Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Avoir la gueule de bois = To be hungover

So let me tell you a story that begins with me sat at my computer feeling rather exhausted after making it all the way to the university campus and back and ends with me rolling in to my apartment drunk at 5.30am....
Yesterday I went to the university campus to talk to a man about acting in some educational videos which I’ve been encouraged to participate in as one of the teachers at my school is one of the editors. Last time I went to the university campus it was for the first training day and a coach drove me there so I was slightly concerned that I would get lost having to find my own way there – but I made it! And when I came back I turned on my computer to ponder what to do with the rest of my day – watch ‘Secret Diary of a Call Girl’ or actually start my uni work for once? Only to see a message on that useful social network site whose name begins with an F (but I couldn’t be sure as I don’t check it 5 times a day!) from Rosie, (the British Council Assistant from last year at the same school as me who I befriended virtually in the summer and rather stalked in order to find out about life in Dijon before coming here. But it’s ok, Rosie, I know you stalk me too, you told me yourself you’ve read my blog!) The message was to say that she was in Dijon and would I like to meet for coffee in an hour or two and come to a house party/gathering tonight. The answer to both these questions was obviously YES!
We went for coffee/hot chocolate in my favourite cafe and had a lively chat about all the teachers at Hippolyte. I can only imagine that it was a bit weird for Rosie to hear all about the teachers and students at the place she worked at for the best part of a year but since then has been to Madrid and gone back to uni so often it must feel like a life time ago (how weird it is to think that the roles will be reversed in twelve months time!)
I can now add another person to my growing list of friends at the University of Bristol (the list stands at 5 people, 4 of which I have met in Dijon). Now as a local I obviously have certain stereotypes about University of Bristol students – namely that they are all really rahh (that is that the girls wear Pearls Pumps and Pashminas or Uggs boots and they dress in Jack Wills and they went to private school and they’re probably quite rich) and they go out to places like (the Lizard) Lounge, PooNaNas and Umbargo or just generally anywhere on the Triangle and don’t mix with the plebs who go to Syndicate or Panache. And while stereotypes wouldn’t exit if they didn’t hole some truth, I can happily confirm that all the Bristol students I know are lovely lovely people who have contributed in a very positive way to my Dijon experience. So I might think twice now next time I’m out in Bristol and some girl is drunk on the floor before tutting ‘eugh, Bristol students’ and I might instead tut ‘eugh, idiot’.
So now we’ve got that out the way – on to the soiree! After coffee I went home for some dinner and to watch some film which was basically just about getting high and although I was very comfy on the sofa I forced myself to go out determined not to miss an opportunity to meet some real French people who live in Dijon. The gathering was being hosted by Rosie’s (French) boyfriend and his flatmates and friends in the flat Rosie lived in last year. I didn’t really know what to expect but everyone was so lovely to me and kept on asking me lots of questions and keeping me involved in the conversations. And several drinks later we were dancing round the room in costume to the classics of Britney, Spice Girls and Michael Jackson. I had a brilliant time and it was great to finally meet Rosie in person and to meet all her lovely French friends and I rolled in at 5.30am feeling very drunk but happy to have met some lovely people and with a promise that there will be another soiree soon I am finally starting to live like a student in Dijon!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

God Bless France and its Bank Holidays!

I’ve come to accept that you essentially do nothing as a language assistant. Twelve hours a week is the minimum number of hours a week I work at the on-campus coffee shop when I’m at uni and that’s on top of my studies and all my swimming and theatre stuff. It was also the number of hours I fitted in working at my local supermarket on top on studying for my A levels and partying too much for a minor (but then, hey, I come from Bristol!) But twelve hours a week when you have nothing else to do is really nothing!
My timetable dictates that I have the odd few hours during the week and then a full day Friday which means I do nothing all week and then I come home stressed and tired on a Friday like the rest of the working world. Sure, there is prep to do but as a walking-talking resource my prep mainly involves finding an article and then writing a few questions to prise a few English sentences out of French teenagers – easy. I also privately tutor a boy once a week which takes more prep as the lesson is 2 hours and not 1 hour as my classes at school are. I have to admit that one of the reasons I have it so easy is because I am at a lycee (sort of like Sixth Form) so my main role is to just get the kids talking and practicing their English – which is already of a fairly good level. I’m sure if I was at a college (years 7-10) or an ecole maternelle (primary school) I would have to be much more creative about my lessons and spend more time planning as things like games and songs would be more important.
So what do I do when I’m not doing the world’s easiest job you ask? I enjoy myself! I’m starting to feel a bit guilty about enjoying myself so much when my French flatmates work so hard. One of my flatmates is a first year medic and spends all her time revising for the concours which is basically a load of exams and interviews to see if you can cut it as a medic – sort of like an Oxbridge entrance interview on crack. In France it’s not all that hard to get in to uni as long as you pass the bac (sort of like A levels) but then your first year sucks as you have to prove that you can make the cut. I’m told once first year is over and you’ve (hopefully) passed the concours its all plain sailing on your route to become a doctor – how can this be? Doesn’t it just get harder?!?! So when I’m sleeping my housemate is already up and revising. My other housemate is a sixth year medic and so is already basically a doctor so he gets up early and comes back late and works super hard at a hospital (but when he’s not at work we hang out and watch movies which is nice.)
In contrast to my flatmates I spend my days shopping, going for coffee or meals out with friends, going to the cinema and being a tourist and I spend my evenings in bars.
Now on to the title of this entry – only 2 weeks ago did we have a week off for Toussaint (All Saints’) and then this Thursday we had more time off because it was Remembrance Day (that’s a public holiday in France) and then Friday was a pont (lit: bridge, but what is means is that coz the Bank Holiday fell on a Thursday we get Friday off.) I don’t have classes on Tues and Weds anyway so this week I just had class on Monday! Awesome! So what did I do with another week off?
On Tuesday I went clothes shopping. On Wednesday I had tutoring and then met up with a friend to make a vague start on our Year Abroad Project then went to a bar in the evening. On Thursday I went to the cinema to see Les Petits Mouchoirs – if you speak French I can highly recommend this film! I welled up at the end but my friend Kirsty was full on blubbing! It was a very sad film but also hilarious in different parts – it was fab! On Thursday me and another friend went up the Dijon Tower and despite the bad weather had a fine view of the city and then we went for hot chocolate to warm our souls up! Then it was one of the other assistants birthday so we went out to yet another bar. Another assistant friend had a friend from uni who is doing a work placement in Paris over for the weekend but as he’s not allowed guests his friend stayed at mine for 2 nights. After coming back at 2am-ish me and Ed stayed up talking until gone 4am and then had to get up at 9am as I had a train to catch! So despite being very very tired I met Kirsty, Will, Lindsay and Julie (and later 2 assistants from Auxerre) at the station to go to Besancon – a nearby city. We climbed up a massive hill to go to an old fort thing which has been turned in to a zoo – I felt like a proper kid getting excited by all the ‘ammimals’ but it was lots of fun and I had a lovely steak at the overpriced restaurant! We then wondered around the town which was very pretty and reminded us in parts of Dijon but we also counted our lucky stars that we were placed in Dijon and not Besancon! We then returned for yet another night out. This was meant to be a ‘wild’ night out but what actually happed was we enjoyed the cheap cocktails then quite a few people bailed understandably due to tiredness and then us ‘hardcore’ lot went to a night club but didn’t get in coz one of the guys was wearing a (very nice) polo shirt and not a shirt shirt (wtf, its Dijon not London! Why the strict dress code?) Anyway we were so knackered we were delighted by the thought of bed, we came back and slept like babies! And that brings you up to speed! All in all a very fun weekend!
Being a language assistant for your year abroad would be the equivalent to a year off to travel and party in France why being paid to do it if it wasn’t for the fact that I also have uni work to do while I’m here. And while I have more than enough time to do it I have next to no motivation to do it coz the alternatives to staying in and writing an essay are just too appealing! I really will start one day – honest – some of it’s in soon! Ahh!

Sunday, 31 October 2010


I’m sure anyone learning a new language has experienced the moment when you learn a new word and then you hear it everywhere and then you’re not sure how you ever really lived before without knowing that word.
Most recently for me that word is bouger, it has never come up in school or uni but now I’m in France I must hear it at least 3 times a day. It means ‘to move’ or ‘to move around’ and can be used a wide range of contexts. For example my landlady said to her friend the other day ‘Katie, elle bouge beaucoup’ (lit: ‘Katie, she moves around alot’) meaning ‘Katie, she travels alot’. Or I’ve heard it being used in the context of the sort of dancing you might do at a night club. I’ve even just heard it to replace the verb aller (to go). When I asked a French person about this word she told me it’s au courant which is probably why they never taught it to us at school or uni but I can now safely say it is part of my French lexis. But I bet by the time I return to French classes at uni it will be out of fashion!
I have been doing a lot of bouge-ing recently. This week we are on Toussaint (All Saints) holiday (god bless France and its Catholic holidays) so I kindly took up the invitation from my French assistant from when I was in year 13 to spend a few days with her in Lyon and then a few friends from Dijon (other assistants) joined me for a few more days in Lyon and then we went to Annecy. In sum, Lyon is amazing with loads to see and it was very exciting being in such a busy city after being in the relativly small city for Dijon for a month. Lyon - c'est une ville qui bouge! (Lyon - it's a happening city!) Annecy's main attraction is a stunning lake at the foot of the Alpes and was a complete contrast to Lyon but also absolutely supurb! Many things happened on this holiday but for now I would like to share just a few moments with you:
  1. I attended my first French dinner party. Patricia (my French assistant from year 13 who I stayed with in Lyon) and her boyfriend hosted another couple for dinner. The prep for the food started at 5pm yet the guests didn’t arrive until 9pm, we didn’t start with the aperitifs until 10pm and after 3 different types of snack foods, 1 bottle of wine and 2 bottles of strawberry and rhubarb alcoholic liquor (a Picardy speciality – the region where Patricia is posted as an English teacher) we finally sat down for our starter at midnight. After 4 courses (starter, main, cheese and desert – that’s right in France the cheese course is before desert, which makes much more sense than the other way round quite frankly!) and several more bottles of wine we had our after dinner coffee at around 2 am! (Sadly there were no after dinner mints!) What can I say, the French take eating seriously!
  2. When we turned up for our coach from Lyon to Annecy (in good time I might add) it was clear that there were more than 1 coach worth of people waiting for the coach. In true French style there was much pushing and shoving to get on the one coach and no real form of a orderly queue and as the bus driver waved goodbye to us and the rest of the other stranded passengers (bastard!) it became evident that there would be no second coach and that they had just sold way more tickets than there were seats (a little bit of common sense and planning could have avoided this problem surely?) We were told that we would just have to wait two hours (!!) for the next coach and then 5 minutes later we were told that we could get the train to somewhere else in Rhone-Alpes (the name escapes me right now) and then get a bus from there to Annecy which is what we did all the way laughing at the stupidly of the French’s lack of fore planning.
  3. Our train from Lyon to Dijon was delayed and French for delay/late is retard and despite knowing this word since year 7 nothing stopped us from finding the word retard flashing on the screen over and over again hilarious! Vivre la France and your silly words!
Today (in case you didn’t know is Halloween) and we had all been told that the French don’t celebrate Halloween. And apart from a few chocolate shops (yes that’s right they have many chocolate shops in France, not like England with your chains of Thortons and Hotel Chocolat, no, France has lots of independent chocolatires) selling pumpkin shaped sweets and the odd bar with a few pathetic Halloween decorations, it would appear that this statement is true. However at the very early hour of 4pm (before it had even got dark) a small group of dressed-up children turned up at my door and didn’t even say anything that resembled ‘trick or treat’ they just demanded bonbons, sadly I was unable to offer them any so they just sheepishly sulked off.
I celebrated Halloween this year by hosting my very own French dinner party (yes we had the appropriate 4 courses and bottleS of wine). It was so much fun to cook for people for the first time in ages and it was a lovely evening spent with people who are quickly becoming dear friends of mine and it was the perfect way to spend my last evening in the lovely house in Northern Dijon that has been my home for the last month as tomorrow I move to my apartment in the centre-ville.
Time for more bouge-ing!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Give the dog a Beaune!

At the weekend we went to Beaune. There was about twenty of us made up of English/American and Spanish assistants. The plan has been to go nice and early and while the rest of the group logged off Facebook to get a good night’s rest before getting up early I was still online when one of our group send an emergency message saying that the trains weren’t running until noon (coz of the strikes obviously! ) So I went to sleep safe in the knowledge that I in fact had a lie in, only to wake up to panicked texts from the others thinking they’d missed the train! Anyway we all managed to meet in the end and we made it to Beaune. Beaune is a town not far from Dijon and is on the list of ‘must sees in Burgundy’ mainly coz of its pretty appearance and good wine. And wine (and cheese) was what we went in search of! We went to the annual cheese and wine festival and for the bargain price of 12 euros we were handed a plate, knife and wine glass on entrance and encouraged to try as much wine and cheese as we wanted! Which we did! So feeling rather full and a little bit tipsy we left the festival with the intention of being tourists in Beaune but we were too cold to look at pretty buildings and too cheap to pay to go in to museums so instead we went to a cafe/bar and drank mulled wine with the promise to return to Beaune when the weather is warmer!
Perhaps because it is so cold here the most popular way to spend our free time has been to go to the cinema. In three weeks I have seen 3 films, this is more than I normally manage in a whole year! I have seen Mange, Prie, Aime (that’s Eat, Love, Pray) and I am now ready the sequel en francais , Inception which has now confirmed its place as one of my favourite films ever (I was able to follow the French version because I’ve already seen it in English!) And last night we saw the Social Network (in English because it would have been a crime to see it dubbed when it is a film that embodies our generation and thus so many cultural references would have been lost in translation.)
In other news, I’m still not all that further with my flat. I tried to get ‘une caution’ (a letter that confirms in the event I don’t pay my rent they will) from the bank but the admin takes 3-4 weeks to get one and I wanna move in at the end of this month! So my bank manager (that’s right I have my own French bank manager) suggested I offer 2-3 months rent in advance to show I’m serious. He even offered me an INTEREST FREE loan of 2000 euros to be paid back in 6 months to help me pay the rent which I thought was very generous of him but I’d rather not owe a French bank money if I can help it. The other problem is that the agency also require a pay slip to confirm that I am salaried but as we get paid a month in arrears I can’t get a pay slip until November! But the secretary of the Retorat (lady in charge of the Acedemie – or Local Educational Authority) did say she can write me a letter confirmed I salaried. So the plan is to turn up at the agency on Saturday with every bit of paper I can get my hands on, wave a bit of money at them and beg. But if it fails I’ve found another flat not asking for paperwork!
So I may have only been here 4 weeks but its half term already! And I am going to Lyon to stay with my French assistant from year 13! I wonder if I will stay in touch with some of my older students and host them in a few years time?!?!
And before I sign off, a word about the’s actually crazy! Been going on for 7 days now, no buses after 8pm and huge demonstrations in the town centre every day! And when I say huge, I mean an absolute sea of people! And twice now the entrance to my school has been barricaded with bins on fire and riot police – which I find very entertaining!
Anyways its dinner time! Bye!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

French administration

So basically I hate French administration! I thought that I was done with it for the year but no! I have submitted all the papers for a social security number, I have signed my life away at the school and I have successfully opened a bank account. The only thing I had left to do paper work wise was to gear myself up to troll through the requirements for the CAF (housing benefits) (and even then I was thinking I might not bother), right? Wrong!
So I’ve found an apartment! Yay! We all shout! Well apparently I can’t go ‘yaying’ yet. The apartment is lovely, a little pricey but in a perfect location and really spacious and homely and its sharing with a first year medic who seems a little studious for my liking but she seems really sweet and has promised to introduce me to all her friend friends and while she likes to work hard she does go out on Friday nights, win, win! And she’s happy for me to move in whenever and move out whenever and all I have to do is pop a cheque down to the agency each month for the rent, simple as! It would appear that we were both very wrong! Basically my (cross all fingers and toes, and pray a little bit too) new flatmate is on a 3 year lease with her cousin but her cousin in moving out (hence why I can move in) but the agency was on the understanding that I was going to take on the rest of the 3 year lease, not just stay until May!
“Houston, we have a problem!”
So me and Florelle (what a cool name by the way) are going to the agency at NINE AM on Saturday to BEG the agency to let me move in...Surely this can be resolved simply by Florelle promising to honour the 3 year lease and her finding a new flatmate when I move out to help her pay the rent? But knowing the French it will probably be much more complicated than that and they might even say no! (I’m praying – in a non-religious way – that this doesn’t happen!) But just in case it does, I’ve lined up another viewing (in an all boy house!)
So wish me luck....

Monday, 11 October 2010

So I live in Dijon now! "What?" you say...

Ok so it would appear that I am a really crap blogger as I never finished telling you readers (if I have any) about the rest of my Canada trip or about any of Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In sum, the rest of Canada blew my mind, the scenery in the Rookies is spectacular and I met loads of Aussies who I got really drunk with...Edinburgh...well...QMTC rocks! Our plays had fabulous audiences and rave reviews and I had a wonderful time teching Figs in Wigs and I ate too many battered sausages (and probably had one too many pints!)
So, guess what? I’m actually in France! After all the thinking, talking, worrying, crying I did and all the resentment and excitement (mainly resentment) I felt I’m actually on my year abroad!
And it’s fair to say that only the tiniest part of me wanted to come (and that’s only coz I wanna be fluent in French, not coz I wanted to leave my pretty near darn perfect live(d) in London and Bristol) and most of me didn’t want to go so I spent the whole lead up to this year in denial. And that means I did no form of research or planning. I just winged it...and do you know what? It’s turned out alright!
So, here I am living in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy – so yes you’ve guessed it, it’s all mustard and wine! But there’s more to Dijon than that! I’ve already been to a few churches and museums and there are plenty more where they came from! I am acquainting myself with the town (the French claim it’s a city, I’m not convinced), I have found the H&M (this is important), I have found my favourite spot to drink coffee and some nice restaurants to eat it (also important) and even a couple of bars but as of yet no clubs but I’m informed they do have them here! Dijon is adorable; it’s a nice sized city, about the size of the centre of Bath and just as charming. It’s also very French; I pity any tourists who don’t speak French who may come to search of mustard?
I have made some friends with other assistants here in Dijon (we even have our own cliquey Facebook group going on) and as well as eating and drinking meet ups have included cultural visits and on Wednesday involves a trip to Ikea (also cultural, but of a different sort!)
I am working at a medium sized lycee (sorta like a sixth form college for those not up on the lingo) and the teachers and kids seem nice although I’m utterly confused about my timetable but I’m told that’s normal to be confused by the organisation of French institutions! I’m teaching 15-22 year olds!!! That’s right after French students finish the bac (kinda like A levels) those who don’t go to uni stay on and do what’s called a BTS where they learn a trade or something but they still have English class. Today one of the BTS students came up to me in town and asked me what I was doing; shamefully I had to admit that I was buying Glamour (en francais I might add!)
So aside from all the jolly things the main stress has been accommodation (as I expected it to be). I am living with a friend of one of the English teachers at my school who is this super lovely, well travelled and very interesting lady who has a very large and very nice house with a pretty garden all to herself (apart from her sons who visit and another student who stays 2 nights a week). The house and my landlady really are perfect, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer person to settle me in to life in Dijon (and she cooks yummy food!) The only problem is I’m a city kinda girl who needs to be in walking distance of the shops and clubs so I have decided to look for somewhere more central than my current location. Telling my wonderful landlady was heart breaking and I cried and I think she did too, and the heartbreak isn’t over yet coz I haven’t yet moved yet but as a selfish move as it will be, I think it’s the right one, I’m afraid to say it but MY year abroad is about ME, if it was about other people I won’t be here (I know someone in particular who can vouch for that.)
For those who are interested in French actualities there’s a strike tomorrow meaning school’s a bit of a wash out so I have the whole day in bed....hence why I’m writing my blog at 1.30am!
Until next time...

Friday, 2 July 2010

Happy Canada Day!

So I spent 48 hours in Toronto with my lovely friend from home Abi. We didn’t do much other than go up the CN tower and went shopping (you know the way girls do) and just generally caught up. My god, it was so nice to sit in a restaurant for hours with a friend and just chat for hours. Makes a change for 30 minute meals with my book that all this independent travelling has caused me to do.

I then took the shuttle bus to the airport. First of all I got on the wrong bus, I got on the drop off bus not the pick up bus so I went round the downtown route twice so I spent much of the journey worried that I would miss my plane! The bus driver also took a bit of a fancy to me and was asking me about England and on the 10 minute stop at Tim Hortons he insisted on paying for my coffee, so that was a bit awkward but I got a free coffee out of it! I then got to the airport at the boarding time for my flight so I’d missed check in but a nice member of staff checked me in on a computer and then I pretty much threw my bag at the bag drop off. Then security took the piss even though they could see from my boarding card my plane was taking off in 15 minutes! They padded me down, checked my shoes and opened my bag, even though I didn’t beep!!! My gate was also the other end of the airport so I had to run but I joined the end of the a queue that was already walking on to the plane. But I made it!!! I then need a ten minute nap once I got on the plane after all that stress.

On my plane there were these 2 non-identical twins who were about 2 or 3 years old. They were in matching pink dresses and one of them was blonde with rosy cheeks and the other was ginger with porcelain white skin. They were so stunning, the whole plane was captivated by them. Except for the airhostess who kept on (accidentally) banging her trolley on their seat at which point the whole plane would turn round to check that they were ok. Their mother was also stunning and made travelling with toddlers effortless. Even when they screamed the plane down during the turbulence (there was a lot on this flight) their mother was so calm and just said ‘its 9pm and they usually go to be at 7pm, they’re just tired, its been a long day’ but she said it with no resentment, tiredness or frustration.

I am now in Vancouver staying in the hotel where I’m due to meet my tour round the Rockies tomorrow. It’s the first time on this trip that I’ve stayed in a hotel not a hostel. This hotel is the sort of hotel I would stay in with my family, the room has a nice double bed, a big TV, free coffee and tea, a luxury bathroom with free toiletries. The hotel has restaurants and bars and a pool and a spa and is just generally way too grown up for me a student to be staying here alone!

Yesterday was Canada Day so as a public holiday that mean pretty much everywhere was closed (I can’t afford the restaurants in the hotel) I pounded the street to try and find some food, I found a (very busy) pizza take away and walked back to my hotel room. The streets were filled with people carrying Canada flags or with maple leaves painted on their cheeks and there was lots of street entertainment and the fountain outside the art gallery was filled with foam which provided lots of entertainment.

Tour starts tomorrow, get to seem some mountains, yay!

Happy Canada day for yesterday everyone!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Border Town

So I have spent my week in sunny Windsor, the place with the strongest UV rays in Canada I’m told. Is that because its so near the US? Anyway what it means is that I have a nice tan coming along. I would say that this has been my ‘vacation’ part of my Canada trip and after all that sightseeing in Montreal and Ottawa I have enjoyed nothing more than lounging by the pool and reading this week.

Apart from a from a few scattered French emersion schools and once person I met at a house party who was bilingual I feel a million miles away from the French influence here in Southern Ontario, gone are the bilingual street signs of Ottawa (or entirely French ones of Montreal). Here ’down South’ people’s Canadian accents are twinged with a more American accent and they talk about ’going to the States’ as if it’s the same as going down the road. I’m informed that one takes a trip either grocery shopping or clothes shopping to Detroit ‘because there’s more choice in the States’. Having said that, Windsor is, of course, still in Canada and therefore people are still therefore fiercely Canadian. They certainly smoke pot like they’re Canadian.

Not wanting to be crude or anything but I have extended my Canadian vocabulary: they use ’bang’ as frequently as we may use ’shag’ and they refer to their ’box’ (front bottom.) I have also been introduced to some Canadian music as I went to a gig last night (the bands were great but I was too hung over to fully appreciate it.)

Ah, yes, the joys of downtown Windsor! The University of Windsor I’m informed is a big university and although ’school is on summer break’ right now many of the students seemed to have stayed for the summer in their quite frankly palatial student homes compared to our digs in East London. I very much enjoyed myself and we went to a medium sized club (by London standards) and the drinks were cheap (I’m informed I shouldn’t get used to this, its just Windsor that’s cheap for alcohol not Canada). One thing I did notice is the way they (the girls) dress to go downtown. A pretty top, shorts or a denim skirt and flipflops, more fancy beach wear as opposed to clubbing wear to me, but I supposed it’s hot in the summer and its certainly more modest than what some people wear in Bristol on a Saturday night (and its cold in England!)

And so after a very enjoyable week in Windsor I am off to Toronto (2 days after all the G20 chaos) and then on Canada Day (July 1st) I fly to Vancouver! I wonder what my Canada Day will be like as I will spend the morning in Toronto and the evening in Vancouver. But as far as I can tell Canada Day is a holiday something to do with the independence of Canada but no one really cares, all they care about is getting drunk/high/both or working and earning double pay because it’s a National holiday.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Plan du metro de Montreal

Ok, everyone, so to update you...I left the countryside on Sunday and I am now staying with a friend of a friends in the prestigious Plateau Mont-Royal area in a lovely flat at the foot of the ‘mountain’ (that being a very large hill on the top of the Parc Mont-Royal) I have done an enormous amount of sightseeing and seen Old Montreal and the Old Port, been to the Science Museum and the Museum of the History of Montreal and been on a boat tour in the St Laurence river and seen the Olympic Park and been up the Tower plus also had long walks in the Botanical Gardens and in the Mont-Royal park which also doing a bit of window shopping and catching a film on St Catherine’s street. I have also enjoyed 2 nights out, one for my host’s girlfriend’s birthday and once to go to Les FrancoFolies which is a French music festival.

The title of this blog is ‘plan du metro du Montreal’ because I would like to share with you the differences between Montreal’s metro system and London’s underground. First of all as you will see its far less extensive, with fewer stops, fewer lines and fewer interchanges than our underground system. And the lines only have colours, not names. But the differences that bring me most entertainment/pleasure are that the lines never seem to be down, no ‘TFL investment works’ and every train goes the full length of the line! So no worrying about which train to get on! There are no screens anyway telling you when the next train is coming, they just come around every 4 minutes. And how do you work out which direction they’re going? It will tell you the name of the station at the end of the line as opposed to telling you if its going north/south or east/west as in London. And finally the difference that I still haven’t got used to is that they do have an Oyster equivalent (that you can only put travel cards on as opposed to the pay-as-you-go option in London) but you tap in and not out! So as I get off the train and hurriedly try and find my card to tap out I realise that you can just walk straight through the barriers as you exit! Therefore I can only deduce that there’s a flat rate which would make sense as they don’t have zones anyway! The other thing that makes me laugh is the way the seats are arranged, like a proper train, no side ways on London tubes, this would be a problem coz it would stop people standing up if the metro trains were actually busy but they’re just not compared to London tubes!

Ok, enough of that rant! On to my next one…crossing the road! I’m really not sure what the etiquette of crossing the road is in Canada. Zebra crossing are few and far between. They do have crossings like we do. But there’s no button to press and no beeping. It’s a white man meaning ‘walk’ and a red hand meaning ‘don’t walk’. Also the equivalent of our green man flashing is the red hand with a 15/30 second count down. The only problem is that at think point the traffic lights turn green not flashing amber like ours so sometimes the cars move when people are still walking. And when there isn’t a crossing it’s a matter of working out the safest time to cross based on the traffic lights. I haven’t yet worked out how blind people cross the road safely without the beeping and twiddley things!

Ottawa’s my next stop, let’s see what delights that city brings :)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Welcome back!

15th June 2010

You know you're in Montreal when...the only place open at 6am on a Sunday is Tim Hortons.

Yesterday I woke up at 5am in order to catch the coach to Montebello. It would appear that my hotel didn't have a 24h reception so I couldn't check out, so I left my room keys in my room with a note. Then after a breakfast of doughnuts and orange juice at Tim Hortons - a Canadian institution. I then took the two and a half hour coach journey to Montebello followed by a taxi up to the school. As soon as I stepped out of the taxi I was greeted by the headmaster's wife and their dog with the 'hello/long time no see/what are you doing here?/nice to see you' greeting I was to get used to. Their dog (who was a puppy when I worked at the school 2 years ago) came bounding up to me: Is it possible for dogs to have 2 years memory?

Every student and teacher that had been there 2 years ago greeted me with pretty much the same response - pleasantly but also with some confusion. It was great to see familar faces and to hear of people's current life plans. One teacher is coming to do a Masters at the Insitute of Education, University of London and having just completed the SAS at the IOE I was able to give him a bit of an insight. I also had a really good chat with a student who has been a slightly annoying grade 9 two years ago and now is a strapping young man of a grade 9 and was delightful and charming and had a clear focus on how to obtain his dreams in life. It was so rewarding to see the progress some of the students had made. One of my biggest achivements while at the school was a (then) grade 8 student whose classI took for maths and also priavtely tutored him. Throughout the year I wourked relentlessly with this student to help him understand the maths and to raise his average and pass the end of year exam. Up until now the biggest reward has been as I circled the exam hall and saw what he wrote on his exam paper and saw that he had infact taken in everything I had taught him because he passed his exam and was able to progress to the next year - something that looked doubtful at the begining of the year. But going back I got another reward, this student came up to me and said 'Katie, I get really good grades in math now, 80s and 90s, so thank you'. I smiled and said 'you're welcome, it wasn't all down to me, it was down to your hard work, well done, that's fantastic new' but inside I was doing a little dance!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Bienvenue à Montréal

June 12th 2010

So after an adventurous tube journey from the East End to way out West London, me and my friend who was acting as my ‘mule’ (thank you Cat) made it to Heathrow in plenty of time (before my parents) so enjoyed coffee and cake. Once my parents got to the airport I got a bit carried away with chatting (no surprise there) and so despite being one of the first to check in, I was one of the last to board. (I made it with 10 mins to spare).
On the plane I was wedged between 2 elderly ladies. 1 who looked Greek Orthodox to me and she prayed at the beginning of the flight, she was also very fat so had to get the person in front of her to put their seat up every time she wanted to get out which was entertaining because it clearly go on both party’s nerves. The other lady was very elderly, she looked close to death and she coughed pretty much the majority of the journey, at some points I was concerned that she was going to die there and then, but she didn’t, thank god. I swear people that old, I mean close to death old, shouldn’t be allowed to fly, I was genuinely scared for her health! The flight itself was very smooth, not so much as a bump or ears popping on take off and landing, hats off to the pilot!
Then, of course, next I had to go through immigration, the fact that my landing card declared that I am here for 6 weeks raised eyebrows and so I had to reassure her that despite only having $50 in my wallet I did have a credit card (well actually it’s a debit card with an authorised overdraft, but that concept doesn’t seem to exist in Canada. I seem to remember from my last visit that they don’t have Visa Debit here like we do.) She also asked me my occupation, which is an expected question at Immigration but then she asked me what I studied. Was she trying to check I wasn’t lying about the fact that I’m a student? Anyway I got the magic stamp that lets me in the country.
The first thing that hit me about Montreal is that its more French than I remembered. Every road sign and billboard advert is in French, I swear they were bilingual last time I was here! I had a bit of trouble understanding the taxi driver because of his strong Quebecois accent combined with a weird version of Franglais. But after my ears tuned in I had a nice chat with him about how although we do study the region of Quebec and other Francophone countries (such as Haiti where this taxi drivers family was from) at university, we most definitely only study the French language spoken in France. But then to my dismay he said ‘mais vous ne parlez pas la lange française de la France, vous parlez en français avec un accent anglais’ (‘but you don‘t speak France French, you speak French with an English accent‘)
- ‘Oui, merci, je sais, c’est évident que je suis anglaise!’ (‘yes, thank you, I know its obvious that I’m English!’)
Alas, if I can’t fool Les Québècois then I definitely won’t be able to fool Les Français in October when I’m in France.
So I got to my 1* hotel and had a lovely chat with the proprietor who seemed delighted that I could speak French and asked me if I was from Guadeloupe (errrr, non) but anyway turns out there’s some problem with the roof or something so he transferred me to another hotel which turned out useful because I passed the coach station when I was walking there, so I will walk there tomorrow morning instead of getting the Metro. The room is bigger than I expected and is perfectly satisfactory but definitely on the budget end of the scale, but, hey, I’m a cash strapped student!
I just tried to ring the school I worked at last time I was in Canada in an attempt to warn them that I’m planning to turn up on the door tomorrow and hoping to stay for the week. However I couldn‘t get through so I will be surprising them tomorrow morning! (Don’t worry readers, I have a back up plan if they say ‘no’, one of the teacher’s knows I’m coming and has offered me a bed as hers for as long as I want as has her son offered me a place to stay in Montreal.)
Alors (that’s ‘so’ in French by the way) right now I am watching TV and listening to the clubbers outside my door and the tube run underneath me (I said it was budget! Its central location has downsides!)
Canadian TV makes me laugh - adverts for ‘real Canadian cheddar’ (er, Cheddar is in England) and cereal adverts that show the actors poor milk out of a plastic bag in a jug - oh Canada, you and your silly ways! I’m watching a stand up show which 1) isn’t funny (because North American humour isn’t) and 2) after every commercial break we are warned ‘this programme contains coarse language and adult content, viewer discretion is advised’ - well it is 10.30 at night so I wouldn’t expect a child to be watching TV right now. Good old England and our ‘watershed’.
Anyway I feel I’m rambling so I’m going to go to bed as I have an early start to catch 1 of the only 2 per day coaches to Montebello (the town where the school is) and hopefully I will be welcomed back with open arms! Wish me ‘bonne chance’ (good luck)!

P.S. An actress on an advert, just said ‘erb’ not ‘herb’, oh god I’d forgotten about THAT annoying North American pronunciation!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

SAS - my reflective practive and personal development review

I have found the SAS experience very interesting and useful. Before SAS I had done one week work experience at my old school plus I worked at a school in Canada for a year before university. However this experience was very different because the school in Canada was a very small private school and Canada has a different education system. Therefore before the SAS my main experience of learning and teaching was from my old school – a medium sized all girls private school turned Academy. The SAS has taught me the importance of placements at different schools as every school has its own way of doing things and its own way of implementing the government specifications. I have learnt that there is a lot more to teaching than just knowing your subject and being able to control a classroom. I have also learnt a lot about different types of learners and the range of ability not just in a year group but in one class (even when the classes are streamed). At the beginning, when helping in classes, I found myself a) concentrating my attention on those who asked for help and b) giving students the vocabulary they wanted instead of encouraging them to look it up or think of another way to phrase it. As I gained more confident and as the students began to be more aware of my presence and therefore more receptive to me I found I was able to offer help to those who needed help (because I could spot them) and not just those who asked for help. I have learnt how to be creative in encouraging the students to work out the answers themselves by asking them prompt questions and reminding them of similar phrases which they can manipulate to say what they want to say.
I think that I will have the confidence to stand in front of 30 students and have good behaviour management when I become a teacher. I also hope that I will be able to form good relationships with my students.
I have learnt about myself that I am a fairly relaxed person who has the attitude “well, if you don’t want to do it, I can’t make you.” However there are certain things that have to be done and one of my hardest challenges during the SAS and will be during my teacher training is motivating students who refuse to do something. During the SAS experience I have found laziness more frustrating and challenging than weak ability.
In reference to my subject – French, the biggest challenge was adapting my vocabulary and my phrasing to fit what the students would understand and the way they had been taught. Through experience obviously I will learnt the set vocabulary lists of a particular textbook but during SAS I found it difficult knowing which words were likely to resonate with a student when they asked for a word for which there are many translations, for example ‘to shop’ you could translate as faire les cours/boutiques, faire du shopping, aller aux magasins etc. The teachers made the valid point that with weaker students it is better to give cognates (e.g. faire du shopping) as it will be easier for them to remember but for more able students you can give a wider range of vocabulary. I also found that when helping students to translate sentences I had to rewire my brain to think more simply and to think in set phrases and short sentences as opposed to when I speak French normally I tend to ramble connecting many sentences with complicated connectors such as ‘ce qui/que’ however this is a A2 level connector and therefore not appropriate in a year 10 class.
During my time at the school I was fortunate to be able to talk to a PGCE student and a Teach First student which meant I was able to ask them about the pros and cons of these 2 routes in to teaching. The PGCE student said that the pros of her course were that she has the time at university to read up on the latest research papers in education and to reflect on her observations from placements and write about them thus allowing her to reflect and improve. The only con to a PGCE course the student said was that you have to pay (but there is funding obviously). The Teach First student said that aside from the obvious such as being paid, the Master qualification and the business contacts the pros of her course were that you get to spend 2 years at the same school so you really get to know the students and follow their progress. However the cons were that as she has been teaching a nearly full timetable from the off she has felt very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work needed to be done just to get through the curriculum that she had no time to reflect. She therefore felt that a PGCE course trains you to be a ‘better’ teacher than Teach First. Personally I am very interested in Teach First however as it is very competitive I will also apply for PGCE courses.
Teaching is a challenge I am very much looking forward to!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

SAS - not the army!

Before I embark on my adventures around Canada, Edinburgh and France I am currently doing the Students Associates Scheme or SAS which is sort of an introductory teacher training programme for undergraduates who want to become teachers. That’s right…I want to be a teacher! I have always wanted to be a teacher and I have pretty passionate view about education which I won’t go in to now, but let’s just say I really want to be a teacher and I know what sort of teacher I want to be. I also can’t stand the stereotype that the only reason people become teachers is because its ‘an easy option’/’guaranteed job after graduation’/’I can’t think what else to do with my degree subject’. The SAS has taught me lots of things and one of them is that teaching is not easy! My friend who is also doing the SAS and about to embark on a PGCE course said today “I can see why teachers need the long holidays” and its so true. I spent over an hour today preparing a slide show to teach vocab about the topic of holidays, when do teachers find the time to fit everything in?
But, alas this is what I want to do with my life so I hope you will join me on my journey as I finish my school placement, go on holiday to Canada, work at Edinburgh Fringe Festival to indulge in my other passion - theatre and then my year abroad in France as a language assistant….

Bonne journée