Lectrice Life: The First Week of School

You know in L’auberge espagnole when Wendy, the English girl, doesn’t understand why Xavier calls his university the “fac”? Well, I work at “la fac.” It’s a public university – I work in “la faculté des langues,” the language department.

This week was my official back-to-school week. I actually have classes and students now! (What was I doing up until now? Lesson planning. Let’s say I was lesson planning.)

The last time I had classes and students was in May. Then I went on vacation.

Just kidding. I graded a zillion handwritten translation finals and invigilated exams. ( I think we’re supposed to say “proctored” in American, but it’s kind of an ugly word, and “invigilated” sounds like a Harry Potter spell.)

Then I went on vacation.

I’m happy to be back at work, though. I’m teaching almost double the hours I did last year, but I still have good balance – a few early mornings, and a couple mornings where I make coffee, read, and do laundry, and teach in the afternoon or evening. (I love being at home in the morning with the washing machine running. It’s so cozy.)

And I do like teaching when I’m gifted with a reasonably attentive and inquisitive class. I hate discipline. (“Wear a tie and look mean,” the head of the department joked. “It always works for me.”) I love thinking about words and talking about language. I love when students ask questions that make me think about my native language in ways I never considered.

For example, two students asked me the same question this week: when we use “they” as a gender neutral singular pronoun, do we change the verb conjugation to singular? So, we normally conjugate verbs like this – I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, we eat, they eat. Right? But, these girls wanted to know, when we use “they” as a replacement for he/she/it, which has become increasingly common, does the verb conjugation change accordingly? Do we say, “they eats” because “they” is now singular? Well, no, we don’t. I never even thought about it. But it was a reasonable and logical question, and I love when students ask me things like this.

What? Pronouns are cool and interesting.

On the whole, the first week went smoothly, better than I could have expected. I was ready to lay down the law about chatting in class – French students tend to be very chatty, and it drives me crazy. Then when I get mad, they have no idea why I’m upset, and I get the, “Mais j’ai rien fait!” (“But I didn’t even do anything!”) But this week I had class after class of attentive twenty-year-old angels who listened (and laughed at my jokes, bless them).

There was that one class where I fell off the stage because the whiteboard is longer than the platform in front of it, but the students were kind enough to make me at least feel like they were laughing with me, not at me. But otherwise, I did my best to be a good teacher and stay out of trouble.

And then there was Thursday. Thursday is a long day for me. I start at 8 a.m. and I finish at 8 p.m. My classes get zanier as the day goes on.

In the morning, I have three first year classes, and I actually have a couple students that were in my classes at the lycée where I was a language assistant! Isn’t that cool? But it makes me inexplicably nervous. It’s a little like how performing in front of a huge crowd isn’t as nervewracking as being on stage when you know someone in the audience.

I get a break for lunch, thank goodness, and in the afternoon they have me running back and forth to opposite sides of the building for every single class. PLUS I have to stop and pick up a video projector for one of the classes smack in the middle because the classroom isn’t equipped with technology.

Naturally, that’s the wild card class because I haven’t taught it before and I know nothing about first year history students. Or history. By the time I picked up the projector and walked what I can only assume was a mile and a half to the other side of the building, I was ten minutes late, and after we all shuffled into the classroom and the students crowded themselves into seats against the back wall, I realized I had no idea how to work the damn video projector. I looked at it dubiously and poked some buttons on the top.

“Any of you guys know how to work this thing?” It wouldn’t be the first time students have rescued me from dysfunctional technology. They look at me like I’m a weirdo. I give them a writing assignment while I try to figure out the projector box thing. It takes me twenty minutes to get it to work.

Getting behind schedule results in a domino effect; I’m ten minutes late to every class for the rest of the day. In my next class, second year translation, the first slide of my PowerPoint is “Come to class on time.” #fail

Halfway through the class, I notice my laptop battery is at less than 10% and I have no power cord. Why didn’t I bring a charger on a day when I’m at school for twelve hours straight? Maybe I thought the laptop faires would come help me out, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be so bad, but this isn’t my last class of the day. I have one more second year class, and the whole lesson plan is in a PowerPoint. Merde.

In the ten minutes before I show up late, I try to figure out how I’m going to get through a 90 minute class with no materials. I can do the introduction without it, and I can do the grammar activity without it. The problem is that the bulk of the lesson revolves around two videos that I now can’t show.

I fell back on a packet of grammar quizzes in my bag that I had intended to do with an earlier class, but then I’d changed my mind and decided grammar on the very first day might be off-putting. I was worried about how it would go over, but it ended up being a good refresher. They did pretty well on most of it, which I hoped helped build their confidence, but they were stumped by “either” and “neither” (I sang them a little Ella Fitzgerald and got blank stares) and phrasal verbs (Throw the sandwich? Throw out the sandwich? Throw up the sandwich?)

I went home feeling energized and exhausted at the same time. Sometimes Thursdays are bad go-home-with-a-migraine days, but this one was pretty good. If the rest of the semester goes as well as the first week, I have no complaints. Even though I have less time to work on projects I started over the summer, it’s nice to be back into the routine of teaching.

Well, I say that now. Talk to me in a few weeks when I’m grading 400 midterm exams, and I might tell you a different story.

Are any of you teachers (or students)? How was your first week of school?

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La rentrée, 2015

It’s September, which is la rentrée around here – back to work, back to school time. I’m torn between being excited about a new season and a new school year (geek alert) and feeling bummed about the end of vacation. (Actually, it’s more like a “I didn’t get nearly enough stuff done this summer” kind of panic.)

I had a great time in Spain and the north of France but I’m happy to be home in Lyon in our apartment. I love to travel but coming home is such a nice feeling. I sometimes say that if I were single I would give up my apartment for the summer and travel (for some reason I usually envision myself taking the train all around Italy) but I don’t know if I would enjoy that for weeks on end in reality. Maybe if my accommodations were a little more luxe!

So I’m home, simultaneously trying to do my translations and class prep, figure out health insurance (anyone have advice on mutuelles?), corral my bazillions of Spain photos into a blog post, and keep house. (It’s a good thing I have a job to go back to, because I am a terrible housewife. I couldn’t get the oven lit today and I got so frustrated I kicked it. #fail)

This year I’m teaching double the hours I taught last year, but I also have a lot I want to blog about. Spain, Bourgogne, and Lyon are all on the list. I’d also like to create a few posts about FAQ topics like working in France and visiting Paris, because every time I respond to individual questions I write a novel! (I struggle with brevity. You may have noticed.)

I’m also apprehensively thinking forward to next year. I have no idea what is to come or which country I’ll be in. PACSing, green carding, and graduate school are all on the table. I wish I could keep being a lectrice a little longer, but I suppose it’s good to be forced to move forward, instead of cowering in a comfortable, familiar place. If you’ve blogged about life after teaching English, please feel free to put a link in the comments!

In conclusion, something appropriate for new beginnings…

La Vie En C Rose
“Think of yesterday without regret and tomorrow without fear.”

…and an adorable photo of Tigrou rocking out in the car.

TIgrou, La Vie En C Rose
Tigrou listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Happy rentrée! I hope your September is off to a great start.

Why I’m not traveling all summer

It would be a lie to say that paid vacation isn’t an awesome part of being a lectrice. If anyone’s like, “Oh, the vacation doesn’t really matter to me, I love teaching French students at the fac so much I could do it twelve months a year!” they are full of shit.

No. Vacation is awesome.

But I still manage to overthink it.

Because I feel like I’m doing vacation wrong.

I feel like I should pack a bag and take the train all over Italy for a month, or hang out on the beach, carefree, in Croatia or Greece. It would be the perfect time to visit Normandy and Bretagne, where I’ve never been. Escaping the heatwave is reason enough to go!

But I’m still in Lyon.

It’s too hot, my favorite cafés (aka where the AC is) are closed in August, and almost everyone I know is out of town. It’s the ideal time to get out of town. So why haven’t I?

I was traveling for a few weeks in May and June when my family came to visit from California. We went to Germany, Switzerland, Paris, Bourgogne, and Vienna. I needed a little break to rest and you know, get clean underwear.

Then we moved apartments. It was the slowest move ever. Snails move house faster than we did. (Snails have an unfair advantage because they don’t have a washing machine.) My roommates moved out a week and a half before we did, and with them went the furniture, the stove, the refrigerator, the plates, everything. I tell ya, you don’t appreciate stuff like cutlery until it’s gone!

Also, it was 100 degrees, we lived in a five story walkup, and we had no refrigerator. I’m not convinced we wouldn’t have been better off dragging our mattress down by the river.

We moved into the new apartment gradually over a month. At the beginning, I was just happy to have a fridge and a coffee maker. Now I’m excited that we finally have a table. Tables are awesome!

Hugo found out that I was not exaggerating when I said I had the upper body strength of a chipmunk, but unfortunately we were already lugging a fold-out couch down the street (from two blocks away because there was no parking!) We are going to have to live here forever because no way are we moving all this furniture again.

So now we have a home, and instead of summer travels, I have a weird summer non-routine. It feels like being unemployed, even though I’m not. Do you know when you’re home all day, and you do everything on your list that you’re supposed to do, but you still feel like you haven’t accomplished anything at the end of the day?

Some days it’s hard to focus because the heat makes me feel braindead, so I languish in front of the fan and look up how much it would cost to go to Girona or Bordeaux, like, right now. But instead of hitting the road whenever I feel antsy, I’m learning to stay put and chug forward steadily.

The best reason to stay put

Even so… I still have one trip planned for the end of the summer! After much should-I-or-shouldn’t-I agonizing, I booked tickets to Bilbao and San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain. I was dying to go and felt that I would regret it if I didn’t while I have the time and the resources. Then I’m flying directly up north for a wedding, so I’ll crash through Brussels and Lille on my way. (Which city is more awesome? I have an afternoon to spend in one or the other!)

A lot of people might roll their eyes when I call this “not traveling.” Visiting Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, and, for a hot second, Belgium, is not traveling?

But on the flip-side, travel junkies would probably be equally flabbergasted that I spent almost eight weeks of paid vacation at home.

(And if you’re American, you might just be gob-smacked that I have so much paid vacation. But don’t worry, you earn a lot more money than I do.)

I do feel (self-inflicted) pressure to travel around Europe as much as I can while I can, because I have no idea how my life is going to change in a year. And there are a lot of places I want to go. I’m already dreaming about Toussaint vacation at the end of October. (Lisbon? Florence? Istanbul? Budapest?)

But for now, I’m doing the best I can to balance wanderlust with other priorities. I’m not a glamourous jetsetter, but I’m okay with that. Sometimes it’s nice to stay home.

Besides, how could I leave these guys?

If you’ve blogged about the Basque Country, post a link in the comments! I’d love to hear your tips.

What are you up to this summer?

Lost in La Défense

Have you ever been to La Défense? It’s the cluster of shiny towers a ways down the road from the Arc de Triomphe.

[Not so fun fact: if you take the metro line 1 to La Défense, all you need is a regular zone 1 and 2 metro ticket, but if you take the RER A to La Défense, it’s considered zone 3 and you need a more expensive ticket or you risk a fine.]

Well, even though it looks straightforward enough on the map, La Défense is kind of trippy if you don’t know your way around (and I definitely don’t).

Continue reading “Lost in La Défense”

I learned something awesome about math and food in French

Really quick – what is this called?

IMG_0215

A pie chart, right?

IMG_0216

IMG_0217

Now guess what it’s called in French.

Continue reading “I learned something awesome about math and food in French”

On Travel: Where should I go in 2015?

I’ve mentioned it before – I haven’t traveled all that much since moving to Europe. I like to travel, I like to explore, I love travel blogs, but I don’t count stamps in my passport and rack up countries so that I can brag about my travel “number.” I guess what I mean is that I don’t travel for the sake of travel. Sometimes I feel restless (and then I go to Barcelona), but I also like to stay home and cuddle with the comfort of routine.  I need both – otherwise, I would be too exhausted and unsettled to enjoy my travels at all.

Continue reading “On Travel: Where should I go in 2015?”

Illogical French

I love languages because you can always, always learn new things, whether it’s your native language or your second or third (or fourth or fifth, or sixteenth, you show-off).

I ponder words constantly. French makes me laugh. English makes me laugh. I’m frustrating to French speakers, because I always want to know why. Why is “start-up” feminine? (Yes, “start-up” in French is “la start-up.”) Why is the feminine of “rigolo” “rigolote”? Sometimes I get cut off from asking questions. “Non, chérie! Tu poses trop de questions!” You ask too many questions! No more for the rest of the day!

Here’s something I learned tonight that I’ll be pondering for awhile. Christmas Island is “l’Ile Christmas” in French. But Easter Island is “l’Ile de Pâques.” Why?! Why translate Easter (Pâques) but not Christmas (Noël)?! It’s illogical!

Continue reading “Illogical French”

When life gets in the way

Oh my poor sad abandoned blog! I’m sorry I left you. Did you miss me?

I knew this would happen at la rentrée (back to school time). But I can explain.

The last time we saw each other, I was writing about drinking wine in Vouvray, but I was in Paris, having a wonderful (albeit grey) month of August. I took a million pictures, I went somewhere new every day, and I totally fell back in love with the city of lights. (Sometimes, people also call Lyon the city of lights, which is confusing. No actually, just people from Lyon do that.)

Continue reading “When life gets in the way”

Never have I ever… in Paris

Have you noticed that when you have a long period of time to explore a place thoroughly, you don’t? It’s easy to live somewhere for a year and never get around to seeing some of the major sites. Please tell me I’m not alone here!

Example #1: I grew up on the central coast of California, yet didn’t visit Hearst Castle until I was 26, and still haven’t been to the Winchester Mystery house. (I have listened to two podcasts on the latter, though! Geek alert.)

Example #2: I lived in Chicago for five years and never went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Big fail. (I regret this almost as much as I regret not eating more Big Star tacos.)

When there’s no deadline, there’s no urgency to explore a city’s attractions. If you can go any day… why go today? Life gets in the way, and routine takes over.

To ward off a future steeped in regret, I keep a little Paris bucket list so that I can take advantage of the city while I’m here. It’s easy for me to get lulled into the mindset that I can visit whenever I want, but the fact is once I go back to Lyon for la rentrée (back to school), I won’t popping up to Paris for the weekend anytime soon. I try to check something off the list every day, even if it’s a simple as wandering around the North Marais or trying the tacos at Candelaria. (Verdict: Delicious but overpriced.)

So on this note, I’m going to share with you some famous Paris attractions that I have never, ever visited, even after two years in France. Don’t judge me.

The Moulin Rouge

Paris Moulin Rouge

How many Parisians have actually been to the Moulin Rouge? Seriously, I want to know. Is it like, something everyone does once? Is it only for tourists? Do they have regulars? Do they have a Nicole Kidman doppelganger?

The Catacombs

Paris Catacombs

I hear the Catacombs are really, really cool. Can someone explain this one to me? What is down there besides a lot of bones in a damp subterranean tunnel?

The Versailles Gardens

Versailles canal

I’ve been to the chateau. I’ve been to the canal around back (yesterday!) but I haven’t been in those gated gardens. I’d like to go one day, but after all the chateau-ing we did in the Loire, I’m a little burned out on manicured hedges right now. Remind me to show you the gardens of Villandry… and you can tell me if Versailles tops them!

The Pantheon

Paris Pantheon

I routinely forget about the Pantheon. What am I missing out on?

The Eiffel Tower

Paris Eiffel Tower night

No no, I have seen the Eiffel Tower. It commands so much real estate in the Paris skyline, you can’t not see it. But you know what I’ve never done? I’ve never been up the Eiffel Tower. Not up to the top, not up to the first floor, nothing. It is fun to watch people trudging up like little ants, though. I don’t feel bad about this one – everyone says the best view of Paris is from the Tour de Montparnasse anyway. (Although… I’ve never been up there either. What is wrong with me?!)

I've also never put a lock on a bridge. But you're not supposed to do that anyway.
I’ve also never put a love lock on a bridge. But you’re not supposed to do that anyway.

 

The truth is that Paris is a city with endless possibilities, and I don’t think one person could experience everything it has to offer in a lifetime. So many museums, so many famous patisseries, so many restaurants where Hemingway drank tea kahlua whiskey? (What did Hemingway drink?) But I’m slowly chipping away at Paris, little by little. And if I move back one day? Who knows, maybe I’ll finally make it up the Eiffel Tower.

Have you visited any of these? What did you think?

 

On solo travel & being alone

Not everyone understands traveling alone. When I announced I was going to Barcelona by myself, I ended up on the receiving end of some raised eyebrows and confused looks.

“So you’re just going… by yourself?”

Um… yeah! I am. I like being alone. Not in a recluse-I-hate-the-world I-hate-other-people kind of way. I like people! But there’s a certain calm about being alone. Not only does it not bother me to be alone, I need to be alone sometimes. I get cranky without my alone time.

Can you tell I’m an introvert?

Introversion aside, I love the freedom of traveling alone. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Isn’t that nice sometimes? It’s so indulgent to do exactly what you want for an entire day (or week) and not have to worry about anyone else. (No, I don’t have kids.)

And in fact, if you aren’t able to go places by yourself, whether it’s taking a trip or just trying out a new restaurant or seeing a movie, that means you depend on others to do what you want to do. If you don’t go see a movie just because no one wants to see it with you? If you don’t eat at the restaurant you’re craving just because your friends already have plans? What do you do? Just stay home because you can’t go out by yourself?

When I was twenty, I moved to Chicago to finish music school. At the beginning of the school year, I wanted to go to the opera (the Chicago Lyric Opera is amazing) but I didn’t have anyone to go with. I thought about just staying home. But finally, I put on my favorite dress and went alone, and it was one of my all-time favorite nights at the opera. Through the Lyric’s student tickets program, I got a great seat in the dress circle (maybe because I was only buying one ticket?) and saw Deborah Voigt and Christine Brewer sing in a spectacular production of Die Frau Ohne Schatten. If you’re not an opera fan, that probably sounds like gibberish, but trust me, it was magical. And if I hadn’t had the guts to go by myself, I would have missed one of the best opera productions I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, from that time on, I’ve always done the things I really wanted to do, whether or not I had company. On my first trip to France, I rolled through the Côte d’Azur on my own and fell in love with Nice.

Nice woman with umbrella.jpg
I love Nice, even in the rain.

A few years later I moved to Paris, where I didn’t know anybody. I made friends quickly, but solo strolls in Paris are still one of my favorite things.

Paris Jardin de Luxembourg.jpg
Good luck finding two free chairs in Jardin du Luxembourg anyway. (Or rather, four, because you each need one to put your feet up!)

This summer, I spent a week solo in Barcelona. As I explained to skeptics, it seemed silly to not go just because there was no one to go with me. And as it turns out, I had an amazing time. All. By. My. Self.

Barcelona Chok.jpg
Also, you can eat whatever you want for breakfast and no one will judge you. (Pictured: Chök in Barcelona)

All that being said, there are some things that are just more fun in good company. Picnics in the park? Hitting the town for an evening out? Not so awesome when you’re alone, in my opinion. I don’t want to go to the Seine at sunset and open up a bottle of wine by myself. I go with my dog, of course. (Kidding, kidding.)

Do you like to do things alone, or do you find it boring? Would you judge me for eating cream-filled chocolate-covered doughnuts for breakfast?