mercredi 5 janvier 2011

The Journey Part VII

The Journey Part I

The Journey Part II

The Journey Part III

The Journey Part IV

The Journey Part V

The Journey Part VI

Ok, here's the last and final part of my story of how I arrived in France. NB: It was not my intention to drag it out for so long but I just happened to put off writing about it so it was just easier for me to write it in bits whenever I got the chance and felt like it (and perhaps easier to read too as I'm sure you don't want to read 5034839 words all at once ;) )

I'm kind of dying to finish it too so I can on with my other... er... backlogged diary entry type posts. ;)

I distinctly remember on the train there were people of a certain ethnic background who had 2-3 times as much luggage as everyone else. I already struggled with mine, I had no idea how they managed theirs (oh that's right, they had to use those trolleys you get at the airport!). They seemed really really paranoid about their baggage and people stealing their stuff yet the French people didn't really seem to care. They also kept walking up and down the aisles as if they couldn't sit still and this just annoyed me. After a fairly blissful plane journey where people remain in their seats (except to go to the toilet or occasionally stretch their legs) and where it's reasonably quite all that noise and commotion was driving me up the wall when I just wanted some peace and quiet! I had no idea why but that train was totally packed as well. It wasn't school holidays either. Plus there wasn't enough space for everyone's luggage so it was blocking all the doorways. If it weren't for the gorgeous view out the window I would've gone a bit nuts.

... So, these are some photos I took on the train down from Paris. I was so glad to arrive at my destination several hours later but a bit sad to say goodbye to Paris.

My hosts (a couple around my age) picked me up from the station and drove me to their town and their place about 10 minutes away. I was immediately awe-struck by the mountain vistas. My town and area is surrounded by mountains everywhere you look and for a newbie like me it was simply breathtaking. I kept wanting to take photos (when you're in a moving car it doesn't work out so well, especially since it was almost dark too).

They had recently bought a house together and wanted to knock some walls down and renovate it and do it up (like everyone seems to do these days). I had a nice homemade dinner with them and then zonked off to bed at around 8pm (where it was now about 2am in Malaysia/Singapore and I was exhausted and extremely jetlagged). Actually, my body now had no idea what time it was!

The next day I awoke to sunny skies and a typical French breakfast consisting of baguettes, muesli, yoghurt, milk and coffee/tea.

Despite the fact it was sunny, the air was rather cold for this time of year and they told me that the day before I came it was about 25° but now it was about 15° (and felt like much less).

We walked around their tiny town of only a few hundred people and then we took the car and they drove me up a mountain where there were sweeping views over the whole area. I was amazed and awestruck. I never see such things in Australia. I live in the city and if I go to the countryside there aren't really any mountains. In fact, Australia is the world's flattest continent.

They told me that the tap water is good to drink because the water is sourced from the mountains. I tend to drink tap water generally anyway (hey I'm cheap sometimes) unless I'm in a dodgy country with "non potable" water (like seriously, who ever uses that word, potable? "I'm just going to get some water from the tap, darling... oh wait, sorry, it's non-potable!") I should note that it's a French word that somehow made it's way into the English vocabulary and I only ever see this word when I am travelling - on planes, trains, and in hotels, etc.

The couple laughed when I told them I thought the weather was really cold and they had to lend me a scarf because I didn't bring any. It was the wind that made it feel really cold. (I would be in for a rude shock later when I get to experience -10° or -15°C weather!)

We saw some beautiful horses on a farm (and tried to lure them over with 'food' ie grass but they did not come over).

We walked around some more and I really felt like I had stepped back into another time. Like instead of a normal flight I'd been in a time machine. Well given the state of my jetlaggedness I really felt like I had been in one!

I was told that many houses still use firewood to heat their house (and water), including them. Check out this monster stash in someone's garage!

On this same house I also noticed these beautiful creeping vines (that I later found out were called vigne vierge (in English: the very technical sounding name of Virginia creeper)). Throughout the next 6 weeks or so I'd start to see these fascinating and beautiful things everywhere (with autumn colours) crawling over houses and walls.

Then we went to an old church which has now been turned into a hotel! We couldn't go inside because it was only for guests. There was a gorgeous huge garden surrounding the church/hotel... It actually looks like it could be summer or spring in this bottom photo because the leaves hadn't changed colour here yet.

They showed me these chestnuts (marron) and all along I've become increasingly aware of the fact that most French people seem to have a very good knowledge of geography and nature and stuff. I wonder if it's because they are more in tune with the land because of the changing seasons. In Australia we don't have much difference between all the seasons (at least not visually) and most French people know the difference between all the features of geography and in French there are words we don't have like fleuve (which is a what a river goes into before it goes into the ocean, ie it's a big river like the Seine or the Rhône). All along I'd meet more French people and they seem to have a fascination with showing me different kinds of nuts and plants and stuff that we encounter... So in turn, I became fascinated with this stuff too!

The second nut they found and showed me were walnuts (noix, which is also the same word for just 'nut')

After that we went back and had a nice homemade lunch on their verandah because it was still nice and sunny outside. It was delicious.

The next day, we had to get up early to get to school. I would be starting my new job as an English language teaching assistant in a high school (lycée).

With everything I'd gone through and done I was totally and utterly exhausted and jetlagged and thought I was coming down with a cold so I asked if they could find me a doctor to see. They kindly found me one right near the school where I'd be working and took me there early the next day. It was really cold I remember and suddenly I was aware that I was alone again in a foreign country where they don't speak English!

I actually felt like a little kid about to start kindergarten who didn't want to go and just wanted to stay at home with mummy. I know it was kind of irrational but I admit I was scared. It finally hit me that I was here in France, alone, and I had to do everything by myself from now on.  My friend (the guy) sensed something was wrong when I just stood outside the main door and froze and he came into the building with me, showed me the lift, pressed the lift button, and told me to go to a certain floor. Well I felt a bit better after that...

In the waiting room there were tonnes and tonnes of the latest gossip magazines. Yes you heard right, the latest magazines. Not from 3 or 5 years ago like I've seen in some doctor's waiting rooms in Sydney.

...Then, I had to explain to the GP what my symptoms were all in French! Gah! I felt totally inadequate and tongue-tied with the vocabulary of a 5 year old. I had to become a thesaurus and use other words (words I knew) to describe the ones I didn't know!

Anyway he gave me a prescription (for 3 different things) and sent me on my merry way. From memory it cost about 22 euros for the consultation (which I can claim back most of later).

In actual fact, I later realised, I didn't even have a cold or anything at all. I was simply exhausted (and all my symptoms just stemmed from that) and just needed to sleep for a very long time. However, I couldn't because I had a million and one things to do to get started for my new job.

I found the school alright. It's not hard to miss it's so big. However I had no idea where to go. There were so many buildings and it had been years since I was at high school. I just wandered in and ended up in the infirmerie (the sick bay/sick room) and they told me to go to the end of the corridor, out the door and into the next building.

I remember a lot of walking around aimlessly, getting lost and feeling inadequate about my poor level of French. Eventually I found my tuteur (the person who was supposed to be looking after me and is also an English teacher at this school) and he told me where to go to do such and such but after a while he left and I was left alone again. Every time this happened I felt helpless and needy and wanted to scream, "Nooooo don't leave me alone! Please!" At least I had the keys to my room (and soon to be new 'house')!

After travelling out of a suitcase for so long I was DYING to get settled and have everything arranged and have my clothes hanging in a wardrobe for a change. I had to find my friend (the host) again. It was a complete and utter coincidence that he was also a teacher at this school (I just found him randomly on Couchsurfing remember?). I had to find him because all my stuff was still in his car but I had to wait till lunch time. Right after he finished lunch he took me to his car where I retrieved my stuff and brought it to my new room in the school dorm (chambre à l'internat).  I know, I know, it sounds worse than it actually is. I actually have a teacher's room and not a student's room which means I'm on a different floor to the students, I get my own bathroom and I don't have any rules about guests/visitors or curfews or anything like that! The downside is that there is no common area to mingle, sit, chat, watch tv etc and there is no kitchen! (that's for another blog post another time).

So basically over the entire week I was just doing administrative stuff (the French are s-l-o-w at this I've learnt) and trying to find people and find where to go!

I soon meet and become friends with some of the AED (Assistants d'Education) (who are basically admin staff that the students go to when they need help with something). They are all in their mid-20s to mid-30s and most of them are former students of the school. Some of them are also surveillants (who are basically the counsellors of the dorm students at night). I eat dinner with them every night Mon-Thur.

So, to recap, I applied for the English Assistant position (which I recently found out JK Rowling also did) way back in November last year, then found out in May I was accepted (but didn't receive the paperwork until much later), got my work visa late July and I arrived in late September and here I am (still), 3 months later!

I teach seconde (Year 10), première (Year 11) and terminale (Year 12) and BTS (Brevet de technicien supérieur) (after high school, technical school sort of thing for those that don't go to university or work). Most classes I teach alone but there are a few where I 'assist' the other teachers. It's a pretty easy and fun job and I can't complain too much. My main complaints are admin, paperwork, and my timetabling issues which drive me up the wall. I don't get paid that much but I have more than enough to live on as I live and eat cheaply at the school. I do pay rent but no bills and I have free internet!

I live in the beautiful Alps area where I am surrounded by mountains (and currently also by snow). There are some things I will always love and some things I will always hate about France but more on that later! Surprisingly, I don't actually miss Australia all that much. I miss my family and friends of course. It's always the people I miss and not so much the place. Right now I would love to go and soak up the sun on a beach though!

Nut vocabulary for fun

nut             la noix
peanut        l'arachide (f),   la cacahuète (f)
almond      l'amande (f)
cashew      le cajou
chestnut     le marron  (also used to describe hair/eye colour)
la châtaigne  (hair colour)

hazelnut    la noisette (f)   (eye colour)

walnut        la noix (f)
pistachio    la pistache (f)
Brazil nut   la noix du Brésil
macadamia nut la noix de macadamia
pine nut       le pignon
coconut      la noix de coco (f)  (I know it's not really a nut!)

You can also read the end of my story and A Day in the Life of Me.


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