Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pancake Tuesday

Ok, ok, so I know that it is not actually pancake Tuesday, but today is Tuesday. And I ate pancakes. But more on that in a sec...
This morning, while walking down the street a smile was put on my face by a little girl. She was walking down the street with her mom when they walked past a homeless woman peddling on the street. The girl had some coins, so she looked up at her mom, got approval, and the gave them to the homeless woman. No hesitation, no wondering what she would spend it on, no nothing. Just pure human joy in giving to something that they need. I love living in cities, but I hate having to see homeless people. The reason I hate it is because, especially over here, I don't feel comfortable stopping to chat with homeless people of buying them a coffee like I sometimes do in Peterborough, just because of the language barrier and, I'll be honest, the appearance of some of them. Anyways, in order to not get heckled, you basically have to walk past them and ignore them. Which I think is just wrong, because they are people too, just like me. So I always struggle with what to do. In Peterborough, sometimes I'll buy an extra coffee or I helped out at a Sunday breakfast last year, but I still wish I could do more.
So I was really inspired by the kindness that this little girl showed to a stranger. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said that we should be like children...
Anyways... pancakes!

On Sunday evenings, four other girls in my group and I usually get together for our own little Bible study. It has been such a huge blessing this year and it has inspired my faith and kept me accountable. This past Sunday, however, three of them were gone (Iceland, England, Nice/Monaco... oh the joys of living in Europe!) so we didn’t meet. Instead, we decided to get together after our class tonight and make dinner. We chose the wonderfully Canadian meal of pancakes, but with a twist. My family makes peanut butter pancakes; you basically put peanut butter in the batter and it’s AMAZING. It’s all we make now, pancake-wise. I also saw a recipe for banana bread pancakes on my favourite food blog, and really wanted to try them. So we decided to take my mom’s peanut butter pancake recipe and add bananas to it. And dark chocolate chips. Best idea ever!!! They were so delicious and we were very satisfied. 

We had a fun time cooking together, and then hung out afterwards to chat about life and faith. We chatted a lot about relationships tonight which was really interesting. If you want to be inspired and moved, I recommend watching the youtube video called “What are words”. It’s a song by an American Idol contestant about his wife, who got in a really bad car accident and lost a lot of her abilities, but he stuck by her. Anyways, it was beautiful!
And because it’s Tuesday, “Being Erica” was on CBC last night... so I’ll leave you with a quote from the show that I really connected with... sometimes reality can be not as exciting as our fantasies, but in the end it is reality that we have and we have the chance to make something beautiful out of it. I’m feeling kind of philosophical today... Being Erica + Bible study will do that to you, haha. Anyways, here it is and have a great day!
“Trading fantasy for reality and you might feel like Alice back from Wonderland. The world may not sparkle and shine, but the ground will be solid beneath your feet. And your eyes will be open to all the adventures that lie waiting for you in the real world.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Teaching... on my own!

Today at my volunteer teaching placement, I got the opportunity to teach all by myself! For the second class, 1ere S, there are 35 students... as you can imagine, it is difficult to work with that many students. So today, the teacher booked an extra class and from now on I'll be taking half the class with me and teaching the same lesson. Luckily, it will be the same as the first class that isn't split up, which means I get to observe how that class runs and then I can basically repeat it and tweak it where necessary. It's just really neat that I get to do this, because in Canada I would never get to take a class all on my own without a teacher. Granted, I do get to teach and it's really helpful to have a teacher observing and giving me feedback, but it's still pretty neat to be going solo.
The lesson wasn't difficult today... they are beginning a study of India, so we just covered some basic facts about India and talked about what they already knew. Then I handed out different photos and they had to write down what the photos expressed, how they were portrayed, what contrasts there were, etc. We didn't quite get finished by the time the bell rang, but that was better than having spare time at the end to fill! All in all I think it went well and I'm really excited to do it again next week. Plus, I'm getting another class added at 9am so I will get more teaching practice!
The English classes have been really great in that they have helped me with my French (you know, little words hear and there, grammar and sentence structure), but most importantly they have given me some great ideas for activities when I'm a French teacher. My host teacher is really great at balancing grammar, writing, reading/comprehension, and oral expression all in one class, while making sure that students are engaged. I'm actually really excited to get students to love French!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reunion in Angers

On Friday evening, I hopped on a train and in just 35 minutes found myself in the city of Angers, where my former exchange student and my French friend are studying. When I got to the station, there were so many people that it was really difficult to find them. Finally, I saw my friend, Louise, who was in my class the last time I came to France. After almost 4 years, we were seeing each other again! It was pretty bizarre. We couldn't believe how much time had passed. As I stood around with her and Camille, my exchange student, we were in a bit of shock at first. It was just so weird to be back together after so much time.
We went over to Camille's place to hang out and eat dinner. It was great catching up! Plus, I got to speak French so that was a definite bonus! We chatted about what we'd been up to, what we were all studying, etc, and how neat it was to be reunited.
For dinner, we had a very traditional meal of "raclette." Basically you melt cheese in these little trays and pour it over potatoes with various meat. It doesn't sound like much but it's really, really good. I also got to see Camille's photos from her 1-month Scout trip to Burkina Faso. It made me appreciate the state of France and Canada... just from the photos I could tell that we are very blessed to live where we do. The streets in BF were basically just dirt, and when it rained you couldn't pass them very well. Camille was there to work in a type of orphanage if I understood correctly.
Anyways, it got kind of late so Louise and I headed out to her apartment to sleep. After having a wonderful sleep-in, we had some breakfast, showered, and went grocery shopping for lunch.
Camille came over for lunch and brought her boyfriend, Quentin, who was visiting from Rennes. We had the little aperatifs as usual, then steak haché (like hamburger), potatoes, and beans for our main course, followed by bread and cheese and vanilla yogourt for dessert. As per French standards, we spent about 2 hours eating and chatting. It was a lot of fun.
After, we walked around the downtown for a bit. I've already been to Angers, so seeing the castle and other touristy things wasn't a big deal. I will come back though with my friends to see it again... and I intend on taking some pictures in the same spots as last time I was there. So after walking around, we decided to grab a drink at one of the cafés, since it was pretty chilly yesterday. Louise and I got a viennoise chocolat (like hot chocolate with chantilly cream), Camille got a cappucinno, and Quentin got a beer. We also ate some delicious Speculoos cookies, which are far too dangerous for me to buy (because I eat them all).
Our chocolat viennoise... dangerous on a daily basis!

After Quentin graciously paid for all of our drinks, we walked past the chateau and then back to Louise's place to grab my stuff so that I could catch the train. We made it to the station with only a couple of minutes to spare, so we said our "see you soon's" and I hopped on the train. Little did I know that I would sit there for an hour while the train was delayed for an "undetermined amount of time," because they were searching for someone... I didn't really get the whole thing, but apparently there was some man in the station that they were looking for. Anyways, it was weird but finally the train departed.
And now I find myself once again on Sunday! I went to church this morning, which was very nice. Next weekend will be my last weekend in Nantes until the New Year, because we only have two weeks of school left until Christmas vacation. I will be going home from Dec. 22-Jan. 4, and I am very excited to see my family and friends!
But before that, myself and two friends are going on a little trip. We are flying into Dublin (because that's where all the cheap flights go to/from) and staying one night there for our friends 20th birthday. The next day, we're heading to Munich, Germany for a few days. We don't have a huge itinerary yet, but one of the things we will definitely be doing is seeing the Dachau concentration camp from WWII. Then, we're catching a night train to Strasbourg (on the border of France and Germany), the Christmas Capital of France! It is going to be beautiful. After that, a few days in Brussels, Belgium, and then ending off in Amsterdam, Holland. We are so excited and it will be a wonderful Christmas trip before heading home.
I hope everyone is getting excited for the holidays!

Friday, November 25, 2011

1 Month until Christmas!!

I wanted to share a bit about what I've been up to the last couple of days! Though once again nothing terribly exciting has happened, I've still been having a great time.
On Wednesday night, we were invited to an "English" Pub night downtown. It was organized by one of the English professors who wanted his students to have a night to speak English with other English speakers. the bonus for us was that we also got to speak French!
I wasn't really planning on going, but it was either that or working on my grammar homework (don't worry, I got it done, the evening out gave me some incentive!) so I decided, why not? It was a pretty good time and I met a couple of really nice people. I only wish that I had gotten some of their names, because it would have been great to hang out with them again! We also were supposed to wear something stereotypical for an Anglophone, so a couple of us had Canada toques and a few of us wore plaid. It was all around a good evening!
On Thursday morning, instead of our usual language class we went to see an art exhibit. For our final assignment this term, we have to write a review on either the theatre piece that we saw or the art exhibit. It was an... interesting exhibit, to say the least! Some of the paintings were really wonderful, some were just weird. Here's a little sample:
One of the exhibits... a plain white shirt, with some stains and a dead spider to make it look even more appealing.

Portrait de Madame de Senonnes, one of the more famous paintings.

L'Apparition de l'ange à St. Joseph... my favourite, though the photo doesn't do it justice.

A spin on Plato's Allegory of the Cavern 
Overall, it was better than sitting in class for three hours!
Last night after class, we made our way downtown to get tickets for the fourth Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn in English or Révélation in French. Of course we had to see it in French, but it actually was alright. I liked Bella's voice much better in French than in English! And I have to say, the fourth movie was definitely the best one yet. I have no shame in saying that I saw that movie, because it was actually fantastic. Oh, and the soundtrack was amazing... must get the CD!
We also wandered around a bit, and found that the Christmas village is opening soon downtown. In the Place Royale, there are all of these little Christmas cabins and they will soon be filled with gifts and treats for the season! One treat that we all want to try is "vin chaud", which we think is like their version of hot apple cider. We also got to see the beautiful Christmas decorations in the Passage Pomerané, which made me want to burst into a chorus of "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." I have no shame in saying that I have already started listening to Christmas music... it's in a month! Wow. Time flies.
Brooke, Michelle, and Vic admiring the lights

This evening, I'm off to Angers, a small city just 35 minutes away by train. I'm going just for the night and day tomorrow to visit my exchange student from last time, Camille, and my friend Louise. I'm really excited to see them again, because it has been a while!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Start of a New Week

So far, my week has been going quite smoothly, if not terribly exciting!
Yesterday, I once again went to my high school to volunteer with a couple of English classes. I might be taking on an extra one from 9am-10am as well, which will be nice. In the first class, the students were presenting their press reviews. Basically, they were given an article which they had to summarize and give their opinion on. Armed with a marking criteria, I actually got to make notes about things like their sounds, intonation, accentuation, and flow/speed. It was really interesting trying to listen for such things as these, because I really don't ever do that... I think it will be helpful when I'm actually a French teacher. The two biggest things that I noticed were that the students mispronounced "h" and "th", and that they often said their phrases in a questioning tone, rather than a declarative one. In the second class, I just walked around and helped correct what they were working on. I also learned the difference between the passive voice in English and the passive voice in French, and how they are really hard to give a direct translation. For example, if you wanted to say "I was asked..." you would say "on m'a demandé", which directly means "it was demanded of me". So it was interesting to learn.
After, I went for my long run, about an hour, which felt not too bad.
Then, I worked on my philosophy essay which is due on Thursday and studied for my history test. The test was this morning, and I think it went pretty well. I actually liked studying for it; it brought back some good studying memories from the past two years... although there wasn't near as much to study. And like I said, the test wasn't that bad. We were given a document to read and then four questions. All we really needed was a bit of background knowledge to put it into context.
Later on today, in our literature class, we get to watch the film of the book we're reading, "Barrage Contre le Pacifique." I hope it is good and explains the book well.
Other than that, not too much is happening! It is beautiful and sunny, about 15 degrees, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to get cold shock when I'm home for Christmas.
I'm also really looking forward to this weekend; I will be going to Angers, a city not too far away, to visit my friend and exchange student from the last time I was in France. I'm really looking forward to catching up with them! It's been almost four years!
Have a great Tuesday :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Host Family

Yesterday, I got to spend a wonderful afternoon and evening with my host family. It had been quite awhile since I'd seen them, due to busy weekends for both of us, so it was great to get together again. When I arrived around 5pm, we went to watch their youngest daughter's basketball. Unfortunately, her team was playing a much more experienced and taller team, so they lost pretty badly... I think it was something like 62-12... they tried really hard though and it was very enjoyable. Once again, people were shouting and cheering throughout the entire game, despite these girls only being around 10-12 years old... I am always amazed at the ambiance at sporting events over here!
We didn't get out of the gym until about 7:30, so we went straight back to their house to have dinner. Of course, we started with an aperatif, which was cucumber, sausage, zucchini, crab meat, and some cheesy things. They also made sangria, which was the strongest sangria I have ever had! I brought a USB key and showed them my pictures from my Italy trip, which was nice. I also played a board game with Melanie (the youngest) before dinner. We didn't actually start eating until around 9:15!
For dinner, we had something really delicious that I had never heard of before... meat fondu! Basically, you take a bunch of pieces of raw beef and put them on your plate. They heated up a bowl of oil, and then put the oil on a fondu burner in the middle of the table. Then, you skewer your piece of meat and cook it in the hot oil. The nice thing about this was that you could cook it as much or as little as you wanted, which was nice for me because the French definitely don't cook their meat like I do... I always have no pink in mine (although I must say that pink in the middle is actually starting to grow on me). We also had fries and salad. The meat was delicious, and it was also much needed because I honestly can't remember the last time I had red meat over here... so it was great to eat it again. For dessert, we had a bit of ice cream, baked apples, and some little confectioneries from somewhere in the south of France.
After dinner, we began to watch a movie, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and I left around 11pm. It was a great evening and lots of French speaking was had!
Today my day is pretty much dedicated to homework and researching hostels for my trip before Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas... I may or may not have started listening to Christmas music... it is making me very excited for the holiday season!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A few average days

Hello there!
This post comes to you from the land of 16 degrees and sunny. I have been bombarded with Facebook statuses from home talking about all the snow you're getting, so I just had to share what our weather was. Although I love the white stuff, I can't say that I really miss the cold. Plus, I get to see snow when I go home for Christmas (just a little over a month now... where has the time gone??).
Anyways, this post is more or less a "hello" to everyone, as not much has really happened over the past couple of days. Life has been pretty regular! On Thursday, we had our regular class. Our language teacher kind of terrifies us all, because we don't really understand her marking. She marks really hard, and we can't tell if she's giving us a Canadian grade or a French one. We need to figure it out though...
The marking over here is very different. Everything is graded out of 20, but it is not a percentage like we have. For example, 10/20 doesn't translate into a 50%, it is a 70%. 12/20 is considered pretty good. So you can imagine our confusion... oh well, we're all doing decently right now, so we'll see how grades get transferred over.
In the evening, myself and 2 other girls got together with 3 of the American girls from the big American group that goes to our church. We have been meaning to hang out, but at the beginning of the trip it was so hard to coordinate. Thank goodness we finally did though, because it was so great chatting with them! They took us to an Irish Pub, one of their favourites, and it was pretty fun. We just sat around and chatted. They told us all about their program, which is actually really neat. Most of them are engineers, from the Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Every first semester, the school sends students over here to live in France for a cultural experience. They take their engineering classes via webcam from home, and also take French classes with one of their profs over here. They live in 2 houses, with a married couple from the States who are also their professors, and who have been doing this for a few years. It is a pretty neat program.
Yesterday, I went for a run with my friend who I'm doing the half-marathon with, which was nice. I also went downtown for a bit, and then returned to do homework! I went over to my other friends' residence, because they were doing homework and I thought it might motivate me. We actually have a decent amount of stuff due soon: this week, we have a history test and a philosophy essay due, the week after that we have a philosophy test, and the last week of school we have a literature test, and sociology essay, and a language essay due. So it looks like I will be keeping busy!
It might be strange to say, but a part of me actually misses my history classes at Trent... even though I probably complained about the workload, I really did enjoy writing my essays and participating in seminars. And I loved lectures (I had the best history profs last year)! So it is strange for me to not have as intensive a workload as I'm used to. I should enjoy it though, because I'm probably going to die in a pile of books next year (one 3rd year history, two 4th year histories, 2 french classes, 1 con-ed class). Plus, I have been learning so much outside of the classroom this year... whether learning about history on a trip, learning about cultural differences just by living in the city, or learning about myself in new situations, I can't say that I haven't been constantly learning something over here. I think that's what makes it so exciting!
Last night was spent doing not much... I did more homework, hung out with a friend, and then curled up to watch an episode of Friends before bed.
This morning, I woke up and went for a run, and have now made an ambitious list of things to work on. Bring it on, philosophy essay! Around 5pm, I'm going to go over to my host family's for dinner. I haven't seen them in a while, so I'm really looking forward to it.
Have a great Saturday everyone... and if you have snow, ENJOY!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cultural Differences

If there is one thing that I have learned since coming to France, it is this: we might all be human beings who share the same planet, but the differences between cultures can be so astounding sometimes!
Last week, when I met my friend for coffee, he asked me what the biggest difference is between France and Canada in the business world. I had to think for a minute, but then it came to me: administration and customer service. Now I've already had my moment on this blog with French administration (which, by the way, continues to be never ending. Our carte de sejour, which allows us to stay in France once our Visa expires, still hasn't come in yet because there is someone new working with the documents and they don't know what they're doing. Don't worry, we get some temporary thing if it's not in on time, but SERIOUSLY!)... so I decided that it had come the time to discuss another little difference which I find bizarre, but which also makes me reflect on my own attitude: customer service and efficiency.
The word efficient? I don't think it is in the French dictionary. Ok, it is, but I don't hear it very often. Things really get done at their own pace... no matter how slow. 2 hour lunch break? Check.
I'm going to write about two experiences I've had, one today and one everyday, and bear with me until I get to the end, because I'm going to reflect on the events and hopefully not sound like an impatient and entitled little North American.
Event #1: Each night, my kitchen closes at 10h30 and reopens at 6h30 in the morning. Every morning I use the kitchen to heat up my oatmeal (oats+milk+peanut butter+banana=awesomeness), usually between 7h30 and 8h30. In Canada, cleaning of public spaces (like kitchens) always occurs when things are closed, so as not to inconvenience the "customer" (for lack of a better word). Here, though, my kitchen is always cleaned right around the times I want to use it, so I either have to go in awkwardly and be in the way and feel bad, or if the floor has already been mopped I have to go to a different floor to use their microwave. This is only awkward when I am still in pajamas... it is so convenient just walking across the hall instead! And I always feel bad, because the cleaning lady is so nice, and she always makes sure she's out of my way, but then I feel like I'm inconveniencing her... anyways.
Event #2: Today, while in line for the grocery store, I finally made it to the front of the line and then proceeded to wait for quite a few minutes while the cashiers took their time switching places (which is understandable) but then proceeded to stand there and talk about what time they were getting off work, what a day it had been, yada yada yada. Meanwhile, I am waiting for them to ring me through. And no apology about it either! That just wouldn't fly in Canada. And the other day my friend paid in cash at the grocery store, with a bill, and they asked if she had 87 cents so that they wouldn't have to give as much change. Umm. Why yes, of course I have 87 cents, let me just dig around for it for a while??? If I had 87 cents, I would have given it to you the first time I paid!
Event #3: My two friends went to go get some train tickets for our upcoming holiday trip. First they went to the boutique downtown, which was closed for lunch and had no sign saying when it would reopen. They decided to go to the actual train station, so they took a tram there and waited in line for half an hour, only to find out that they couldn't do international trains at their present desk, they had to go to a different one. Back in line. Another 30 minute wait. This time, they got up to the counter and began to question about getting their tickets. The first one they tried was from Munich to Strasbourg. The attendant said, "well, there is a stop over on this train."
"Yes," says my friend, "we know."
"Well," says the attendant, " I need to know the stopover."
"We don't know it."
"I'm sorry, I can't do anything. You have to come here with all of your information ready to give to me."
My friends look at each other. They look back at the man. "Well, we found the trains online, can't you do the same?" they inquire, while thinking that it would only MAKE SENSE if the train station, who was selling the tickets, knew all the stopovers...
"No. We don't have internet here."
Excellent customer service, right there.

Which brings me to my reflection part. In Canada, we are always so worried about the customer not getting offended and about whipping people through in the most efficient manner. Cashiers are either completely passive or over the top bubbly (except for that one that my Mom had once... we all know the story... haha). Pleasing the customer is always important... they are never wrong, even when they are rude and complain.We have custodians who clean late into the night or early in the morning so that they don't get in our way during the day. And this kind of system is one that I am used to, one that I've never questioned.
But maybe we're too rushed in Canada? Maybe the fact that I feel impatient and inconvenienced shows that I have been too spoiled with excellent customer service over the years that I've just come to expect to be put first in a business setting. Is it really something to get irritated with? Or is it an opportunity to practice patience and learn how to relax for two seconds? I mean, it is their job to serve the customers...
Who knows!
Anyways, that's my little cultural spiel for the day. Hopefully I didn't sound too entitled. I really do enjoy the relaxed attitude over here, it is just different. I have been learning a lot, but there is still so much more to learn.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Night at the Theatre

Today, we had our usual 6 hours of class, but in the evening we had to attend a theater performance for our language class. It was... interesting. It made me realize that even though I can converse fairly well, and understand announcements and classroom remarks, I still have a long way to go before I am a French master. I, as well as many of my classmates, failed miserably at understanding what the play was about.
We knew before that it had something to do with Africa and that it was written collectively by the students who produced and acted in it. There were 6 actors.
Afterwards, we flocked around one of our classmates who had actually understood the piece, but we are also going to talk about it tomorrow in class. The gist of it was that there was some sort of business group working in Africa where there were no dark-skinned people, only whites, and they were trying to create a market for these bizarre products that people would have no need for. There was a bar in their workplace, and they had their days all planned out for them and didn't need to do anything outside of work. There was also a woman who had moved again from Asia for her husband`s work and wasn't adjusting to the new culture well. There was also a rebel force working against them for some reason...
Yeah, if you`re confused, please try to imagine all of that taking place in FRENCH with multiple entries into the work of absurd theater. My brain is tired.
But it was a good experience, and the audience really appreciated the show. Instead of a standing ovation, they just kept clapping until the actors came back out and took another bow. Our teacher also said that she was very moved by the piece, so I`m hoping that when we discuss it tomorrow I can better understand it.
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Teacher's Lounge

I just got back from my second day of volunteering in a French Lycée (high school) and I just have to write about the teacher's lounge!
Now, I have completed two placements thus far in my university career as well as a few other volunteer positions, so I'm no stranger to how teacher's lounges work in Canada. In the ones that I've been to, teachers bring their own lunch, stay in the lounge for about 15 minutes to eat, and then head out to finish marking or planning their lessons. I often find the teacher's lounge a little awkward as a student teacher, because as a student teacher you don't have to leave to do work... so I usually end up finishing homework or reading at the end of lunch. Last year's placement was even more interesting for me, as I had a different host teacher in the morning than in the afternoon, so I had to go into the teacher's lounge all alone. I eventually found some teachers to eat with each week, but at the beginning it was very awkward. I actually found that the younger teachers were much colder whereas the older teachers were much more welcoming.
In France, the teacher's lounge is very different. The students have about 2 hours off (they start earlier and end later though) and so do the teachers. Very few teachers bring their own lunch, as you can purchase meal tickets and get a meal very similar to the ones I can get in the student cafeteria. It consists of a salad, a main course (usually cooked veggies, some sort of meat, and either pasta/rice/fries), bread, and a dessert and fruit. You can also get an espresso along with that (I am now a fan). It is a pretty complete meal! Then, the teachers take about an hour to eat and catch up. Another interesting addition to the French teacher's caf: wine! They actually have bottles sitting out and the teachers are free to drink if they so choose. I saw one teacher down a whole glass of wine before heading out today. Bizarre!
As for the conversation, well, it's pretty much the same. The one difference is that at my school here, there are about 1200 students, so the teachers can't possibly know each student. In Canada, the teachers would generally know the students in smaller schools, and could therefore discuss different students' behaviour. I couldn't believe in Canada how much the teachers actually talked about the students! Today, the conversation revolved around American movies, laws against hitting children (at home, not at school), where to put your meal tickets when you don't have pockets, an award my teacher won, different units, and girls who dressed up too much for school.
Which brings me to another interesting point: the teacher's dress code. Or lack thereof! In Canada, we are pretty much required to dress professionally (or at least, I've had to thus far in my placements), and jeans are a definite no-no. Here, you can basically wear whatever, your hair can be whatever, it doesn't really matter. But in general, I feel like in Canada we try really hard to make ourselves look good... over here, they don't really do much and they always look really well put-together, even when you can tell they didn't really try. The casual French fashion... coveted by the rest of the world!
I really enjoyed the teacher's lounge. Sometimes I wasn't able to understand everything, as they spoke pretty quickly and about topics I wasn't familiar with, but they tried to include me which was nice. And they were very animated, so even when I didn't understand I could pretend.
I am continuing to enjoy learning more about the French school system, and in particular how language is taught.
One more fun fact: did you know that we have two different pronunciations for the "th" sound? There is one as in : the, this, there, etc. and one as in : think, thank, etc. One is more open and one comes from the throat. I never knew! It is one of the sounds that the French students really struggle with. The others are "r" and "h". For us, we struggle with "r" and some vowels apparently.
And now it is a beautiful, 15 degrees and sunny day, so I'm going to head out for a run... in shorts and a t-shirt.  I could get used to this in mid-November!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lest We Forget

This past Friday, November 11, I had the honour and privilege of going to Juno Beach in Normandy, France, for Remembrance Day. After staying over in Caen, a city just inland of the beach, my friends and I caught a green line bus with a few other Canadians to  Corseulles-sur-Mer, the town where Juno Beach is located.
After researching online, I found out that there was a Canadian Museum called the Centre Juno Beach, and that they would be having a Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony at 3pm on November 11. Obviously we had to make it!
When we first arrived, we took a moment to walk along the beach and enjoy the sights. It is very different seeing the beach and knowing what happened there on the morning of 6 June 1944... it is really a gorgeous beach, so therefore very difficult to imagine the horrors that took place there!
Posing with the Canadian and French flags

Centre Juno Beach

Juno Beach

Me and Juno Beach
After we took in the sights, we made our way to the center to look around a bit before the ceremony started. Outside of the center, there are all of these plaques that people/groups who have donated to the center can purchase. I actually found one from home, from the place where my Dad (and basically my whole town) works.
Pretty neat!
Before the ceremony, we had time to quickly view a temporary exhibit and watch a short video that takes images from the archives of Canada and tries to show what it was like for our soldiers who landed on the beaches. It was very well done.
The ceremony took place outside, and I must say that it was one of the best ceremonies that I have ever been to. Maybe it was because I was in France and hadn't had much exposure to Canadian traditions in a few months, but all in all it was very well done. And it had been a while since I had seen so many Canadians!
We began with a song by a boys' choir from a Toronto School. They were excellent! They sang two songs during the ceremony, the first one and then Amazing Grace at another point. After, there was a welcome (in France and English) from the director of the center. She pointed out some important people who were attending, such as the mayor of the town, the Toronto group, the representatives of the First People's of Canada, and some Afghanistan veterans. She also pointed out an older gentleman, who was a Polish soldier during WWII but was now a French citizen. He had actually fought in the Battle of Normandy! When she recognized him, everyone clapped and he stood up and shook his hands together for everyone. It was pretty remarkable, and I found that he received a warmer welcome here than our veterans at home. Makes you realize how little we are actually appreciating what they did! After the welcome, there was the second song by the choir, some speeches, and then the Last Post. They also read the Act of Remembrance and we had a minute of silence. As per tradition, we had a wreath laying and then we sang the French and Canadian national anthems. It had been awhile since I'd sang O Canada, so I felt rather patriotic! Especially singing such a proud and peaceful anthem after one that sang about "the foreigners blood watering our crops" (see my previous post "Mardi..." etc. about the French national anthem).
After the ceremony, we had a chance to explore the museum. We could have stayed there for much longer, but it unfortunately closed at 5pm so we only had an hour. It was a great review for me, and I enjoyed reading all of the displays and listening to the audio recordings. One room had all of these old radios with the broadcasts made by various world leaders on the eve of World War II. I listened to Hitler, King George V (the King's Speech), and our very own Mackenzie King give their addresses. I enjoyed all of the information about King, after having studied him intensely last year in one of my history courses.
WLMK is sitting on the right.

We got to have one last stroll along the beach as the sun was setting. As it set, I couldn't help but think again about how gorgeous the beach was... but how terrifying it must have been for all of those young men who fought bravely to capture it. I can't imagine how they must have felt, and I hope that I never see a war where so many of our young men and women have to be in the same position again.
Lest we forget!
Our two flags again.

The beach at sunset

What a view!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Catching up!

Well, I've been back in Nantes for a week now, and have been keeping very busy!
Last weekend, my friends and I tried to go see "The Help" at the movie theater before going out for a friend's birthday, but unfortunately the tickets were all sold old. Never fear though: we just came back and made crepes!
Enjoying our delicious crepes!
Sunday was also a wonderful day! Myself and two Americans were invited to our Bible study leader's house along with a couple other French students and another lady for lunch. It was like a small potluck, so we brought some drinks and appetizers. Our leader is a missionary from the States, here with his wife and their two adorable 2-year-old twin girls. It was really interesting to hear them speak, because they're at that stage where they repeat what their parents say. They would say some things in English, some in French, and some in a mix of the two. They are certainly very lucky to be hearing both languages early on, and it will certainly help with their inevitable bilingualism!
For lunch, our leader's wife made the most wonderful meal: couscous with onions and nuts, green beans, and delicious lemon chicken. For dessert, the two other students brought a delicious pear tart crumble and chocolate chip cookies. Overall, it was a wonderful afternoon full of French speaking! The day ended off wonderfully with a Bible study with a few girlfriends from the group.
Monday was my first day at a high school volunteering. I was in 2 classes, both grade 10 English. The first one had 16 students and was the literature stream, and the second had 35 students and was the science stream. See if you can guess which class was stronger in English and actually wanted to be there... if you guessed the literature stream, you win! There were varying degrees of English, but overall they spoke pretty well for grade 10s. Better than our grade 10s speak French in Canada, I think. I was thrown right into things, helping to lead a small group in analyzing some photos that had won various prizes for photojournalism. It gave me a lot of good ideas for my own classes someday. The second class I just observed, as there was no group work. That will come though, which I am nervous for because these grade 10s don't seem too keen on language learning. My teacher actually told me that a lot of parents pressure their kids to enter into the science stream rather than literature, because they don't think that literature will take them anywhere. I will blog a big more on the high school system later... and hopefully discuss this topic a bit more in depth.
My teacher was also really great. He studied in England for a year, and then worked there for 7 years. He met his wife there, who now lives in France with him, so his English is really good. He was actually leaving for London the next day to accept an award for a project that he created. We chatted a bit about the marking scheme and education in France, and I think that I will be able to learn a lot from him that will be useful in my future teaching career!
I also went for a 10km run... and it felt great!
Tuesday... not much happened. It rained and was cold.
Today, though, was gorgeous!
I woke up nice and early to run, had coffee and watched Glee with a friend, and did some homework (yes, it exists. I've actually been working the last couple of days on an essay due tomorrow). Afterwards, I made my way downtown to meet up with someone at the Cafe Moliere. We were contacted by the France Canada association to see if any of us would be interested in meeting a guy named Emmanuel, who was interested in going to Canada to work, and wanted to chat about our fine country. I contacted him, and we got together for coffee today (don't worry Mom and Dad--NOT a date!). It was really a win-win situation, because he got to hear all about Canada and I got to speak French for almost 2 hours! He has completed his 5 year of undergrad and masters in communications technology, and is interested in discovery a new country, in particular Canada. He is hoping to move there in January for 2 years and hopefully find work of some sort. He will be attending a job fair soon here in France to see if he can find some job postings, otherwise he will show up in Montreal and meet some friends there before looking for work. I think he's pretty adventurous! Anyways, it was a great afternoon and I really enjoyed the French practice.
Tomorrow, I'm heading out after class to Normandy with a few friends to go to a Remembrance Day ceremony and see Juno Beach on November 11. I'm so excited!! Thanks to my Mom for sending me poppies to wear!
And speaking of my Mom... today is her birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Italy--The Final Days

Finally, I have arrived at my last post regarding Italy!
I apologize if any of my phrases seem choppy or awkward; I just finished writing a French essay and so my brain is currently mixing two languages. Evident by the fact that I almost wrote "melanging", a mixture of "melange" and "mixing."
Anyways! The last two days in Rome were full of lots of walking. On Monday, we did a self-guided walking tour of the Heart of Rome. We saw the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps (which had too many people), the Pantheon, many city squares, and lots of amazing architecture. One of the squares was the Piazzo Novona, where we found lots of really talented artists and I found myself a little souvenir, a leather key chain in the shape of  treble clef. The Italians are big on their leather, and I love music and have car keys, so I decided that it would be a good reminder of my stay. As if I could ever forget Italy!
I also had the opportunity to go to Saint Eustachio's Cafe, voted best cup of coffee in Rome by the New York Times! I unfortunately didn't order their specialty because I didn't understand any of the words, but I got a delicious cafe-mocha-type hot beverage anyways, so I was pretty happy.
The Trevi Fountain--throw a coin in to ensure a trip back to Rome!

The Spanish Steps

The Pantheon

Coffee deliciousness!
In the evening, we followed the advice from my travel guide and went to a little restaurant near our hostel. It was described as having "delicious meals for dirt cheap prices" and a "loyal local following." I am so glad we listened to it, because it was amazing! The nicest family run restaurant with delicious food... and it was cheap. You could get a nice big pizza for just 7 euros! We ended up eating there on Tuesday night as well.
On our last day in Rome, we somehow managed to fill up the entire day walking around the parts of the city that we hadn't yet seen. Once again we found ourselves happily wandering off of the beaten path and through lesser-know  parts of the city. One of the interesting places we walked by was a giant rose garden, where supposedly all of the roses in the world are descended from. Who knows if that's true, but they were beautiful nonetheless. We also got to see the runners in the Rome Marathon! The streets were all blocked off, and then this super fast man sprinted past us, so we figured it must be the end of a race. Little did we know that this sprinting man was only just nearing the 8km mark. I don't know how he kept that up for 34 more kilometers, but he was a tank. It definitely got me excited for the Paris Half-Marathon!
Not a bad race course!

Because we had a flight at 7am, we made the decision to save ourselves paying for 4 hours of sleep in a hostel, and instead took a bus to the airport on Tuesday night... and slept there! It was very interesting. It was a very small airport, and there were a lot of other people doing the same thing as us. I guess if you have an early flight, it just makes sense. We luckily found a nice corner spot and I was able to grab about 3 hours or sleep.
Our lovely little airport
Luckily, our flight back to France was fantastically smooth, with a stellar landing. Much better than our arrival.
And now, I am back in France and back into school! I will post a little update on my week thus far tomorrow, since I don't want this to get too long. But needless to say, I had a wonderful time in Italy and am looking forward to my next traveling adventure!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Italy- Oct. 30, Vatican City!

Thanks to daylight savings time, when we woke up at 7am to venture to the Vatican, it didn't do too much damage on our sleep pattern. It was like sleeping in until 8am! Win.
We got really lucky, and happened to ask our hostel attendants about the best way to get to the Vatican and ended up learning that the last Sunday of each month was free entrance to the Vatican museums and St. Peter's Basilica. And we just happened to be in Rome on the last Sunday, which meant that we saved 15 euros! Win again. We decided to take the metro, because the museums opened at 8:45 and we heard that the line was always really long. We were a little concerned when basically the entire metro got off at the Vatican stop, but we weren't prepared at all for the line that snaked it way through the streets for the museum. It is literally the longest line I have ever seen in my life. We just kept walking... and walking... and walking! Luckily we only waited for an hour and 40 minutes, better than we expected after seeing the line. There were so many people though.
The Vatican Museums have one of the largest collection of artifacts in the world, so it was awesome to walk around and see everything on display. For example, this famous statue:

It was really crowded though, so you didn't have as much time to look at things and you could have. We also went through the Map Room, which I had never even heard of, but was blown away by! The entire ceiling was made up of paintings, and they were all beautiful.
After this, we were herded like cattle down a few corridors in the direction of the Sistine Chapel. When we finally made it, it was incredible. I can't even begin to describe how amazing the chapel is... the entire ceiling as well as the walls were painted by Michelangelo, and it is clear that that man had a crazy God-given talent. The walls were painted so that they looked like curtains, and it actually fooled me. And the ceilings also were painted to look like 3D images, when it was actually flat. I could have stayed in there for hours. I particularly liked looking at the famous painting of the Creation of Adam. as remarkable, and the more I stared at it the more y recommend that if you ever make it to Rome, you see the Sistine Chapel. The only downside was that it was supposed to be silent and photos weren't allowed, but people didn't follow either or those rules. It was a little frustrating, but we didn't let it get us down.
Afterwards, we made our way to St. Peter's Basilica, where we waited in another huge line to get in. Once again, totally worth it.
Inside, it was very beautiful. One of the interesting things that I learned is that just inside the door on your right, there is a statue by Michelangelo that is behind bullet-proof glass. Apparently this is because in the 70s or 80s, someone came in with an axe and started trying to chop up the statue now it's very protected!
Just inside the Basilica

The remains of one of the Popes

A statue that I enjoyed.

Random processional. We didn't know what it was for, but they sang beautifully!

Holy water!
After our trip, we decided to see more of Rome by walking back to our hostel. Though it took us about 2 hours to walk back, it was worth it because we got to see a market, a beautiful sunset, and lots of other old architecture.
When we got back, we met our new roommates, two American girls from Florida who were studying in Milan. We went with them and our other American friends to the free pizza and wine party put on by the hostel. It was fun, but there was not enough food to satisfy us. The two girls decided to go to a little restaurant near the Trevi Fountain, and invited us to go with them. My other travel companions were too tired, but I was all ready to go. So we took the metro to see the fountain for the first time, at night. It was gorgeous!
Standing out in bright green
The two girls that I met were amazing! They had these meal coupons that worked at select restaurants in Italy, so they offered to use them for our food. We ordered prosciutto and mozzarella, bruschetta, red wine, and a margherita pizza, with tiramisu for dessert. Everything was delicious and I had a great time chatting about their adventures in Italy and their lives in the States. It seems that I meet Americans everywhere, and they are always extremely kind. I've really been enjoying learning more about our neighbours to the South!
See that white glob of cheese in the background? BEST mozzarella EVER.

We happened to have the same waiter as the girls had had the night before, who was very nice and enjoyed speaking to them in Italian. He was very generous and gracious, and always came to check and make sure we were doing well. At the end of our meal, he brought us three glasses of lemoncello, on the house! I learned that this is what the Italians do when they like you as a guest, so we were very flattered. It was my first time tasting lemoncello, and it was delicious!
Overall, it was a wonderful evening and I had a great time with the two American girls. It was the perfect way to end off another amazing day in Rome!