Exactly one year ago, I started my first day of work as an English teaching assistant in Douai, France. If things would’ve worked out as I was hoping for, I would be doing the same thing today! Unfortunately, that’s not the case – but when I look back at this year and everything that has happened, I am like whoa.
I spent 8 months in France, teaching 12 hours a week to French high school students. I definitely had my ups (like my great class of senior students who always greeted me with a smile) and downs (like that one time that I ended up yelling in French at my sophomores who didn’t want to listen to a word I was saying), but I definitely learned a lot. If I ever have the opportunity to do the assistantship again, I would take it.
I lived in a small city but made great friends from all over, including my roommates from Spain, Italy, and Germany and my other assistant friends living nearby.
Friday was the start of my two week vacation, and it couldn’t have come sooner! I just spend a beautiful weekend on the French coast at Cap Gris Nez and will be heading to Krakow, Poland on Thursday.
Just over three weeks ago, I was lucky to have a sort of mini-vacation when my parents came to see me over on this side of the pond. I hadn’t seen them since September! Even though I had to work a few days while they were here, we made the most of our time by spending some time in Paris and some time in good ol’ Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
Let me start out by saying that I am incredibly shocked by this weather that we are having in the north of France. Last year, at this time, it was snowy, slightly miserable, and freezing cold. This time around, I am looking out at a blue sky, 45 degrees, and no snow. Although the snow can be beautiful, it can also be quite a hassle when it comes to travel plans. My brother arrives in a week (AH!) and we have not yet had any snow. I’m praying it stays that way so that we can travel peacefully by train… as long as my beloved Frenchies don’t go on strike!
The ambiance of the Christmas season in France is similar to that in the United States, but it is presented in a different way. When I think of Christmas back home, I think of excitement, lots of shopping, family, food, pictures with Santa, and decorations at home (as well as at the malls). In France, there is definitely an air of excitement as well. I went to Lille four times last week and each time, the city was packed with people out to do their Christmas shopping. Walking in the streets, I felt like I was in a mosh pit; each time someone would move, the whole crowd would move as well. Since it took us several minutes to move not very far, at least we had time to take in all the beautiful decorations and lights that adorn the streets and buildings in the city. French cities, unlike my hometown in the states, go all-out when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Garlands, lights, bows, and trees are seen left, right, up, and down. Everywhere!
Oh, northern France. The winter is coming, and I am scared… it is already in the low 50’s every day, the weather is mostly rainy, and the nights are unbearable… ok they’re not that bad but seriously. It’s cold.
I can’t believe it’s only been 3 ½ weeks since I arrived! Not only has the weather changed, but my LIFE has changed. (Once again, being a bit dramatic, but seriously. It has.) I am really enjoying my apartment. It is always a pleasure to be able to meet internationals, and I get to live with three! It’s really nice to be able to share our cultures – which includes the food! – and to have new friends to go out or do everyday things with around the city. It’s also been great to spend time with some fellow assistants like the awesome Cydny! She is from Wisconsin and is hilarious. I’m sure you’ll hear more about her in the future. Another great change is how easy it has become to spend time with the boy. I can hop on a train and be in Lille within 30 minutes and we can eat together during his lunch break, which we did today. That is much different than having to shell out money for a plane ticket and spend 12 hours traveling in order to see each other!
Last week was my first round of observations, and I must say it went rather well! In several classes, I’ve stood in front of the room and the students asked me questions about myself ranging from “What is your name?” to “Out of the seven deadly sins, which one do you identify with?” Haha! I can certainly identify with the grammar issues that most students have trouble with. I remember when I was just starting to learn French; I was timid to speak and I definitely made silly errors. I can easily understand the mistakes they are making, thanks to my knowledge of French, which helps me naturally explain what they’ve done wrong.
As I was just getting comfortable with the streets of Hazebrouck, it was time for me to move again – to Douai, France where I will be living and teaching for the remainder of my time here.
Last Friday, I went to my school to meet the English teachers and fill out paperwork. All of it went extremely well. The teachers are very welcoming, the administrative assistants were quite helpful, and everything was extremely organized. My name was on my bedroom door, mailbox, and even the buzzer outside if I should have a guest come visit me. So exciting! I returned to Hazebrouck for Friday night (with an unexpected detour to Arras… apparently I still have problems catching the right train) and spent it with Michel and some of his friends. Saturday morning, I repacked/threw everything back into my suitcase and later in the afternoon Michel and I made the one hour drive to Douai. We dropped off my things and walked around Douai for a bit, and my goodness, is it charming!
As you all could tell, if you read my previous post, or have been victim to my countless rants in person or via Facebook, I have been oh so very patient while waiting for my work contract to come in the mail. Ha!
Well, no worries – I finally got it in the mail yesterday!