The Open Road Part Two – Le Havre

IMG_20150211_145513~2Our second stop in Haute-Normandie, Le Havre is a really interesting place to visit. A major city with a very important harbor (English for le havre) located right on the Seine River, Le Havre was  largely destroyed during WWII. It was mostly rebuilt between the years of 1945 and 1964 but there were some parts that were spared during the bombings.

Contrary to Rouen, I found Le Havre a city not easily navigable by foot, but of course, you can always take public transportation. For one, it’s much larger in terms of land with so many different neighborhoods. I would’ve liked to spend two nights, maybe even three nights! But unfortunately, we only spent one night in our cozy 3-bed studio across from the train station.

IMG_20150211_155651What to do in Le Havre:

Walk along the beach. Walking along the coast line after months of being away (the three of us live less than 5 miles away from the beach back home home) was such a treat. Gazing into the open sea and standing barefoot in the sand felt like home again.

Visit Les Jardins Suspendus. This was quite a distance from our hotel (and even from the tourist office) but we decided to walk there anyway. Don’t be discouraged though. Once you get there, you’ll be rewarded with a lovely view of the city and the port. And then you’ll get to walk around the garden and if you make it there in time, you can visit the greenhouses.

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Place de l’Hôtel de ville. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough hôtel de ville and churches and cathedrals to last me a lifetime. But the square that the hotel is located in is really quite nice with fountains, sculptures and a tramway running through it. There are small stores and local cafes and tea houses encircling it however so it’s really a breath of modernity.

The one thing I didn’t get to do was visit the Musée d’art moderne that supposedly boasts an impressive collection of impressionism. And no wonder, Monet’s Garden is a popular stop for tourists throughout Spring and Summer when they’re traveling from Paris to Normandy.

Visually, Le Havre is very different from Rouen and Caen. If I ever get the chance to visit Normandy again, I would like to include Le Havre as a stop just because I felt I didn’t really get to see it.

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Hm..what’s next on the list? This four-letter city is a tricky one to pronounce.

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The Open Road Part One – Rouen

I love road trips. There’s nothing better than packing your luggage in the trunk and getting out on the open road. Driving past unfamiliar scenery and taking it all in with a sense of wonder and nativity. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about the possibilities!

My trip to the western side of France was part train, part car. I took the TGV from Nancy to Paris where I met up with two of my friends who just happened to be both Spanish. From St. Lazare, we took the train to Rouen, a city filled with timeless Gothic buildings and modern structures that echo powerful stories like Joan of Arc’s.

IMG_20150210_160023~2What to do in Rouen:

Rouen is a fairly small city and although we stayed two nights, I felt like one night was enough. Aside from the traditional sites like le Gros Horlage, la Cathedrale de Notre Dame, le château de Rouen, and la place du Vieux-Marché (a historical site with a dark story), grabbing an espresso or indulging in a local cafe’s special hot chocolate to warm up from the cold outside is always a good idea.

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The capital city of Northern Normandy has a lot of cool shops where you can stop in and browse their unique merchandise. Stop by La Petite Bouffe for lunch – you won’t regret it! Stumbled upon by chance, this chic restaurant offers a lunch special – 5 euros for a take-out box of your choice, tack on 2 euros for a drink, and if you’re especially hungry, you can add a dessert bringing your total to less than 10 euros. Don’t worry, you can have your meal at one of their cool and simple tables amid the (young) locals.

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So what’s the verdict on Rouen? Definitely a city to see but not to stay for more than two nights. Like most European cities, Rouen is walkable and the conflict between traditional versus modern is apparent in the city landscape.

Stay tuned for Part Two ! Where did we go…?

Le Havre (23)

(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life

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Sunset in Amsterdam

I think one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make during this contract was where to spend my holidays. It doesn’t sound serious but with an infinite imagination and a strong desire to travel around Europe, it was difficult to choose just one. Or rather two.

I’ve recently been drawn to Oslo and Norway and seeing the Aurore Borealis is on my bucket list so it was only natural for me to try to fit it into my budget. But alas! It was not meant to be but I’m okay with that. Sort of. It was decided that we would spend Christmas in Paris (quite fitting really) and ring in the New Year in Amsterdam.

The Plan

Andrew would fly in to Charles de Gaulle airport on December 23rd where I would meet him. Then we would spend three days, two nights in Paris. Then, to save a little money since he was going to be here for three weeks, we would go back to Loonyville, oh sorry, Gloomyville. I mean Lunéville! Damn typos…

It’s a running joke between us because once he got to France, the weather in Lunéville drastically changed and at the time, was the coldest it’s been! It even snowed more then than it recently has been. But anyway, we would stay at my place and take day trips to Strasbourg and Nancy.

We would leave for Amsterdam on the 29th and we’d stay there until the 4th of January. Thus concluding our holiday vacation.

Paris

I booked an apartment via AirBNB and it was a really good choice! Yes it does cost more than staying at a hostel but it was Christmas after all! Treat yo’self right? The apartment was close to Gare de l’Est which was quite convenient since we only had to take metro 4 to get to where we wanted. The apartment was on the sixth floor of the building and day or night, when you looked out the window to the left, you could see le Sacré-Coeur atop Montmartre. What a beautiful sight really.

We’d already been to Paris before so we didn’t feel the need to squeeze in museums and historical sites but rather, took leisurely strolls to whereever we’d decided at the moment.

Tip: If you’re staying for more than 2 days, get a booklet for the metro! It’s much more convenient and you never really know (or at least I didn’t) how many times you could run a ticket through the machine and when it would work. Plus, they make great bookmarks! Or if you’re short like I am, you could possibly get away with ducking under the turnstiles. I wouldn’t know. You didn’t hear that from me.

Funny story: Some people have told me about Paris and its reputation of dog shit decorating the amazing, historical, walking-in-a-dream streets and I’d always thought it was just a load of bull…until recently. We’d returned to Paris for Andrew’s departure the weekend of January 17-19 and we were walking through Gare du Nord in search of Metro 4, and if you’ve ever walked through Gare du Nord, you know how bad it can get, when suddenly, we caught wind of something awful. I mean, I couldn’t grasp it! And I still can’t to this day! C’était incroyable! My eyes scanned the floor for the origin of this stanky smell so I wouldn’t find myself in the middle of it and oh man, there was just a mountain of poop on the floor not too far from my right. And what’s worse, it looked like it had been trampled on! To this day, I’ve no idea if it came from a human or a dog. It was just too much. It was like all the theoretical poop I should’ve seen during my time in Paris all piled up into one gigantic pile of poop. So there.

This city is so amazing!
This city is so amazing!

New Year

The hardest part of planning this trip was the transportation. Eurolines and Covoiturage weren’t available on the days I’d booked for the B&B. It wasn’t impossible though. We just took trains from Nancy to Paris and then from Paris to Antwerp. Then from Antwerp to Amsterdam. The overall journey time took about six hours, more or less, and if I remember correctly didn’t cost an arm and a leg. However, figuring out the return trip was the hardest part for me. We were scheduled to come back on a Sunday but Amsterdam Eurolines was only able to take us as far as Brussels. If we wanted to take the train back to Nancy, it would’ve cost us 150euros each!

Luckily, there was a car travelling from Brussels to Nancy. I was a little hestitant about Covoiturage since it was my first time, but it turned out smoothly. We didn’t get kidnapped, we didn’t get robbed and we didn’t feel any creepy vibes.  The only mishap was with the Eurolines bus. It was two hours late getting to the Amsterdam station so our return trip was delayed by two hours. Kind of nerve-wrecking, especially if you have to take a train. In case you didn’t know, trains generally leave on time, with or without you.

That being said, let’s talk about lodging. Where to start? There are just so many options. First, you have to decide on what kind of atmosphere you want. I wanted something more laid-back and relaxed and so opted for a B&B that I found via Hostelworld (Garden View B&B). It was definitely a unique experience. I was worried at first that Nessie the hostess would be around us all the time but she actually turned out to be a really cool person. I almost asked her if she could take me on and teach me her ways of operating a B&B! That would be the dream…

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Our champagne brunch ie brunch sent from the heavens. A meal worthy for the gods themselves.

We had breakfast served in the room every morning and on January 1st, we were served a champagne brunch. Amazing attention to detail. Plus, she had a mini fridge with chocomel (!!!), sodas, fruit juice, beer and water.

Tip: If you’re staying a little away from the city center, please oh please rent a bike!! We stayed in Zuid-Amsterdam (south Amsterdam) and it was 15-20 minutes away from the center by tram. On December 31st, all modes of transportation ceased to exist..okay but really they were all offline which meant in our case that we had to walk everywhere. We were supposed to rent bikes on the 30th – 2nd but some reason (insert angry glare here) we didn’t. Well, let’s just say we deeply regretted our decision to not rent bikes at the time but later on in our stay.

All in all, I was very happy to have spent Christmas in Paris and the New Year in Amsterdam. But more importantly, I was happy to share it with someone I really care about and that’s what the holidays are really about right? If it weren’t for Andrew, I would’ve had a very different experience.

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Now I’ve had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
Yes I swear it’s the truth
And I owe it all to you
‘Cause I’ve had the time of my life
And I owe it all to you

Livin’ on a prayer

Whoaaa! We’re halfway there / Whoaaa! Livin’ on a prayer / Take my hand We’ll make it I swear / Whoaaa! Livin’ on a prayer

Wow it’s 20 January already. I have…three more months here! I thought I’d write an evaluation on what I’ve done, what I’ve learned and what I’d like to do for the remaining of the time.

What I’ve done

Something that I usually do when I start my classes is have a Question of the Day (QOTD). These range from food to culture to what’re-you-going-to-do-this-weekend. One of my former English professor would always do this for each class and I adapted it to my own. It encourages creativity and allows students to speak a little about themselves. It helps me to get to know them. Some questions that have had great responses: what’s your favorite dish? What would you do if you won the lottery? If you could live anywhere, where would you live? If you could talk to anyone living or dead, who would it be? These questions take about 10-15 minutes to pan out. Great filler!

You could come up with any question about anything and it would allow students to practice past, present or future tense. You could even have an apocalypse question and encourage group work. I’ve been pretty lucky because all the students in all my classes participate. So far, I haven’t had any students misbehave and it’s really thanks to their teachers who’ve told them that if they misbehave, they won’t be able to work with me anymore. That usually straightens them out.

Most of my Terminales classes are one-on-one conversations. The teachers are quite adamant for their students to be able to hold a conversation for at LEAST five minutes. This could either be on the subject that they’re currently learning about but for students with a really low level of English, I just encourage them to talk about their weekend or what they like to do / eat or any subject of their choosing. I deviate off the path a little because if they don’t have a grasp on the necessary vocab, or if they can’t even form complete sentences, how can we expect them to talk for a full five minutes? It’s not impossible but it is extremely discouraging to the students and they will only resist learning English even more. I want to counter this oppressive feeling of I-can’t-do-it and encourage them to overcome their fear of speaking a foreign language.

In my Séconde classes, I usually encourage pair work and then have them present their ideas and comments. For example, when we worked on clothes, I brought in fashion magazine ads and asked them to work in pairs and describe what the model (or models) is wearing. Then they had to come to the front of the class and present. It was easy for me because the students were willing to do it. If you have shy or quiet students, this might not always work. I usually do the same exercises for my Première classes just because the levels are pretty similar.

What I’ve learned

Now this brings me to what I’ve learned so far.

I’ve learned that just because a student is in Première doesn’t necessarily means his / her level will be higher than a student in 2nde. I’m working with students in Terminales who can barely introduce themselves to me. But there are some Première students (though rare) who can think and speak at a University level. It’s quite astonishing to see the extreme differences in levels at my school but I suppose that’s to be expected since these students come from different areas and different collèges (elementary / junior high).

Even though I don’t have any prior teaching experience (only tutoring for 6 months), I’d like to think I’m pretty good at reading people. I can tell when a student feels troubled today and when that same student feels motivated the next class session. I can see through the walls that students put up around themselves but instead of trying to break them down myself, I just want them to feel more at ease with speaking English and learn to destroy those walls themselves.

Which brings me to probably the most important thing I’ve learned so far. Maybe it doesn’t align with TAPIF’s expectations or even your own, but because I don’t see these students often enough, I don’t think the material I “teach” will stay in their heads the day after I’ve exposed them to said material. That’s okay with me.

Like I said, the most important thing for me is to have the students feel more at ease with speaking English. To be able to go up to a native English speaker and ask for help / directions or even to get to know them. To say Hello! How are you? To want to travel to a country where English is spoken. To break down language and social barriers with a force!

Despite all the outlets available on the internet, all the music videos and journals and blogs and whatever else is out there, there is nothing like having a native speaker right in front of you…waiting for you to say something. Wanting to listen to whatever you have to say (in English of course!).

But in fact, I find my role as a teaching assistant is not really based around teaching at all. In fact, it seems to revolve more around listening. Sometimes all these students want is to be heard. We have conversations more than we have lectures which is really what it’s supposed to be about right? Getting them to talk naturally in English?

What I’d like to do

I’m working on a survey just for my own curiosity which will allow me to gauge whether or not having a language assistant really helps. It will also teach me how to “plan lessons” more. Videos? Audios? Worksheets? Should I assign homework? Maybe I’m too easygoing in that I don’t assign homework or give quizzes. Maybe these students don’t think the way I teach helps them and that my classes are too boring. I hope that’s not the case but if it is, I’d really like to know! Or maybe (hopefully!!) the way I teach allows them to be more comfortable.

There is no one right way to teach and it certainly depends on the levels of the students and how they process information (visual? audio? oral?). It also depends on the teacher (or assistant) and how they try to connect to students. Do we show that we care? That we respect the students and they respect us? That whatever they do, think and say is important?

I don’t remember anything that I learned in high school or even during my college years! But what I learned was that I responded positively to teachers who made an effort to get to know me versus those who couldn’t give me two seconds of their day and I think that’s how people operate.

They respond positively to people who care or seem to care and those who affect them negatively will only get negative results.

Hopefully the survey will indicate whether or not my approach to teaching is helpful or harmful. Although if I have good intentions, that should be enough?

Those who’ve dabbled in teaching, what is your preferred approach?

One hundred percent Lorraine

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Pau and I spent this past weekend with one of my English colleague and her family. I’m pretty sure I heard “c’est typique Lorraine” over a hundred times! On Saturday, we were picked up from the lycée and made our way over to Dombasle-sur-Meurthe where they lived. We started with a late lunch and had a big meal as is the typical French way.

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Mirabelle dessert

We started with a dish that reassembled Shepard’s Pie. If you’ve had legit Shepard’s Pie either in the UK or in Ireland, you know this stuff is the best for cold weather! It’s a layer of mashed potatoes mixed with milk, a layer of ground beef, and another layer of potatoes. Then of course, you have to put a little (or a lot!) cheese on top before you put it in the oven to bake. SOOO delicious. I’m drooling right just writing about it. Then after this, we had a round of cheese. So chic really. After we had dessert. If there’s one thing that the people of the Lorraine region are really proud about, it is the Mirabelle. The Mirabelle is a type of prune-like fruit that grows on trees and seem to only prosper in the Lorraine region. There’s a huge industry and the mirabelles are often produced into jam, baked into pies, cakes and breads, etc… and my favorite, alcohol. Mirabelle liquor is extremely strong! There is a technique that comes with it. First you pour a little like a teaspoon on a cube of sugar and then you pop that sugar into your mouth and wait for the powerful sensory overload. Thinking about buying some bottles before I make my way back to California.

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My colleague and Pau

After a big meal, we all just sat back and relaxed. I was really unable to move. But then she put us to work. We were going to make quiches for dinner!! Yummm! Of course the recipe was “typique Lorraine”. Just flour, water, butter and a little salt. Pau and I took turns rolling out the dough.

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It was a lot of fun! We made quite a few. One was lardons, one was tuna and three were full of shredded-by-hand Emmenthal cheese. We also made two small quiches to take home.

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So dinner started and I was surprisingly hungry even though we had a feast. The meal was light though because it was quiche and I made sure not to overindulge myself. There was dessert after all! We had mirabelles (surprise!) and madeleines (although not homemade). Then it was off to the Basilica in Saint Nicolas!

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It was mass and although I’m not religious, I still wanted to experience this incredible mass service anyway. There were bishops and priests from all over the world! Japan, Turkey,  and others. The church was extremely crowded but still we ” pilgrimmaged” around the church, that is shuffled slowly behind mobs of people. Something about over a hundred people in enclosed areas and long candlesticks jousting in the air just didn’t seem right to me but when in Lorraine, do as the Lorraines do. We sang the Saint Nicolas song about a thousand times. Not exaggerating. They must’ve sung it for over three hours!! Soooo Lorraine..or rather catholic Lorraine.

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On Sunday, I relaxed and soaked in as much warmth as I could before trekking out to Nancy for the Saint Nicolas parade! There’s a whole legend behind it but basically he is generally known as the protector of children (and travellers and prisoners etc…). During this parade (imagine the one like at Disneyland but on a smaller scale), people participating would give out candy mostly to little children although if you’re lucky, hold out your hand and say “bonbon s’il vous plaît!!! (Candy please!!!), you just might get a piece of candy.

I couldn’t feel my feet anymore after hours of standing in the cold weather (I’m talking 1 degree Celsius! That’s about 33 degrees Fahrenheit for my US readers..) and at the end, it started to rain. Lovely (insert sarcasm). Heheh Pau and I took the train there and my colleague and her husband drove us home. But not until after we had a nice warm bowl of soup, leftover quiche and dessert. A great way to end the weekend!

The time I went to Luxembourg

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It was really cold (6 degrees Celsius – yikes!) but it was overall a great day.
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Pau and I left our apartment in Luneville at 6h50 and made our way to Nancy where we met up with two other assistants at 8. As the train left the station at 8h21, I was even more excited to visit Luxembourg’s capital. I had yet to visit it and only passed through on my way to the Netherlands with the school and was quite eager to explore the city.

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View from the ferris wheel

First impression? Wow, what a cute tiny city. After meeting up with two more assistants from Longwy, we exited the train station and was quickly met with a few Christmas market stalls. The air was incredibly brisk and even though I’d only had a coffee so far that morning, my excitement was more than enough to keep me going. We meandered through all the different places and visited the cathedral. Even though I’m not religious, I still respect the architecture of cathedrals although I never stay too long.

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A cup of glühwein

It was around 11h30 by the time we got to another Christmas market and of course, we all indulged in a warm cup of glühwein. Damn, it was strong! But it did its job and that was to warm you up. Most of us decided to keep the mugs (what did they expect? It’s a cool mug!). We slowly browsed through all the stalls and I was really impressed with it overall. I’m not a huge Christmas person but the environment was just (and it almost pains me to use this word) magical. I felt like Christmas was tomorrow. It wasn’t. The only  thing it was missing was snow. I cannot wait until the first snowfall of the area! Well it did snow briefly a month ago in The Vosges but not here in the cities yet .

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We walked some more but this time towards the Rive Clausen and Parc des Trois Glands. I soaked in the sights and was really grateful to be out and about even though it was so cold.

It was a pretty long week here at the Lycee and College and I really needed to refreshen my spirits. I’ve found a couple side jobs ie conversation classes outside of the lycee so preparing for that has taken an hour or so of my time. One of my teachers also asked me if I wanted to transcribe short video clips for her BTS Terminale classes and I agreed. Even though each video is only about 2 minutes, it takes some time to write down all the words. Well all in all, still enjoying my time here in France. I don’t even wanna think about May yet!
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The one time it felt good to enter the system

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have just finished validating my Visa de Long Séjour for France. I can finally relax.

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But in fact, it wasn’t that hard. I just amped myself up too much. After reading enough blogs about the dreaded medical visit of OFII, I was relieved that it wasn’t that bad. Even before leaving France, I was nervous that I had filled out the top part of the form wrong. It seemed so important yet you’ve only filled out half. Then you have to absolutely make sure the consulate stamps it.

After you’ve checked your folders so many times to make sure all your documents PLUS extra copies (I should’ve stapled them together separately. Then stamp at the extras together. Then have two extras in the luggage.”, you’ve landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in no time.

Almost two months later, there you are undressing your top part of the body, for a  radiologist. Even before you can blink, you’re on a coffee break waiting for the next place, planning ideas for lessons.

Haziness fogs in and somehow you’ve made it to the train station again.

Welcome to the system.