Monday, June 27, 2011

Chaperoning TWENTY-ONE 10-11 year olds to the UK…

I just got back from a week in the UK with a class of twenty-one 10-11 year olds. It was quite the exhausting experience, but, nevertheless, it was enjoyable.

Since I started working at L’Ecole Jules Verne in September 2010 I have been helping with the planning and organization of this past week’s weeklong exchange with Bishops Cannings Primary School in Devizes, UK. My main responsibilities included the scheduling of the transportation (on the UK end) and the communication between both the schools via email and telephone. At the beginning I never knew that I was going to be invited to go to the UK with this class, so when Pascal (the school’s director and the CM2 class’ teacher) asked me to go with them I was very excited.

We left for Bishops Cannings Primary School on Monday, June 20 at 9:15AM from the train station in Tours and finally arrived around midnight in the UK. We took a train from Tours to Caen, a bus from Caen to Ouistreham, a ferry across the English Channel from Ouistreham to Portsmouth, and another bus from Portsmouth to Bishops Cannings Primary School! It was a very long journey…about 15-hours of traveling with very excited, screaming, and tired schoolchildren along the way.

When we arrived at Bishops Cannings all of the students were paired with their respective host families. There were two students per each host family. Lesley Thomas, one of the teachers at the school, and her son Matthew (a recent college graduate who has moved back home…) hosted me during my stay in Devizes.

On Tuesday we began our first day of work at Bishops Cannings. We started the day with a morning assembly, where the students at Bishops Cannings sang a religious song (“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”) and Pascal said a few words about our visit and the work we would be doing. Our main project while in England was to create a bilingual, informational video on the region. The funny thing about the assembly was that our students clapped after the religious song because they thought it was a performance for them. OOPS! After the assembly the kids split up into groups (2 English, 2 French) and began preparing texts/commentaries on the sites that we would be visiting the following day in Bath, UK. When school was over many of the kids headed to an afterschool program (athletics) and in the evening there was a bowling event for all the students.

On Wednesday we headed to Bath…on a very gray, rainy day. We arrived and it was pouring rain (and of course there were a handful of students without umbrellas or raincoats). Our first stop was a group tour of the Roman Baths; it was very interesting to see after having been to Italy and having seen ruins of baths. However, I was not able to truly appreciate everything and probably read and looked at about 20% of the stuff at the Roman Baths. I was too worried about herding schoolchildren through and making sure that we did not lose any of the 49 kids! When we finished the tour of the Roman Baths we had a picnic lunch in front of Bath Abbey (the weather cleared up!) and then we split into two groups to wander around Bath and continue filming for our video. My group saw Henrietta Park, Pultney Bridge, Bath Rugby Field, the Royal Crescent, and Victoria Park. When we returned to Devizes, the teachers and their respective hosts headed out to dinner together at the Barge Inn Restaurant.

On Thursday we spent the morning at Bishops Cannings preparing texts/commentaries for our afternoon trips to Stonehenge, three of theWiltshire White Horses, and Avebury.  When we returned from our coach tour of these sites there was a farewell BBQ at Bishops Cannings for all of the students and host families.

We left very early on Friday morning to start our journey back to Tours….5AM from Bishops Cannings! The voyage back home was only slightly more peaceful than the voyage to the UK. We thought that the kids would be so tired from having to wake up around 4AM, but we were wrong. They still proceeded to load up on sugary sweets in the gift shops on the ferry and have enough energy to drive Pascal, Pierre (English teacher at Jules Verne), and myself crazy all the way until we pulled into the Tours train station at 7:36PM.

All in all, this was a wonderful way to end my time in France as a teaching assistant. I was able to experience a school field trip from the other end…allowing me to further appreciate all the teachers I have had since kindergarten. Also, my tolerance for noise has definitely increased too! I got a lot closer to many of my students and it is sad that I will not be teaching them anymore. Many of them asked me if I would be at their schools next year, and I sadly had to say no.

Well, I have 9 more days in France! GAH! -ALEX

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The French Mediterranean Coast…It’s not all The French Rivera

It is interesting to note that almost all the holiday breaks and days off for schools are associated with a religious event in France. For a country that often states that there is a clear separation of church and state…these days off do pose some interesting questions.

I recently returned from a four-day trip to Marseille where I visited my friend Katharine (a fellow assistant who was assigned a 7-month contract, but is still enjoying her time in the country). I had a long weekend because of L’Ascension, so I decided to make a trip out of it. I, again, used the Tours Airport and the infamous RyanAir…the convenience and cost is truly unbeatable.

While in Marseille I was able to take in a different kind of France. Marseille is the third largest city in France (after Lyon, with Paris being the largest), and it is truly a city. There is nothing fancy or Mediterranean-chic about the city; it is no Nice, Cannes, or French Rivera. The people don’t seem to try as hard when they are putting together an outfit, the streets are nowhere near clean, there are no swarms of tourists, and the white, homogenous, French population who might expect is not the normal sight. It is a real city, and that is what I appreciated the most about my visit.

I went bike riding along the Corniche with the city bikes, I had a delicious tajine made by one of Katharine’s roommates, I partied until 8AM, I visited Notre Dame de la Garde (via the tourist train), I made my first gumbo with K2, and I laid out on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. I had a great time catching up with K2, discussing our future plans, the problems with our generation (thanks to the NYTimes article “Its Not All About You”), and the ever changing world that seems to be steering itself away from an American-center.

Thanks for a great visit in Marseille! Now…come visit me in Tours?!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Friends, Drinks, Indian Food, and La Loire

I really wish that the United States had more of a “café culture” like France. It is great to be able to grab a drink with some friends and sit and people watch at the end of a long day. In the US you can sit outside and enjoy the weather, but it is really hard to find a place with consistent and interesting pedestrian traffic.

On Thursday I had the pleasure of meeting Ryan’s mum. Ryan, his mum, Melanie, and myself went out for a drink at Les Berthom (off of Rue Nationale) before having dinner together chez Ryan. We had a delicious mushroom, spinach, and onion risotto for dinner, along with some fois gras and salami for a starter, a nice selection of cheeses for after, and some petit fours for dessert. It was wonderful to share our experiences in France with Ryan’s mum over some wine and good food; it was a lovely evening.

On Friday Emma came back for a weekend visit to Tours, so Caroline, Melanie, and I met up with her at JS’ bar off of “La Place de Monstre” for a drink and some catching up. We then headed to La Pale on Rue Colbert for a bit before grabbing a bite to eat at an Indian restaurant (also on Rue Colbert). The food was delicious! Caroline and I shared some samosas, naan, palaak paneer, and shahi korma. YUMMY! The only complaint we had was that it was not spicy enough…next time!? Dinner was followed by a trip to the banks of La Lore for some live music and a bottle of rosé at La guinguette de Tours sur Loire! La guinguette is an outdoor bar that sits on the banks of La Loire; it just opened on Friday night so it was filled with university students celebrating the completion of classes and exams, as well as other people who wanted to have a good time.

Well, that is about it for this weekend for me. Saturday and Sunday were lazy days…grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, gym, etc. Nothing too exciting! I might head to Paris on Wednesday for the day with Caroline…we’re going to go explore one or two museums and then try and meet up with Devlin, Emma, and Melanie.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The European Traveler

It has been SO LONG since I last wrote about my experiences as a teaching assistant in Tours…that I do not even know where to start this entry!

Well, A LOT has certainly happened since mid-March (when I wrote about the wine tasting and vineyard tour that I did with Devlin and Jenny after one of the many English workshops we helped lead). I visited my sister in Barcelona for a weekend, I had a fabulous weekend in Paris with my best friend’s family, I had an absolutely incredible family vacation with my mom and sister, I went to Cambridge University in the UK, and I, sadly, said goodbye to all of the friends I had made.

One of the greatest things I have been able to do, during my time abroad, is travel Europe by low-cost airline, train, cruise ship, and bus. Europe is so accessible when it comes to traveling; the ability to travel from EU country to EU country has made this teaching experience wonderful.

Since I do not work on Wednesdays, have to be at work after noon on Mondays, and have no classes after noon on Fridays, I have been able to take weekend trips to visit friends and family abroad. When I picked my teaching hours in October I had this in mind, and I am so happy that I have been able to use it to my advantage.

Barcelona with my sister was so much fun; I had never been to BCN before, so my sister Jackie showed me many of the touristy sites. We were also able to spend time together catching up, since I hadn’t seen her since August 2010. We sat on beaches, hung out with her senora (Rosa), and enjoyed beautiful weather!

Paris is always fabulous…and especially since I have such gracious hosts when I am there! My best friend’s mom came into visit her sister in Paris for a handful of days and I met up with her. We explored the touristy parts of Paris, but also enjoyed each other’s company over rosé and while people watching in some of the many Parisian parks.

Family vacations can be stressful, overwhelming, and to a certain degree not as relaxing as they should be. All families eventually get sick of each other. My mom came to visit me for 3.5 weeks and during her time in Europe we: (1) met up with Jackie in Sorrento, Italy for a four day vacation that took us along the Amalfi Coast, to Capri, and to the ruins of Pompeii, (2) cruised on the Mediterranean stopping in the ports of Villefranche, France, Palma de Mallorca, and Barcelona, Spain, (3) discovered the architecture wonders of Barcelona, Spain, and (4) went back in history exploring the chateaux of Amboise, Blois, Chambord, Chenonceau, and Cheverny in The Loire Valley. It was SO MUCH FUN…and at no point was I ever “stressed”…”overwhelmed”…or “not as relaxed as I should have been”! I didn’t want my mom to leave!

More recently, I visited The University of Cambridge and got to see Lindsay (a friend who is doing her Master’s there) and our friend Stephanie who is traveling a bit before moving to Jamaica to do some volunteer work with children and a literacy program. We had not seen each other since we graduated in May 2010…so it was great to look back over our year and see what we’ve done. The mini-Wooster Reunion took us all around the city of Cambridge…from English pubs and fish and chips to playing board games and drinking coffee!

However, the hardest and most difficult thing that has happened over these past two-months has been saying goodbye to many of the amazing friends I have made. I was the only teaching assistant in my circle of friends that had a 9-month contract…so everyone (Caroline, Devlin, Emma, Jenna, Jenny, John, Kag, Miriam, Ryan) is practically gone now! We had a farewell garden party at my house about a month ago (right before my mom arrived in mid-April), as well as one last dinner at a creperie off of Place Plume. I hope all is well with all of them…you are ALL missed!

So, that is a quick update of what has been going on these past couple of months. I hope to have more regular updates during the next 2-months before my departure in early July 2011.

Peace and love from France, ALEX

Monday, April 4, 2011

Photo Challenge

The "Photo Challenge" has long been over...but I am finally getting to posting all of my photos (as well as Jenny's). Over the course of February (and through the end of our Winter Break--early March) Jenny and I had a list of 15 things that we need to take pictures of. So, here are the 15 things that we captured (first photo is Jenny's, second is mine). 

(1) Bicycle
 02/08/2011: The BICYCLE that sits outside the "antique" (I don't believe all of her wares are antiques...) shop below our apartment.

 02/04/2011: "BICYCLE" - Wandering around Les Halles and snapped my first photo for Jenny and my Photo Challenge.
(2) Umbrella
02/21/2011: Long walk out to Chateau Palmer in the downpours and gusting winds. Not sure if the UMBRELLA was more of a help or a hindrance...

02/15/2011: "UMBRELLA" - Another cold and rainy day in Tours; I was waiting at Emilie Zola to catch my bus into Tours Nord.
(3) Iconic French
 02/14/2011: ICONIC: French cinephilie. Love that this is taught in France dès l'ecole primaire!

02/16/2011: "ICONIC FRENCH" - I think this sums up France in a picture...BAGUETTE!
(4) Faux Pas
 02/07/2011: French FAUX PAS: Il faut pas wear tenue de sport when walking around in public. Even when walking 4 blocks to the gym. Je dois avoir la honte! I should be ashamed of my American self.

 03/06/2011: "FAUX PAS"- Welcome Back to France! Clean up after your dogs... ;)
 (5) The Letter Q
 03/05/2011: Q's Q and prepping for departure =(

03/01/2011: "THE LETTER Q" - Kaitlyn and I went to see a free screening of "The Adjustment Bureau"...hosted by the radio station Q104.
(6) Reflection
02/25/2011: Catching gold, crystals, and sunlight in the REFLECTION in the Hall of Mirrors at Versaille Palace.

02/09/2011: "REFLECTION" - Walking to Chantal's for our usual afternoon chat/hang out. Saw these teapots on Rue de la Scellerie in an antique shop.
(7) Monochrome
03/04/2011: MONOCHROME at multiple levels here: RED lights at the Moulin ROUGE in the RED light district ;]

02/06/2011: "MONOCHROME" - Took a bike ride to Le Parc Municipal de l'Ile Simon...and finally saw "Le Pata” created by Maj-siri Österling in 2001.
(8) Music
03/03/2011: Finally a clear day! Sunshine and foot tapping MUSIC in front of the Pantheon. Simply happy moment.

03/05/2011: "MUSIC"- At Cleveland Hopkins Airport and walked into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Store...saw this guitar.
(9) Self-Portrait
03/06/2011: SELF PORTRAIT by shadow: finally walked out to Ile Simon and spent a good hour taking pictures of a) the sun and b) all the graffiti on the skate park and under the bridge. It was even warm enough in the sun that I tossed my jacket on the ground. Pray this means the next six weeks are only getting warmer and sunnier!

02/07/2011: "SELF-PORTRAIT" - Walking home from school down Rue Nationale and thought that this reflective surface would make for a perfect and interesting self-portrait photo.
(10) Damaged/Broken
02/11/2011: Poor sad, DAMAGED/BROKEN little house post that I loved while trying to find my way to an inservice this afternoon.

02/11/2011: "DAMAGED/BROKEN" - I was walking to drop off my recycling and dropped one of the bottles...OOPS!
(11) Coffee
02/20/2011: Mine and Mom's game of racing sugar to test the foam in our capuccino COFFEES in Bordeaux's Place de la Comedie.

02/28/2011: "COFFEE" - French press coffee at my Aunt Shirley's house. Kaitlyn and I made crepes for the family...hope I am not sick of them by the time I get back from the USA!
(12) Diamond
02/19/2011: Love locks and DIAMONDS with a view of Notre Dame on Mom's first day in Pair-ee.

02/23/2011: "DIAMOND" - Walking around THE Chagrin Falls with Kaitlyn and saw this diamond on a brick wall off of Main Street.
(13) Architecture
 03/02/2011: This picture so captures this moment. Notice our faces as we get swindled for photos by the Fabio-esque gladiator in front of one of the greatest pieces of ARCHITECTURE of the ancient world. Awesome.

02/22/2011: "ARCHITECTURE" - Looking out from my mom's office building. Spent the afternoon downtown at the dentist and then had dinner at Johnny's (Cleveland Restaurant Week)...and then PICKED UP KWEVANS!
(14) I am here
 02/22/2011: I AM HERE: the final panel of modern art in Toulouse's Place de la Capitole has a mirror to reflect all the people that make the city what it is.

02/19/2011: "I AM HERE" - Flying from Paris to Newark...and yes, if you look close enough you can see where the plane is on the map! :)
(15) Trust
02/23/2011: TRUST - Mother-child statue in Toulouse

 03/03/2011: "TRUST"- Dropped Kaitlyn off at the airport...another sad day!

Well, there they all are! Let us know what you think! :) We have still yet to see who the "winner" is, but maybe this weekend at our "English Assistant Party"!?