New Firsts

 “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

I don’t know who said this quote, but it’s definitely something to consider.  When was the last time you tried something new?  Many of the things I’ve experienced in France have been things I’ve done before; However, since trying new things is essential to learning, I am trying not to be confined by my comfort zone and not only be open to new experiences, but to seek them out as well.

One new experience I am both looking forward to and slightly nervous for is driving in France.  That’s right, European road trip! Alex, Kate, Doug, and I rented a car to go to the Christmas markets in Germany in about three weeks.  I miss driving and can’t wait to drive again, but of course I can’t help but be a bit nervous to drive in Europe.  Different road signs, km/h instead of mph, and roundabouts… We’ll see how this goes!  I am definitely excited; especially since I’ve never been to the Christmas markets, I’ve never been to Germany, and I’ve never been in Europe in December.  Lots of firsts, and lots of adventures!

This Thanksgiving was my first Thanksgiving away from home.  It was a strange day, especially since I had 4 hours of teaching.  None of my students knew what Thanksgiving was (aside from the fact that we eat turkey), and many even thought it was our version of Christmas.  I also tried to explain the phrase, “I am thankful for…” which does not translate well into French (I had to settle with saying ‘I am happy to have ____ in my life’ instead).  After a long day at school, I was able to Skype my family, but it was still not the same as being there, especially as I only got to see one side of the family.

Saturday was the first time I played a major role in preparing a Thanksgiving feast.  We Chalon assistants invited the other assistants in our department to come eat a Thanksgiving dinner at one of the high schools on the border of Chalon.  Friday night we went to the school to bake the pumpkin pies and prepare some of the other dishes.  We started welcoming other assistants around 2:30p on Saturday, did some shopping, and relaxed in the centre ville of Chalon.  After all 12 assistants had arrived (making a group of 18 with the 6 Chalon assistants), we made our way to the school where we feasted on pickle rolls, marinated mozzarella, baguette, turkey, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, green bean casserole, green beans wrapped in bacon, stuffing, pumpkin pie, pumpkin rolls, apple tarts, and possibly other delicious things I am forgetting.  We even went in a circle and said what we were thankful for.  Typical American Thanksgiving, right?  While it was not my first Thanksgiving, it was fun to be with some of the British assistants who had never celebrated before, and I got to host some of the assistants in my apartment.  American Thanksgiving in France was a definite success.

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Sunday was another first—my first lesson on driving stick shift.  When I mentioned to one of the teachers at my school that I only knew how to drive automatic cars, she offered to teach me manual and let me drive her car.  It was definitely a nerve-wracking experience for Doug, who tagged along, and I, but I’m one step closer to being able to drive the majority of French cars!  We had about an hour and a half of practice at a parking lot on the outskirts of Chalon, which included a roundabout, three-point turns, and driving in circles around one very confused man.  I started getting the hang of it near the end too, and I’m excited to keep practicing with her.  It’s one new skill I’m learning in France!

I’ve definitely learned a lot in the two months I’ve been here.  Wow, I can’t believe it’s already been (exactly) two months.  That is half the amount of time I studied abroad for, and it already seems to be passing more quickly.  I’ve been travelling almost every weekend, and will be going to Nantes this weekend.  It isn’t new, but it’ll be nice to go back.  I figure I had best take advantage of my time here, with everything in such close proximity.

It surprises me how many of my students have only ever travelled to see family.  A lot of them are comfortable where they are and have no desire to do anything other than watch TV, hang out with childhood friends, and complete schoolwork.  While I suppose most teenagers are like this, it saddens me that they don’t want new experiences.  My best students are the ones who are eager to travel, or who have already travelled.  They are learning quickly, and have already accepted the fact that they will make mistakes, a fact that terrifies my quieter students.  I hope that they get the chance to travel, to learn, and to make mistakes.  Mistakes and misconceptions are inevitable in new experiences, but conquering those mistakes and reaching a new understanding is what is so powerful and inspiring about new experiences.

French word of the day: la voiture (car), not to be confused with le car (regional bus) or le bus (city bus).

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