I’ve been here less than a week, but so much has happened that it feels like I’ve been here a month already. Right now I’m at McDonalds once again (but a different McDo, one with internet that actually works) in hopes that I will soon have my own internet and an apartment. Living at the school isn’t too bad, I just would like to be able to cook for myself and to get a change of scenery every once in a while. I like the town of Chalon though, and I’m enjoying my immersion in the French culture.
Although I still do not have a concrete schedule, I began attending classes this week to introduce myself and see how classes are run in France. Having an education degree, the differences between the education system and how classes are run is so interesting to me, especially since it is vastly different. The teachers at my school, for example, don’t have their own classrooms. They go to an assigned classroom in the one classroom building, conduct their class, lock the door, and go to the teacher’s lounge to plan, grade, and work. Because of this, there is nothing on the walls of the classroom, and the classes seem almost more of a prison from which to escape rather than a fun place of learning (that is my liberal-minded, social justice learning coming out right there). Classes are a lot more strict, based on texts, and focused on preparing students for the Bac. After discussing educational theories with some of the profs there, I also learned that they rarely do any sort of group work or creative work, which is generally frowned upon in French education. It is something that these profs admired about the American education system, and something they were trying to use in their classes.
Classes run on a weekly rather than daily schedule, much like college. Students have class, however, beginning around 8am and going all the way until 6pm with only an hour break for lunch and two 15 min breaks for recreation. During their lunch break is when they practice sports, if they have any. The French education system is a lot more focused on academics and studying, but I’m not sure it’s any more effective than the American education system. They are also going through education reforms, just as we are in the United States. It will be interesting to be here while that is unfolding.
I went to a number of English classes, as well as a history and a geography class. For each one, I was able to introduce myself and answer questions from the students. I got questions about Chicago, about myself and my studies, and about my impressions of France. In every class, they asked me, “why Chalon?” to which I responded that I did not want a big city, but rather a smaller town. They were very interested in American culture, and today I even stayed in the hallway 30 minutes after class to talk to some students who were interested in learning more about the United States. I am known to the point where students recognize me on the street, even though I hardly know any of them. I look forward to getting to know more of them and help them work on English!
I also have gotten to know some of the surveillants. They are essentially people aged 18 and over who work at the school as kind of a combination of hall monitor, lunch room monitor, RA, and secretary for the school. There are about 14 of them, many around my age, and they’ve also been very interested in me and the visiting German teacher. Last night I went out for dinner (kebabs, of course!) with three of them and they introduced me to some old French films. On Friday they are putting together a group to take us to some of the bars in Chalon and to get to know us better. I’m glad I actually found some people around my age to hang out with! I think that’s what I was most worried about in coming here…
Yesterday was our orientation, our stage, in Dijon. After a 40 min train ride and a 50 min walk, we got to the lycée with all the other assistants. There are so many, and from so many different countries! We basically just filled out a lot of paperwork and learned some things we already knew about the education system in France, but it was still good to meet everyone and figure everything out together. I’m sad that I won’t see most of them again (there isn’t another big event like that), but I’m sure we’ll stay in touch and plan some things to do together.
I think that so far, what I’ve learned about France (or life in general) is that you have to deny yourself comfort at times. I told myself I wasn’t going to sit in my room and watch movies (which I admit, I did do the first few nights). Once I got out there and started talking to people, going out to dinner, walking around, that was when I learned the most and made new friends. Last time I studied abroad I spent too much time at home or on my computer. I miss you all, but I am going to go out there and experience Chalon, Burgundy, and France!
French word of the day: l’élève. It means elementary, middle, or high school student. College/University students, however are les étudiants.