Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can you believe it?!?!

Me neither!!!!! And yes, in answer to your question, I would never move abroad without my stuffed animal, Fluffy. Best thing I ever packed! See you soon (maybe)!!! AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

part one done!

I have just come back from my last class at school. I can't believe I'm saying this, but... I made it! I made it to Christmas!

Speaking of which, I've really been enjoying teaching my Christmas lessons these past two weeks. Each class started with two listening activities. The first was a fill in the blank for the lyrics to "The Christmas Song." The answer was wrong, but in my class of 16 boys (who I had by myself for the first time) they said "kiss" instead of "kids" in the line "To kids from one to ninety-two." It was wrong, but I nearly melted into the floor it was so cute! So from here on out let's sing "To kiss from one to ninety-two!" After this, I split the classes into pairs and gave them bags with slips of paper, each with one line from "I'll Be Home For Christmas." We listened to the song line by line and they had to compete against each other to see who could grab the correct line first. I never foresaw this being such a huge hit, but one boy even ended up on the floor in the fight to the finish. Crazy!

One class always does something different from the others. I had them read an article on the "it" toy of the season, Zhu Zhu pets i.e. a battery powered hamster. After going through the article they got to choose whether to write an ad or film an ad promoting their own Zhu Zhu pet, showcasing its unique personality. Ronan and Jean Baptiste chose to film theirs- haha- and they did a great job:

Zhu Zhu Stinky from Sally Anderson on Vimeo.

If the class was small enough, I gave them a list of vocabulary words and had them write their own Christmas story. Here are some of my favorites...

Rayan and Rémy (seniors):
Once upon a time there was Santa Claus who was on the sled with his best friend, a woman elf, to distribute some gifts. Suddenly he fell in love. They were kissing when Bad Santa Claus came. He hunted them across the snow under the night and stars. But at the moment when they arrived next the Christmas tree, St Nicholas came with an angel who they stopped the two sleds. After a discussion, they decided to make peace with Christmas love in front of a Christmas log.

Gwendoline, Jenifer, Marion (seniors-lit):
Once upon a time there was a little snowman which didn't have any carrot as nose. He was very sad because all the other snowmen got one and they were bulling him. One day, he saw a beautiful star which was in a sparkle sky. He wishes to this star to have a carrot as gift this Christmas. Christmas day arrived, he woke up early and suddenly a big red man with angels by his side. He couldn't believe his eyes when Santa Claus gave him a little gifts under the Christmas tree. How surprised was he when he discovered a carrot! Since now on, no one make fun of the little snowman, cause he's wearing the most beautiful carrot of the world.

Florent (technical student):
One upon a time there was a little Christmas tree with his mother tree. They were from a beautiful mountain. When autumn arrived the little Christmas tree was scared of humans because they cut Christmas trees to carry on to the super market to be sold. This day arrived a fall morning. A man cut the little Christmas tree. He was so sad to leave his mother. In the market the little Christmas tree was exhibited. Because he was so sad he became ugly. The day of Christmas, the little Christmas tree was the last tree. But there was child who does not have much money. The little guy bought the little Christmas tree. When they come back to the home of the little child, the guy decorated it with tinsel and a lot of ornaments. The little Christmas tree and little child had a Merry Christmas.

a group of junior girls:
Once upon a time there was a family who waited for their gifts. The night before Christmas, the Santa Claus began his distribution... He arrived in the house of this family, he wanted to passed in the fireplace but he got stuck in. That was a big problem. To distribute the toys he eat the toys and eject them with his ass. What a strange story.

Anne Sophie, Karine, and Lydie:
Once upon a time there were children who made a snowman. During the Christmas night the snowman woke up. He invited his friend. At first there were elves, then a lot of reindeer. And to finish Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus. While they were eating a Christmas log, they saw a shadow in the night. It was Bad Santa Claus. It took lots of alcohol bottles from his bag. They had fun and drank all the night. In the morning, the little boy woke up and saw them sleeping in the living room. Santa Claus couldn't distribute all the gifts.... The moral of the story: alcohol must be consumed with moderation.

Aren't these great?!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this past weekend is... Man! It was freezing! My every-weekend rambles got me on a seven hour train ride up north. The rumors are true. I officially live on trains during the weekend. But luckily, I love train rides! I always reserve a window seat for a date with my iPod, journal, a good read, a good sleep, and the changing scenery. The second thing that comes to mind is that I didn't get said "awesome time" until facing some demons first...

And by demons I'm specifically referring to France's immigration and integration office. Friday morning I showed up bright and early in Lyon for the medical visit I've been trying my best to ignore since I first heard of it. Basically, I needed this visit in order to get extra somethings for my visa and passport thereby allowing me to stay in France for the duration of the program and to go home for Christmas without any hiccups. What could be so bad about a medical visit, you ask? It's French! And by that I mean I had to get half naked for an x-ray. Of all things, I never in a million years thought that my love for France would lead me to stripping down for the French government. Alas, modesty does not count for anything over here and I found myself in a rather compromising state like every other assistant there that day. Thankfully I had the stress of catching my aforementioned train in time, so I was more focused on worrying about that. The doctor who looked at my x-ray (for a whole 5 seconds- so not worth it!) told the secretary to finish my paperwork first so I could catch my train!

Before I knew it, the worst was behind me and the best was ahead. I met Sarah in Nancy, a stunningly beautiful city in Lorraine. Sarah and I, both spoiled rotten by Versailles, very much appreciated its bourgeois feel and look. Seriously. We got the shaft! I can't believe assistants are actually living in a city that amazing! Nancy, in fact, was a happy mistake. We had intended to stay in Strasbourg for its famous Christmas markets, but every hotel was full. So we decided to commute from Nancy, a city we were both eager to see. We got to Strasbourg early Saturday morning to cram in as much as possible. And you know what? Turns out we got the shaft there too! It's a neat city full of both German and French culture, architecture, and food. The only thing against both of these cities: the cold! The bitter, unforgiving cold! Thanks to the wind, I've never been so cold in my entire life i.e. it made me thankful to be living down in Trévoux where it's slightly warmer, but still snowing! My feet were numb after ten minutes walking around outside and no amount of hot cider was going to change that. But the city was absolutely brimming over with Christmas spirit and decorations and that was heart warming, at least! I'm so glad I went! I've been dying to see Strasbourg and especially its world famous Christmas markets for years. It was not to be missed and to discover it all with Sarah made it even better!

Speaking of Christmas... Home in three days!!! What?!?!?!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

one week from now

I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I swear I will kiss that American soil like it just proposed to me!!! So beyond excited! Home sweet home! Home is where the heart is! Yea!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fête des lumières

Every year Lyon exclusively hosts the Fête des lumières aka Festival of Lights. This four day event is a tribute to the Virgin Mary for sparing the city from the plague in the 1600s; hence the 'Merci Marie' sign on the Fourvière hill. Nathan and Betsy invited me to stay the weekend with them and take in two nights of it all. Now I always knew Lyon was going to be jam packed with people (the unanimous decision was that being in these crowds felt like being born), but it wasn't until I got on my first bus from Trévoux that I realized just how many people it drew out. On a good day I'm one of four people riding the bus to the half-way point. But this past Saturday I was one of fourteen. This, I thought, must be a big deal! It was at the half-way point that I discovered that another tradition for this big charade in Lyon is public transportation strikes. That was lovely, let me tell you.

The Fête des lumières is not your average Christmas light display. While the streets are lit up for the holidays in a typical way, these four nights also include light instillations at some of Lyon's most important monuments, squares, etc. Some of these are projections onto buildings and others are glowing pieces of artwork. Voilà:

Fête des lumières from Sally Anderson on Vimeo.

It was a fun weekend and I'm glad I got to take part in it. Not only did I get to spend time with great people and try vin chaud for the first time, but... I got a dream catcher from French Canadians in a teepee at the German Christmas market. Talk about random! I've been wanting one for my car back home for a while, but this was certainly not where I was expecting to find it! But that's the way the gingerbread man crumbled!

Friday, December 4, 2009

this poor provincial town

Yesterday I walked to Trévoux's tourist office (I am still puzzled as to its existence) to get the new schedule for my bus. The hours changed this week and despite every bus driver's insistence that it didn't matter that they had run out of schedules to hand out to people because it hadn't changed that much, I still found myself abandoned in the dark, cold, and rain at the half-way point between Lyon and Trévoux for two and a half hours on Monday. Never again! Luckily, the tourist office was able to help me out. The woman who worked there asked where I was from and I told her the United States. She immediately said to me, "Oh! Then you must be the English assistant at the high school!" See what I mean? I am quite literally the American in town!

Did I mention that I'm working?

While this blog has mainly been dedicated to my weekend escapes far far from Trévoux, I've decided it was high time that I talk about my job! Yes, I assure you, I am actually working. Twelve hours a week, but working all the same.

I meet with students Tuesday through Thursday. Usually I'm taking a group of four to nine students out of their English class to speak in English and give a lesson on some aspect of American culture. The past two weeks have been all about Thanksgiving. I have single handedly put the rumors to rest that it is a religious British holiday. When asked if they knew anything about the holiday's history they all said, "Turkey." FYI French turkeys say "glou glou" instead of "gobble gobble." I have also single handedly instilled the fear of God in them after showing a video about Black Friday. And despite my insistence that sweet potato casserole is really yummy, they have all turned up their noses at the idea of a vegetable covered in marshmallows. However, after finally braving my scary and vague French oven to make a pumpkin pie for the English club, I did convince some of them that pumpkin pie, at least, is really delicious. The English club only ate half of it, so the other two groups I met on Thanksgiving day polished it off. I had never met these groups until that day and I had them all go around and tell me one thing they were thankful for. And one boy said, "I am thankful for you because you gave me pumpkin pie!" Aw! The past two weeks the song I've used for them (the lyrics with missing words exercise) is "You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift. The boys loved the music video because they thought Taylor was cute and the girls loved it because they thought her love interest was cute. One girl even said, "They don't make them like that in France!"

On Tuesdays there is one teacher that I always help in her own classroom. Her classes are the ones that have been reading Twilight and they are some of my favorites. So I was really excited when I got to do a Thanksgiving lesson with her class of 16 boys (I took half the class at a time) for the first time on my own this week. I've been working with these boys for a while now, but they have remained pretty shy around me, maybe because they're my youngest students. For example, the other day one of them was running up the staircase like his life depended on it. Hearing all the calamity, I turned around and he saw it was me. So he immediately began crawling along behind me at tortoise speed. Maybe he thought I would speak to him in English? I don't know, but never have a felt more like a "teacher." This same kid came into class late as I was taking half of them out for their lesson and he was absolutely begging the teacher to let him come with me. I was really surprised because I've just never been able to work out what this class really thinks of me. But what really won these boys over, besides getting them out of a grammar lesson, was hangman. They're just crazy over it! Each student drew out a vocabulary word relating to Thanksgiving. Once the class had solved it, I told them what it was in French. When the second group of boys came in, the first group was just devastated that they couldn't keep playing, while the others started high-fiving each other because they could see they were going to get to play. Later this week I passed this class in the hall (the halls are very skinny and, thus, always congested) and they all swept gallantly and dramatically to the side to let me pass, each daring to say "hi" to me and looking very proud of themselves in the process. I can't believe I'm winning hearts with hangman, of all things!

When the school told me I would have to start an English club, I was taken aback. An English club? What in the world would I do with an English club? Sure, I was in the French club in high school, but... we never actually did anything that I can remember besides eat at a French restaurant. And I can assure you there are no American restaurants in Trévoux whatsoever! I was also told that a) there had never been an English club before or b) there was, but it only consisted of one student. Great prospects, right?! So I announced to every class that I was doing it during the second hour of "lunch hour," where students usually do an elective or something (honestly, I still don't quite understand what's going on). It started off with about eight students, thanks to my technical class that's "in love with me." But then they had to start doing something course related at the same time, so we were down to two. Out of the blue some of my absolute shyest students started showing up and now we're back up to about eight a week. I can't believe it! They are all the sweetest and brightest students in the world. I love, love, love English club! This week they insisted that I teach them some Christmas carols. So I used the Disney Christmas sing-a-long I watched when I was a kid and they learned "Let It Snow!" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." They were particularly psyched to learn the "like a lightbulb" and things we do with it for fun. Some are hoping to go Christmas caroling in the teacher's lounge next week, but I've got to get it approved first! Others, I think, would die of stage fright!

"Stage fright" is something I have become well acquainted with in my time here. I don't know if it's the fact that they don't have confidence in their speaking ability or the fact that I'm a native speaker or what, but sometimes I've got a group classest full of mutes! They're much better at English than they realize, but things would go smoother if they asked me to repeat or reword something for them. No matter how many times I tell them at the beginning of class not to be afraid to ask me to speak slower or repeat something, they are always too scared to it. Technically it's supposed to be an English-only environment. But if they don't understand, they don't understand! So sometimes I do break it down for them in French. At the end of the day, I would rather have my shy students. I've heard horror stories of assistants running out of their classrooms crying because their students were so mean and disrespectful. So maybe getting half of them to speak is like pulling teeth sometimes, but at least they're all nice!

Now pop some popcorn, dim the lights, and put your phone on silent because it's time for two classes' interpretations of Twilight...

Twilight 1 from Sally Anderson on Vimeo.

Please note both classes' creativity for gym class :)

Twilight 2 from Sally Anderson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

warning: this is sappy

If the surprise day-after-Thanksgiving dinner Mme Chauchat made for Sarah and I last Friday wasn't a sign of the perfect weekend to come, I don't know what was. I had made a pumpkin pie for the English club the day before and I had been giving lessons on "Zanksgeeving" all week, but it never really felt like it was Thanksgiving. Not until I found myself back in Versailles, my home away from home. Instantly melting into my surroundings, I was engulfed by that ooey gooey feeling that only that place can bring. While every street corner provides a flashback to a happy memory, most of Versailles' golden hue for me is accountable to Mme Chauchat. The past two months have been tough. Really tough. And to be back in her house with her, her husband, and Sarah was the best feeling. I was home. For once I wasn't worrying about a single thing and I was relaxed and happy. The Thanksgiving dinner was just the icing on the cake... or rather the lattice top on our apple tart.

Sarah and I shared the loveliest guest room on the third floor, which had the most comfortable beds in the entire world. I seriously cannot remember ever having a better night's sleep. Gosh. It was all so perfect! Waking up in Versailles and at Mme Chauchat's no less. The day spent wandering through the Versailles gardens and the streets we had come to love so much. Visiting our old haunts (but not all of them- Ali, brace yourself- our hole-in-the-wall crêpe place is gone). Visiting "new haunts" i.e. the Starbucks that should have been in place when I was there suffering from big-coffee-cup-deprivation! And our neighbor Mr. Mumble, a college student renting a room from the Chauchats. Mr. Mumble is hands down the loveliest Frenchman I have ever met. Ever. Oh là là!

A last minute rescheduling of her grandson's christening meant that Mme Chauchat couldn't come with us to see Peter Pan in Paris. But instead of leaving an empty seat in our box, she gave her ticket to Mallory who had just finished her study abroad program that week. It was a dream come true to see it on stage! It turns out our production was indeed in French and also a musical. Did you know the Lost Boys can rap? Neither did we! River dancing is also, apparently, the thing to do in Neverland. We were by far the oldest people there without a child, but we had a splendid time! When they flew, it was magical! And when the entire audience shouted in French over and over that they believed in fairies, that was magical too! The cupcakes we had at Berko afterwards, sold to us by the nicest cupcake man in all the world, were also magical! Mmm...

Not to overuse the words, but it really was a perfect and magical weekend. We watched It's a Wonderful Life, which Mme Chauchat had never seen, drank superfluous amounts of tea, learned easy recipes, and spent quality time together just talking about life. At one point Mme Chauchat said that it felt like there had never been a time in her life when she didn't know us. It's sort of a strange thing when you think about it, but I feel the same way. She also called us family. I feel the same way about that too! Maybe that's why Versailles is, and always will be, my home away from home.