This last month in Paris has felt more like a vacation; despite the thirteenish hours of classes I have per week. I don’t feel strangled around the neck with class time here or feel threatened I won’t have enough time to get my homework done. The truth about studying abroad and living in another part of the world is that the city you choose to live and learn is more so your classroom than the 20 foot by 20 foot room you go to three times a week for grammar sessions. In class, your French is fine tuned, but it’s out on the streets talking to locals where you are really tested. Although, the majority of the time I practice my lingo out about the town I usually get a reply spoken in English. Which is extremely discouraging and makes you realize the last clip in Paris Je T’aime has a lot in common with yourself. But besides the two schools I attend to learn French, I go to another school once a week to assist in teaching English to the little frenchies. In this case, I am the one who gets to sit on the other side of the desks. Looks like the tables have turned…
This internship has a lengthy application process that put off a lot of people from the start. We had to write a paper or something in French and complete something else? Honestly, all of this is a blur and I don’t remember doing it. I remember thinking “I don’t want to do this” so I thought the length of this experience stopped there. Then during our first week in France, when they called my name out to come to the internship meeting I was really surprised with myself that I had actually completed the application and wrote that paper in French. Since I don’t remember going through the hassle of writing the application letter in French, this ended up being a really nice gig for me. We were sent to the school, called Fenelon-Saint Marie, for children in elementary up through high school. This college and lycée are well known for its excellent academics but I swear, every time I am there for the three hours kids are outside for recess the entire time. Despite the usual and envious time of recess, the students here have to take their studies very seriously. They are enrolled in music, art, history, math, social studies, attend mass, take French and another language, sometimes two. Some of these kids take up to three languages all before they become a teenager. It’s incredible to witness. At that age, I was still learning English. And I have to say, the French school system is on to something here. In addition to their intense curriculum, some of these students who are enrolled in French, English, and German, for example, can have class days from 8:30 to 6pm. My regular 8-2 was bad enough at the time. After their lycée (high school) years, they have to prepare for their post high school life to admit them into the universities here. Apparently, these years are as hard for them as they are for Hogwarts students when they are studying for their OWLS. That’s the best comparison I can draw for you there. For those of you who-*shudder*-don’t read Harry Potter because it’s too popular for you or whatever your egotistical reasons are, their final years at Fenelon are like the American equivalent of seventeen year olds working towards their doctorate. Daaaang.
Well my first few experiences at Fenelon have felt like I was playing “school”. The first day I was brought in, I had to stand in front of the class with the other intern girls and present ourselves to them. For practice, they had to ask us questions and here are some great ones (translations aren’t always accurate and are therefore funny and okay to laugh at only when I’m in the comfort of my apartment) “Are you pregnant?” (I know I’ve gained weight… but whaaaa?), “Do you practice French kissing?” (I will assume she meant the French greeting…), “Do you like Justin Beiber?” (Guess my reply), “Are all Americans fat?” “Did you see Black Swan?” “Where is your favorite place in Paris?” (To which I said Canal Saint Martin, to which they responded with a fit of giggles and said that’s where the hookers and homeless live. They probably think I have some interesting extra curricular activities).
That day was enlightening. It was my second day that made me question if I wanted to follow through with this internship. The teacher I assist for asked me to fill in for her on that Friday. She told me I only had to come in for an hour, give them a test, and if there’s time left over, to talk about an “American Subject”. Well, that sounded easy. I’ll even grab the book I’m reading to pass time. When I showed up on Friday, I walked into a room of fifteen year olds who looked like they could pass as adults older than me. Embarrassingly enough, I felt intimidated by them! They were tall (although that is because the majority of the girls wear high heels to class-did I mention they’re in school from 8-6 on some days? My feet don’t last one night of soirée-ing in heels-I don’t even own likeable heels-I think the last time I wore heels I was Lady Gaga for Halloween in 2009… anywayyssss…), they were gorgeous (and they could afford designer label clothing- it’s sad I can already spot designer brand clothing without checking the label), and they were chatty. I went up to the front by the chalkboard and what felt like a whisper said, “Could everyone please sit down?” It was my lucky day. Well not really, but for that moment, sort of. Some kids immediately asked where their Madame was, and I felt that was my cue to begin. I introduced myself and turned my back to them and started writing my name on the board… S-I-G-R Something I picked up from watching Boy Meets World and basically every other show with a new teacher plot. Right away, I remembered doing this in my friend’s basement when I was seven and pretending to instruct my class of fifteen imaginary friends. After introducing myself- and even in Europe, my name is still hard to pronounce, make sense of- a girl gave me a list of everyone in the class. I felt like I was being hazed. I had to pronounce these names out loud in a class of twenty-five French teenagers and try to keep seniority? Well I now know Wanda is pronounced “Vanda” and how not to pronounce names such as Gwénaëlla, Tanguy, Guillemot, Aymeric, Camille, among others… Lucky for me, everyone was present. Cue Debbie Downer. I told them if they knew they had a test today and sure enough they did not. Nowhere in the class folder were there tests to be handed out. Okay… so, how long were the classes??
It was time to clearly improvise. I felt like I was on the Titanic and I had to think of something fast to get us out alive. I suavely rummaged through my purse and found my book… Eat Pray Love… won’t help. And then found a handout of French politics. In English. Perfect time for dictate. I had just heard and done one for the first time the day before in class so I knew kind of what to do. Luckily, that lasted me a half hour and I only messed up once while reading out loud the handout that they had to then write word-for-word. I said that the two main political parties in France were the Union and the Communist party. Doh! Also, I forgot where the Niagara Falls were-and I had just been there four months before. I can’t function when I’m nervous apparently. Good to know. That day ended with the popular girls asking if they can leave early and I’m ashamed, but I said yes. Honestly, I’m just a few years older than these kids and it’s Friday. I felt like I really had no pull over them. Oh, and did I forget to mention I am not a teacher in real life???
Exhale. Okay. I wish I had some photos to share of the school, but I’m worried taking my camera out and photographing tiny frenchies without looking creepy.
I’m glad I’m in this internship- the school grounds are absolutely beautiful and the kids are more so. I just need to brush up on my geography and politics before Tuesday so that I can teach them something!