Monday, 28 March 2011

“J’ai parlé trop aujourd’hui”

A lot of my students went on a school trip to England last week and as well as taking in the sights of York, Hull and Cambridge (strange choices of cities if you ask me) they spent a day in a school. Today, their first day back at school, they were only too delighted to tell me what a fantastic time they had in England. Which was wonderful to hear, many of these students are often very negative about my country and our language (mainly because they haven’t been to England so are basing all their opinions on negative stereotypes and also because they all find English harder to learn than Spanish so are never that thrilled to find themselves in English class.) But today they were all delights to teach as they arrived at class with new found motivation and drive to learn English and they were all only too happy to speak to me in English because I was asking them this week’s hot topic “how was the trip to Yorkshire?”
In my euro class (that is students who have science and maths taught in English) we looked at maths education in the UK and France and did a comparison. We looked at some GCSE past papers which I was hoping to be a reasonable challenge for them. These students were in premier (equivalent to year 12, so AS standard) so I excepted them to be able to do the questions aimed at year 11s, so children a year younger than them, without too much trouble, but I was sure there was going to be some challenge, partly with the vocabulary and partly with the style of the questions perhaps. But five minutes later they had concluded that maths is easy in the UK! This filled me with much amusement as while personally I was reasonably good at maths in year 11, I got 75% in this particular GCSE past paper they were looking at, but I would in no way consider the maths education in the UK to be easy!
One of them had also been in to a Food Technology lesson which they thought was a laughable subject. (They may have some reason – there’s some franglais for you!) But then it gave me an easy A* at GCSE so I’m not about to complain about it as a subject!
The thing that struck them the most was that we stop ‘general education’ at the age of 16, and even then it’s not that general because at GCSE level English, maths, science and often a language, IT and RE are compulsory but after that we will have 3-4 options of subjects like geography, a second language and technologies. Where as in France they continue ‘general education’ right up until the age of 18 (if of course they haven’t left school at 16), there are 3 strands of the baccalaureate so there is a little bit of variation in subjects, topics studied within subjects and how many hours of each subject but every student still does French, maths, science, languages, geography/history, and philosophy and compulsory sport even continues up to the age of 18! (My last PE lesson was in year 11 – so when I was 16!)
Me and my students couldn’t come to definitive conclusion whether the baccalaureate or A levels (the exams we do in the UK at the age of 18 in 3-4 subjects) are better. Some of them thought it was awesome that all I studied between the ages of 16 and 18 was French, Russian, philosophy and English (the science and maths haters in the class clearly!) Some seemed to think that as a result of A level English people will be stupid because they won’t know enough about maths, science and history (3 subjects that the French seem to, perhaps rightly, regard very highly).
All in all, today was a very good day of debate between our two education systems with my French students. As one of the girls walked out the classroom I heard her say to a friend “I spoke lots today”. Good, little girl! That was the point of my lesson!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ma Vie Dijionaise!

It has come to my attention that I only write a blog post when something dramatic happens – a holiday to Spain or a day trip to Paris, for example. But if I think about it what happens every day is dramatic. I am living in France. I am speaking French every day. I am teaching (a career I once thought was my life’s vocation, now I’m not so sure, but that’s beside the point!) Life right now is dramatic and so unlike life back home. Never again will I have the winning combination of money and free time to enjoy life to the max. (As superficial as money is, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a bit of luxury in life.)
7 things that are everyday occurrences in Ma Vie Dijionaise but that really are quite dramatic compared to life back home:
My students decide since that half the school is on a school trip to England that they should be on holiday too so don’t turn up to my lesson (no big deal, I’d do the same in their position) so I text my friend Kirsty “Hey, I have no students so I’m free this afternoon, wanna do something, my school is not far from your house”. Reply: “I’m at Lindsay’s but we were gunna go to Ikea and just look around.” Result: we spend the afternoon in Ikea walking around the fake studio flats they have (just like in 500 Days of Summer) and the buy ice creams (for 50 centimes from a funky machine) and sit on the grass soaking up the sun.
Back home :
Lecture’s cancelled? Thank god, I’m behind with work anyway, better go home and do it!
“I quite fancy some new clothes, I don’t need any but I quite fancy some.” Off I go to H&M!
Back home:
I quite literally have ruined every pair of jeans I own with coffee (spilt on myself at work) but I do not have a penny to my name to buy some more.
It’s sunny! Let’s go and sit in a cute little French cafe and sit outside, eat ice cream and coo at adorable French children riding on an old fashioned carousel and in no way be rushed by the waiter to leave even though we’ve been there 2 hours and only bought one thing.
Back home:
It looks nice outside, shame I’m inside writing an essay!
We haven’t been out for dinner in while (like it’s been a few weeks) let’s go and have a meal of snails, frogs legs, crème brulée and Burgundy wine (no word of a lie that is what we eat, how French are we?)
Back home:
Can I afford to but myself something vaguely exciting for dinner at Budgens? Probably not! Better go home to a meal of pasta and sauce then!
Its 4pm on a Friday and we have literally nothing to do until Monday afternoon (our next lesson, even then we’re only at school for a few hours) let’s go to the lake this weekend and have a picnic.
Its 4pm on a Friday and I’m still at work, gunna be here til 8pm and then I’ve gotta go home and do a Russian translation tonight coz I don’t have time to do it this weekend as I’ve got an essay for French to write.
Its 8am on a Friday and I am buying a Suisse (a flat shaped pain au chocolat) for my breakfast and a baguette for my lunch and the bread will be the most delicious freshest bread you’ve ever tasted.
Back home:
Its 8am and I will be having cereal for my breakfast (if someone in the house has remembered to buy milk, otherwise nothing) and as per usual lunch will be snatched at Ground between a lecture and a shift at work.
“Katie - it’s your American flatmate from first year I’m gunna be in Paris next week, let’s meet up!” Minutes later the one hour forty-five minute train journey is booked. Spontaneous day trip in Paris – here I come.
Back home:
What does central London look like? It’s been so long since I’ve left Mile End I barely remember what the rest of London looks like, let alone another city!
Ok so maybe I have just painted a rather depressing image of my life at university, and it’s really not bad! Last year was wonderful, so wonderful I didn’t wanna leave for the year abroad (well I’m eating my words now!) But that was just a flavour of how dramatically different, in a so beautifully brilliant way, my life here in Dijon is compared to Mile End! (Nevertheless – Lauryn, Emma and Vicky I am super psyched for our girly Mile End pad next year!!!!!!!!!!!)
But I will miss moments like this:

And sights like this:
I HEART Dijon!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Monday Morning in Madrid!

Imagine the scene, I am sat on the metro, it is 6am on a Monday morning in Madrid which is not only the capital of Spain but a European capital renowned world over for, amongst other things, its fashion, would you expect I would see?
  • Busy commuters on their way on work in slick suits
  • A crowded train with everyone rammed up against each other
  • Everyone with their nose in the free paper so they don’t have to speak to anyone?
No! Is the answer! This is what you see in London and what I can easily imagine you would see in Paris. But, this is Spain! And how little I clearly knew about Spain’s attitude to life (which is a great one I might add, just as long as you’re not trying to get anything done).
The train was not packed first of all, I had a seat! I rarely get a seat on the tube in London, least of all at 6am – which I might add would a bit a little late for some London office workers to be starting their commute to work. The average journey to work in London takes an hour. 6am is the first train in Madrid, and the last is somewhere around 3am! (Because,of course, that fits in perfectly with the Spanish hours of partying! The Metro to and from the club – oh the life of luxury!) In London the tube closes around midnight and opens at 5.30am. So you use the tube to get to the club but then it’s the nightbus all the way home! Because, let’s face it, in London you’re gunna be tucked up in bed by 3am after a night out – the party has only just started at that time in Madrid.
And if anyone on this train was going to work instead of just coming back from a night’s clubbing then they certainly weren’t dressed like it! Unlike us, the French don’t especially dress up for work. Most of my colleagues wear jeans to work every day. Can you imagine a teacher wearing jeans in the UK? And I’m willing to accept this rule applies in Spain; maybe it’s a main land Europe thing? But then surely in Paris, in the swish offices around the Champs-Elysées, they wear suits to work? Yes surely! And so surely they do in Madrid? Apparently not! Either that or literally no one was going to work at 6am. From my long-weekend experience in Spain it would appear the average day never starts before 10am.
Also, no noses in free newspapers ignoring everyone either. Very few people, in fact I would say nobody was reading a newspaper or a book; no one was doing emails on their Blackberry/iPhone; no one was as much as looking at jotted notes in a notebook to prepare for the days meeting. No! They were all either sleeping (partying for 12 hours solid tends to make you tired) or they were chatting in that very friendly way Spanish people do which involves shouting across people!