Fitness in France

Okay… Lets talk about health and activity in France.

We’ve all heard it – Americans are disgustingly obese, French people eat smaller portions and walk everywhere and are all the vision of health, all striking the seemingly-impossible balance between being able to eat dessert and baguettes every day without eating the entire dessert and baguette everyday. Exampe: the book French Women Don’t Get Fat. After living here for a few months I can’t say I fully agree.

First of all, there is a stereotype that everyone here is slender. Nope. I can definitely attest to the fact that that is not true. Yes there are plenty of slender people, but there are overweight people all over the place. There are plus size clothing stores. Statistically, France is around 40-50% overweight (including ~15% obese). What I have observed is that people in general are smaller than in the US. Whether or not they are overweight, their frames are just smaller than those for Americans.

I find the French approach to activity hilarious. I shouldn’t… it is probably much more balanced and sustainable than the way Americans do things. I have concluded that whatever Americans do, we do to an extreme. Fit people in America tend to be really fit. People who don’t exercise in America really don’t exercise. In France, I routinely see people running home from the boulangerie carrying a couple baguettes. Women wear their scarves at the gym, and Nike wedge heels have somehow been accepted as workout shoes?!?

nike-dunk-sky-high-wedge-sneakers-new-york
WHY ARE THESE EXERCISE SHOES?

The French (Europeans in general, really), walk and bike places so much more than we do in the US. Cars are not very practical or really necessary, so there is more activity weaved into their daily and weekly rhythm than a lot of people in the US. A number of the French, however, don’t go to the gym or do routine workouts. Since I joined my gym here, I’ve seen their idea of a workout. Yes, there are some people here who are really quite fit. The majority, however, are not. Their workouts are much more mild than what you tend to see in the US. You just aren’t going to see very many really athletic people here. I’ve never felt as strong as I do here…. I lift just as much or more than so many of the men in my gym (can’t complain about that!).

As a competitive, all-or-nothing type of person, I can’t say I don’t catch myself looking down on the French style of activity and movement. But, the truth is, they have a much more balanced + accessible movement lifestyle than what people think of fitness in the US. This is probably also related to the prevalence of sports in the US vs. France. Sports are not a big deal here, only some people participate, and they are not nearly as time consuming… there isn’t really a competitive side to exercise.

In terms of diet, it is another case of extremes. I’m not sure they ever got the memo about a lot of the popular diet ideas in the US (like no white starches, for example). A balanced French meal has a starch (rice, couscous, pasta, potatoes, bread), a meat, some veggies, bread, and a dessert (often a fruit + dessert yogurt). Let me tell you…. these meals can be BIG & rich. Frenchies won’t snack in between meals though, which is a huge difference. But this way of eating is standard, even for the body-builder types I’ve observed.

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What we eat for lunch at the lycée, a pretty standard example of a cooked French meal. (zucchini soup, beets, potatoes, cauliflower with sauce, cassoulet, a pudding type dessert)

I can say the French style of eating does NOT work for me. I can’t eat really large lunches and dinner everyday. It feels like too much, and I find it very difficult to not snack in between meals (regardless of how much I ate with my meal). Moreover, I find that eating a dessert at most lunches and dinners (even if it is just fruit or yogurt) makes me want to keep eating desserts after I finish eating. Also, once I start eating a baguette, I can’t really stop 😉

Anyways, these are my generalized observations and opinions. Not true for everyone, but definitely what I’ve noticed up here in Nord-Pas-de-Calais

On Teaching

Hi from Lille!

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Porte de Paris in Lille

I have now been teaching for a variety of classes for about a month’s worth of time. Here is a discussion and reflection on what that month has looked like for me.

My contract stipulates that I will have 12 hours worth of classes a week. Technically, my timetable does have 12 classes on it, I have yet to work more than 9 hours in a week. Although this doesn’t include any necessary out-of-class prep work, I can tell you that 9 hours isn’t a lot. They do manage to make it feel like a fair amount of work, but that’s because my schedule is all over the place. I work at 11:30 for an hour, and then not again until 4:45 for another hour. I can’t imagine not living at my school. Many assistants end up spending hours everyday just waiting in the teacher’s lounge because their schedules are so spread out. At least I can return to my apartment.

I work for a school that is divided into two halves. One half is the Lycée Générale, this is a fairly standard high school, with classes in subjects including languages, science and math, literature, etc. The other half is the Lycée Professionnel, which is a vocational school. Students can learn various vocations from shop-keeping, to machine maintenance, to secretarial work. A big component of the vocational school is each student has to do a certain number of internships (‘un stage’). These internships are coordinated by the school and each grade within each chosen vocation goes on their internships at the same time. Four of my classes are doing their internships right now, so I don’t work those time slots (which is why I haven’t been working my full 12 hours).

What I actually do in class depends on which teacher I’m working with. I work with 5 different teachers, and each one utilizes me differently. The assistant’s role is really to provide an opportunity for student’s to improve their conversational English and listening skills. That is a really general job description. Communication in France is not always where I think it should be (e.g. don’t expect anyone to get an email for a day or two), so often I don’t even know what they want me to do before I get there.

Some teachers have a list of questions they want me to go through with the students. Some teachers tell me to work on conversation (& that’s it!). Some teachers ask me to give Q&A style presentations to the class. Here are some examples of what I’ve been doing:

  • introductions in small groups. I introduce myself, the students introduce themselves, we ask questions and have a conversation. This sometimes goes well and sometimes doesn’t depending on how interested the student’s are in me/America.
  • asking them questions on their internship experience. This is a necessary skill for the vocational students because they have to be able to do this for the exam they take at the end of their studies. They have a list of questions which I read to them, and they answer as practiced. It feels like a waste of time, but amazingly so many of them aren’t very good at it, despite having had weeks to practice 8 simple questions.
  •  20 questions in a small group. This was probably the most fun activity I did. The students weren’t the most capable in English, but they became motivated to actually say something because it was a boys vs. girls competition. I’m not sure it’s the best activity because they really only ask one style of question (e.g. “Is it….?”) but I think it is a good ice breaker activity for a  new group.
  • group presentations on topics relating to America. Two examples are 9/11 and National Parks. Remember: my purpose is to provide opportunities for them to talk, and listening to me is secondary. So these are mainly pictures with questions like “what do you see here?”, “why is this here?”, etc.

In general, I like what I’m doing. However, I am really thankful that I am not on a career path to become a teacher, and I could never imagine myself doing the program for a second year. There are so many students who just don’t care. Especially in the vocational school, it’s hard to speak in English with them. The teachers don’t do it, but there is an expectation that I will only speak English. When the teacher isn’t doing that, they don’t care to listen to me, and they honestly aren’t capable. Around 4-5 people per class can understand me when I talk as slowly and clearly as possible. And the rest either don’t care presently, or spent enough years not caring that now they are really far behind. I don’t like feeling like a babysitter, and I don’t like trying to make people care. If you don’t want to be there, I don’t want to deal with you. The general high school is stricter in that regard, and easier for me to work with – just really different student demographics between the two schools.

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Let’s just say I use these expressions a lot.

On that note, I finally had the motivation to suck it up and finish my grad school applications and pay the OUTRAGEOUS application fees (OVER $200 to apply to 4 schools?!!?!?!?). Teaching this year is helping me feel very affirmed in my career choice as a scientist. 😀

A bientôt,

Amy

 

Busting Boredom

For better or for worse, my job is only 12 hours of work each week. This definitely has its merits – I have lots of time to sleep in, workout, cook, and explore the place I am living.

As seen on an afternoon bike ride
As seen on an afternoon bike ride (forgive the glare!)

I’m not sure exactly how to put into words just how measly 12 hours a week is. At home, it might feel a little bit more substantial, because you have friends, and activities, and projects that you are working on. In a city where you have just arrived, don’t have language mastery, know very few people, and don’t know what is around to do in the first place, 12 hours is NOT a big enough time commitment. I am not made to sit around and watch Netflix all day, I just get sick of it.

Bike = best way to explore AND stay busy! Most worthwhile purchase ever
Bike = best way to explore AND stay busy! Most worthwhile purchase ever

When I first arrived, the time commitment didn’t feel so small because there is so much to do when you first get somewhere. Getting settled takes up a lot of your time. Between the bank, my cell phone, internet, IKEA, figuring out the bus system and the grocery store I was reasonably busy for the first two/two-and-a-half weeks. That time has ended. I have been killing a lot of time with activity, a workout in the morning, biking for around an hour during the day, and a yoga sesh at night. Unfortunately, my back started having spasms again and so I need to find some other way to use up my time.

Commence operation Bust Boredom!

Really, my number one priority with my free time is finishing my grad school applications. Honestly, I can only work on these for so long at a given time before I feel like I don’t even want to be a chemist anymore. So, I have been spending some time on them each day, and am slowly finishing them. This still leaves a lot of time. Thanks to the internet, I am in touch with other assistants in the region and have gone to a few things with some of them who live in the city (yayayaya speaking English and having a social life). Very very useful because all of the assistants also have not much to do and not many people to do them with, and are a similar age.

Lille 3000 is a cultural event happening throughout the Fall in Lille. I went to a parade/techno concert with some assistants outside the Opera House.
Lille 3000 is a cultural event happening throughout the Fall in Lille. I went to a parade/techno concert with some assistants outside the Opera House.
I went to the Lille Zoo (which is free!) with some British assistants
I went to the Lille Zoo (which is free!) with some British assistants
For a free zoo, I was impressed!
For a free zoo, I was impressed!

I also have enjoyed taking my bike out and seeing what I can find. Best done on a day with no rain and no plans, so when it takes 3 hours longer than you thought to find your way back, it doesn’t matter 😉 In Haubourdin, I found the cemetery. Off to the side, there is a German Military Cemetery from the German occupation in WWI.

“In this military cemetery lie 1000 German soldiers”
Individual graves
Individual graves
“September 8, 1984. For the Fortieth Anniversary of the liberation of Haubourdin, this Resistance Square is inaugurated in homage to all those who secretly fought for freedom.”

I have also explored various parts of Lille, researched restaurants, museums, attractions, etc. that I want to go to in Lille, and I have been going to lacrosse practices. Yes, there are lacrosse teams in France (who knew?!). There is only a men’s team in Lille, but they have a couple of women who practice with them so I have been going to that and enjoying having something to do. Fortunately the star drill doesn’t need translation.

Grand Place in Lille. Starting to see the grey skies.
Grand Place in Lille. Starting to see the grey skies.
Found a huge park (Parc de la Citadelle, Parc Zoologique) and then looked up and saw a large animal in the middle of it.
Found a huge park (Parc de la Citadelle, Parc Zoologique) and then looked up and saw a large animal in the middle of it.

Plans to stay busy:

  1. Take the train to a regional forest and hike!
  2. Take up knitting again
  3. Try to cook regional specialties at home
  4. Buy some French middle-reader books to practice reading at home
  5. See if any of the local colleges have chemistry/research seminars

A bientôt,

Amy

Week 1: Orientation + Observations

Uploading this blog from the comfort of my own apartment!!!! YAY INTERNET! It was a struggle to get, but finally having it is awesome. I was super annoyed at the bank today, because my debit card finally arrived, but the PIN has not. So I can’t use it. Great. So glad that I STILL can’t get a permanent French phone. In the middle of my rant about the bank to my roommate, I noticed the ‘internet’ light on our box was illuminated!!! A week early! Thank you, Bouygues. On top of that, the infamously rainy Nord de France has not shown itself yet.

Haubourdin - waiting for the bus with Josephine
Haubourdin – waiting for the bus with Josephine
Haubourdin - on the way back from McDo
Haubourdin – on the way back from McDo

On the first day of my contract, October 1, I went to ‘la réunion’ or orientation held for all the assistants de langue à l’étranger in Lille. This was a day long event with lots of different topics covered and hosted by the rectorat (similar to the school distract, but for the size of 1 or 2 counties). While useful, it was one of those events where time was wasted answering really personalized questions rather than topics useful for everyone. Regardless, it was useful and nice to meet some other language assistants. I was able to get a better understanding on the French school system, which is great. Up until this point, I haven’t had a good understanding of how it works.

Things I learned

  1. The Académie de Lille, although a smaller Académie (the school district – size of several counties) is the 2nd largest in France in terms of number of students.
  2. The Académie de Lille has renovated most of their schools within the past few years, so the buildings are fairly nice (true for mine!).
  3. My Mission:
    1. Share my culture
    2. Share my talents
    3. First and foremost I am an assistant (therefore, I am not responsible for an entire class by myself, I am not a substitute teacher, etc.)
    4. **** Help students with oral skills ****
  4. It is rude in France for a teacher or student to use a water bottle in class. (But seriously, this is real. And crazy to me)
  5. Middle + High School: school days run from around 8:30am to 5:00pm M Tu Th F. Courses are held in the mornings on Wednesday and Saturday.
  6. Lycées (high schools) are 3 years in duration. The progression: Seconde, Première, Terminale. At the end of Terminale, there is a big national exam you have to take called the ‘baccalaureate’ or just the ‘bac’. Coursework is guided by this exam.
  7. Lycées générale et technologique VS. lycées professionnels (important for me because I work in both!):
    1. A lycée générale is very similar to a normal American high school. General college-prep courses from a variety of disciplines (e.g. French, history, philosophy, languages, math, science)
    2. A lycée professionnel is a high school for students who largely don’t want to go to college and is structured around teaching a profession. At the end of middle school, students pick the profession they want to study. Examples include: hospitality, commerce, plastic making, and machine maintenance. They have ‘ateliers’ for the skill in addition to more normal coursework. Rather than the normal bac, they take an exam for certifications in their chosen profession.
I explored Lille a little bit after the orientation ends. Once again no sign of the classic grey skies of the Nord
I explored Lille a little bit after the orientation ends. Once again no sign of the ‘classic’ grey skies of the Nord

After my orientation, I did my week of observations (the program says its supposed to be 2 weeks but I’m pretty sure nobody does a full 2 weeks). Since I am working in both the general and professional sections of my school, I got to observe classes in both. Subjects were English, French, Math, Physical Chemistry, Gym (E.P.S.), Health/Environment, and an atelier class for the commerce ‘matière’. All in all it was very interesting, and I was glad I chose to observe a variety of classes to observe if for no other reason than meeting other teachers at the school (everyone is very welcoming and nice).

The experiences between the lycée professionnel and the lycée générale were COMPLETELY different, so I will discuss them separately.

For the pro classes, most of the teachers had me do a Q and A with the students. Even if it was in French. For me, this was kind of fun because I got to learn things about what the students are interested in (especially related to America), things I MUST do while in France, and I got to practice speaking French. They were interested in the differences between France and the U.S. and especially the differences in high schools (the pom-pom girls were popular), how we party in the US, if we knew about ‘Je Suis Charlie’, etc. They also spent a lot of time asking me questions about why I wanted to be in France, if I was glad to be placed in their school, if I liked the North of France, etc. I learned that I have to visit Paris, eat tartiflette’ and ‘raclette’ and kebabs. Before too much time, though, the boys started asking questions about whether I smoked pot and would go on a vacation with them 😉

The pro classes will be an interesting experience. There are more students in pro classes that are less motivated to be in school than in the general classes. It is harder to get them to care about learning, to be engaged in the class itself, and to be polite. It was kind of amazing to me how rude a few of these students were to the teachers and their classmates. In addition, since there is a big range in interest in school between students + since they are grouped by year in school and not ability, the range of abilities is huge. Some of the students were able to ask questions in English, others simply couldn’t wouldn’t produce 1 word of English (in an English class).

General classes are much more similar to what my high school experience was like. Little talking when the teacher is talking. Notes are taken. People are expected to participate when called on. I saw about one third of the number of phones out as in the pro classes. The English classes are run 90-100% in English (completely unlike the pro classes). Just very different needs and interests between the two. I also met the English teacher I will work with for the general classes. He is nice and even spoke English with me (wooohooo!). I feel really lucky with all of the people here. Everyone is glad to have me here.

Of interest to me was the gym class I went to for the pro school. Only 1/3 of the class even showed up! On top of that, I was there on an exam day. Only 5 people in the class really tried to do the fitness test (which wasn’t that challenging), and only one of them was a girl. After the exam, they had the chance to play with basketballs, soccer balls, etc. None of the girls wanted to do anything. They just sat and talked. They didn’t even want to walk around. It just was sad to me – you have a body, you are wasting it! You are made to move and sports, activity isn’t something only for boys. On a lighter note, I appreciated that at least 3 of the students wore scarfs as a part of their gym outfits, because this is France after all.

A bientôt,

AMY

French Banking

Everyone who has ever researched living in France has probably been made aware of the fact that everything here is done in what seems to be the most round-about way possible (bureaucracy is a French word). Before I left Portland, I knew things would be slow and frustrating, but had the mindset that it was just a cultural difference and I needed to just let it roll. I felt like I was mentally prepared to deal with it.

I was not mentally prepared. The way things are done here are not really comprehensible to anyone other than the French. Most of the important things you need to do upon arrival (find lodging, open a bank account, and get a phone and internet) have ridiculous policies surrounding them. The bank was my first introduction to la vie en France.

In France, to open a bank account, it is necessary to make a ‘rendezvous’ with a ‘conseiller’ at the bank of your choosing. Based on my own experiences, most banks are not interested in making an appointment with you the same week. Since my banking needs are small, I was decided on just choosing the bank with the soonest appointment. Crédit du Nord had an appointment available for me 2 days after I arrived. Perfect – gave me time to get my justificatif de domicile from the school. Make my appointment, all is well. Except for 2 hours before the appointment when I get a call canceling said appointment. The soonest they can reschedule is FIVE days later. Okay, so I reschedule. I also go around to several other banks and find the next appointment slot (which is almost an entire week away). Regardless, I now have 2 bank appointments just in case.

I go to my rendezvous at Crédit du Nord, bringing my passport with visa, my contract, and my justificatif de domicile from the school. While waiting for my meeting, I count – 6 conseillers meeting with nobody (something tells me I could have been seen way sooner). The appointment goes well, over and out within 30 minutes. I sign all the documents, ready for my RIB (basically your routing/account number needed to get paid, set up a phone, and internet). The conseiller tells me she will email me when it’s ready later that day as she has to put it all into the system. Seems reasonable – I leave knowing I will have a bank account later that day with a debit card and checking account for the price of 5 euro a month (a couple euros a month is standard if you want a card).

Except at the end of the day, I don’t have an email. So, I reach out. Almost a whole day later, she responds saying that it actually isn’t possible for me to open an account at their bank. UHHHH WHAT?!

Literally eternal strike on Credit du Nord (I’m in France, after all. Le grève is a part of la vie française). In fact, at our orientation later that week I learned that there were a lot of issues this year with assistants finding a bank – many banks were not interested in small, short accounts. The tip from the Rectorat (i.e. the regional school administration): have your prof référent call their bank and set up an appointment for you. Most banks would not say no to an existing client. This way, your PR will also go with you to help you with all the bank jargon.

The evil place
The evil place

Okay, so I am starting to get a little stressed here. It has been a full week since I arrived in France, and my next appointment was a week away. Fortunately, it was at la Banque Postal – the bank run through the post office which generally accepts everybody (although service is worse, and more time consuming). Still, I am unwilling to wait a week for my bank account. My roommate was able to open her account at Société Générale without an appointment, and we discovered one a little out of the way in Haubourdin. So, I went there FIRST THING in the morning. Really crucial to arrive as soon as they open, because the French don’t get going early and you can beat everyone.

Happily, they were able to see me right away. (!!!!!!!). I met with a conseiller who was super nice and helpful, and set up my bank account right then and there. I needed my passport with the visa, the attestation of my salary and position from the Rectorat (received at the orientation), and my justificatif de domicile. She was very helpful, explained everything clearly, was able to get me a special deal with no fees, and gave me my RIB right there. I also got renters insurance (assurance de domicile) – necessary for everyone! I have to wait a week for my ‘carte bleue’ (debit card/carte bancaire) and I made sure it will be a Visa (100% necessary to be accepted throughout Europe).

Another plus is that the branch is in Haubourdin. The conseiller with whom you set up your bank account is the same person you do everything through. For instance, my roommate went all the way to Lille to set up her bank account. This means to pick up her carte bleue, to close her account, to get extra copies of her RIB, etc. she has to go there each and every time. The branch you open your account at makes a big difference. While the wait for opening my account was frustrating (it took me 2 weeks!!), the plus is that I have a personal banker. Every time I need help or have a question, I can contact my conseiller by email or phone or make an appointment.

To make this process easier, I would have done the following differently:

  1. Since I already had housing secured through my school before arriving, I should have made appointments from the States over the phone for the week I arrived and had the school prepare my justificatif de domicile before I got there.
  2. Make more than one appointment. This might be dishonest, but the reality is if your first bank doesn’t want to open an account for you, you will have to wait even longer for another rendezvous at a different bank. If you already have a back-up appointment, then you have your bases covered.
  3. Ask every single bank in your town if it is possible to open an account today. Even after you’ve made 1 or 2 appointments, continue going to each and every bank and see if there is one who has availability for the same day.
  4. Ask my prof référent to help. At the end of the day, probably would have run smoother if I had asked for help. At the same time, it feels pretty satisfying to be able to open a bank account in another country in another language and actually understand what is going on by yourself.

The truth of the matter is, la vie en France is working through all of the ridiculous policies that make everything take the maximum time possible BUT la vie en France is also accidently buying 4 delicious baguettes instead of 1 and HAVING to find a way to eat them before they go bad 😉

The First Few Days

The day after I arrived in Haubourdin, I met with my Prof Référent (the teacher responsible for me at the school) just to discuss what needed to be done, and to do paperwork. My prof is very friendly, engaged, and helpful. He helped me look through the phone plans, discuss which banks are available, so on and so forth. After we discussed these things, we went to do paperwork with the school, I was able to ask for a Justificatif de Domicile (proof of address), and I got my ID card for the cafeteria. Post to come on the French cafeteria food – it blows even college cafeterias out of the water (looking at you, Aramark!). I ate lunch with a bunch of the teachers, and everyone is welcoming and nice here.

Usually, there is a fruit, and an hors d'oeuvres as well - I was just late to this meal. Includes: green beans, mashed potatoes, chicken, sauce, apple tart, cheese
Usually, there is a fruit, and an hors d’oeuvres as well – I was just late to this meal. Includes: green beans, mashed potatoes, chicken, sauce, apple tart, cheese

After all of that, I was able to go to a Bouygues Telecom store just on the edge of Haubourdin (shoutout to the immaculate wifi hotspot from the night before – would of never been able to find it otherwise). This was simple: my phone was unlocked, and I just bought a prepaid SIM card. If any future TAPIFers are reading this: get your temporary SIM ASAP on arriving to France. I didn’t get mine for a day, and I already had to go around to where places I had been that morning telling people my phone number. It was 30 euros in all, 10 for the SIM and 20 for 1 month of unlimited calls/texts in France and 500MB (called Mo in France) of data.

I returned to my barren, white apartment (in the POURING rain – bienvenue au Nord) to find my Chinese roommate getting ready to leave. One of her teachers was driving her to the center of town so she could visit banks. Getting a bank account set up is infamously difficult in France, so I went along to get the process started. Centre Ville in Haubourdin is… uh…. Tiny. I actually think Haubourdin is very similar to Forest Grove. There are several farms on the edge of town, there are a lot of people without a lot of commerce, it’s towards the edge of the public transit line, everything is closed by 8:30 (even on Friday!), big ‘small-town’ vibe. Does this mean that I am a Grover? 😉

Not pictured: Frites food cart, canal, Friday morning marché
Not pictured: Frites food cart, canal, Friday morning marché
Not a lot going on.
Not a lot going on.

Back to the bank, I have heard that it is necessary to make an appointment at a bank to be able to open your account. I have heard the French banking system is horrible. True, and true. I am lucky, because I am housed at the school. This means that I have an address already – people who need to find their own housing here can’t even start the bank process until they have secured an address and are able to get proof it is theirs. I was able to start the day after I got here, and since having a phone, wifi, and getting paid are all dependent on having a bank account, getting one ASAP is important.

What I find hilarious is that even in a small town like Haubourdin, there are about 7-8 different banks – I think they make up about 40% of the businesses in Haubourdin. What I now know is that this is needed because each bank has such a slow rate of service. Despite the fact that you want to be a customer, they have zero interest in making the process faster. There is no way if a town the size of Haubourdin only had 3-4 banks people would literally EVER be able to get there banking done. The first bank I went to was Crédit Agricole, because the English assistant from the year before had used them. I went on a Tuesday, the earliest appointment was NEXT Thursday – more than a week away! So I tried several other banks in town, and was eventually able to make a rendezvous for that Thursday – 2 days later. This worked perfect for me, because I still needed my proof of housing from the school.

After we both had scheduled bank appointments, Josephine (roommate) and I returned to our apartment and finally went to the grocery store. There is, happily, a grocery store about a 10 minute walk from the dorm. Unhappily, it is similar to if you live next to a Thriftway. Yes, in a pinch for time-saving it works great. Otherwise, it is just expensive with a small selection. Nonetheless, was able to buy some food, and most importantly, toiletries etc. I did not bring very much with me, just barely enough for my time in Belgium before arriving in Lille so I was really excited to have toothpaste.

The next few days consisted of figuring out the bus line, getting a monthly buss pass, buying my Carte Jeune (train discount card), going to IKEA, going to McDo’s a 1000 times for wifi and McFlurrys, getting actual groceries, and trying to get my bank account set up (which has slowly but surely become the bane of my existence).

(Not) Fun Fact: they don't mix McFlurrys here and they come with a sauce
(Not) Fun Fact: they don’t mix McFlurrys here and they come with a sauce “flurr’it yourself” does NOT taste as good!

Arriving in Haubourdin

Arriving in Haubourdin

I arrived in Haubourdin on Monday afternoon!! Haubourdin is a country, quite suburb of the northernmost metropolitan area of France, surrounding a city called Lille.

Arriving here wasn’t nearly as easy as it should have been. I came from Ghent by train to Lille. The train ride was only an hour and 15 minutes. Somehow that took me over 3 hours. The teacher who is helping me at the school (my prof référent) was meeting me at the train station in Lille to drive me to Haubourdin so I could avoid the bus etc. with all my bags. I was SO happy I live the life of the chronically excessively early and left Ghent 4 hours early!! Also, really happy to be able to carry everything – would definitely pack in my backpacking pack and not a suitcase again.

Broke up with chemistry for the year to start a more serious relationship with my pack ;)
Broke up with chemistry for the year to start a more serious relationship with my pack 😉

So what happened: the train from Ghent to Lille arrives in a town called Kortrijk. At Kortrijk, the first half of the train splits and goes to some other city while the back half goes to Lille. You know what wasn’t posted anywhere? That the train splits. Literally nowhere. I was on the train for almost an hour before someone checked my ticket and told me that I was on the wrong train. She told me to get off and ask the person at the opposite platform, and I could get to Lille that way. Soooo, I do just that. The staff member on the other train said I could take that train directly to Lille, no changes. Great!

Until I arrived back in Ghent, where I had started the day (so I went in completely the wrong direction!). So, at this point, I get off the train, and happily only have to wait about 15 minutes until I can get back on the same train line I had been on that morning. This time I sat in the very back. Also, because I got to do the entire process twice, I verified. NOPE, no signs at all. There was a message before Kortrijk which I imagine explains all of the details but it was only in Dutch. You would think since French is a national language of Belgium, and the destination speaks French, that a French message might also be useful. Regardless, I arrived in Lille about 10 minutes before I was supposed to meet my prof référent.

I got to Lycée Beaupré around 4 pm, and immediately met my roommate. Josephine is one of 2 Chinese language assistants also working at the school. We arrived within a few hours of each other – which has been really helpful for getting the apartment and the school figured out. Anyways, after arriving, I got a very brief tour of the school, and the keys to my apartment. At this point in time, I was extra thankful to have a totally free and furnished apartment waiting for me. Seriously I already felt stressed enough about only understanding about 2/3 of the conversations being had (woooo French) and literally having NOTHING in our apartment except furniture and being starving after not eating lunch or breakfast (thanks 3+ hour train ride) – it was super nice to be able to just be somewhere.

The entry way.
The entry way.
The living area. Super nice because it is so big. Although it kinda makes it more obvious just how small that table is :)
The living area. Super nice because it is so big. Although it kinda makes it more obvious just how small that table is 🙂

One other little comfort from this day – I packed some Reese’s peanut butter cups to share since peanut butter is not really a thing over here, let alone peanut butter candy. Uhhh…. Those will not be shared! As soon as I saw those in my stressed/hungry/tired state I ate about 5. It was great to have a little treat from home, and worth making space for in my bag.

The Reese’s were one gift, the other was Wi-Fi! We have no Wi-Fi in our apartment yet, because you have to have a French bank account in order to do all of that. Since I was running so late to the train station, I didn’t have time to buy a prepaid French SIM card with some data. All this to say, I had no internet connection, am in a Podunk town with nowhere to get free Wi-Fi, and literally nothing else to do. Emotions are evidenced below:

Boredddddd.
Boredddddd.

This first night, I was able to access a Wi-Fi hotspot with a pretty strong connection. It cost just under 5€ for a day long pass. Obviously that was the best 5€ I have ever spent. So, I stayed up super late planning, facebooking, looking at maps, phone plans, etc. If for no other reason, this was super useful because I was able to find a Bouygues Telecom store about a 25 minute walk away so I could get a SIM card. And the crazy thing? This hotspot completely vanished the next morning! I was kind of annoyed, because I had expected to be able to use more of my 1-day pass. But I think it is just a great example of God’s crazy & generous provision. I needed (wanted is probably a better word) Wi-Fi and He provided that.

All in all, starting to get settled and thankful that I have a week here to get used to everything before starting my job. It rained all night the first night I arrived, and I consider it my personal welcome to Haubourdin.

A bientôt!!