks since break have mostly been filled with afternoons spent in cafes, nights in pubs, and dinner with friends. One of the cool things about being an English assistant in France is encountering a variety of Anglophonic cultures. Three other English assistants live in my foyer, one of them American, and the other two Scottish. The Scottish girls have done a pretty awesome job introducing me to their traditions. Quite recently, we celebrated Robert Burns night, an evening devoted to the influential Scottish poet, wherein the participants eat haggis, turnips, and mashed potatoes, recite Burns poetry, and dance. During the last week, I’ve also been introduced to rugby, a game that I’ve always been vaguely interested in, but have never watched. At the moment, the Six Nations tournament is going on, which means that every weekend the best rugby teams in the world are currently playing in matches against each other. This last weekend, I went to an Irish pub in Lille, entitled Tir na Nog (the name for the mythical land of the youth), to watch the Ireland versus Italy game, and then the Scotland versus France game, with some of my Irish and Scottish friends. We were definitely the only patrons in the pub cheering for Scotland on Saturday evening, and I feel that we did a pretty respectable job, considering that the majority of us didn’t really understand the rules, and a few of us hadn’t ever watched a rugby match before. It was fantastically captivating, and pretty easy to get into. Unlike American Football, rugby is all about keeping the game going. The ball hits the ground? Pick it up. A player gets severely injured during a tackle? Take them off the pitch, patch them up, and send them back on.

Today, I’m not scheduled to work, so I’m planning on taking care of (surprise, surprise) more paperwork at the bank, my health insurance agency, and the financial aid company. It’s sometimes hard to actually take care of this kind of business, as for the majority of the time here, I don’t really feel like I’m living in the real world. True, I do pay for real things, like rent, groceries, and bills. But, it’s with a currency that still reminds me of monopoly money. I do work, but only for 12 hours a week doing a job that’s usually pretty fun, where any actual problems are taken care of the “real” teachers. Unfortunately, reality catches up with you, no matter where you go. And today is a catch-up day.

A bientot.

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