On Teaching

Hi from Lille!

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.

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,




Autumn à l’Etranger

There are few interesting things about experiencing the Fall in a different place. America’s autumn is marked by pumpkin, Halloween, Thanksgiving, football, harvest festivals and all they include (corn mazes, apples, hay bales, etc.). In France, automne has chestnuts, amazing winter scarves, mushrooms (especially in the rainy north), and delicious creamy soups. Both have apples and squash, thank goodness!

In France, Halloween is celebrated a bit…. although I don’t think they really understand the idea. In supermarkets, you can find a small costume section, some candy, and carving pumpkins. They have themed nights at clubs and bars, but that is about the extent of the celebration here. The French do not understand trick-or-treating. Which, when you really think about it, trick-or-treating is really strange. Also, in order for trick-or-treating to be common, a lot of people need to participate. Obviously, that works in America because it is an established tradition, but here, I’m not even sure where people would go if they wanted to take their kids trick-or-treating.

I took it upon myself to introduce my Chinese roommates to American Halloween traditions. They dress up for Halloween parties, etc. in China, but didn’t really know about pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating. So I made them carve a pumpkin and then force-fed them roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin bread. I think they think I’m crazy. But I did catch them taking about a million pictures of their pumpkin later, so I mean how crazy can I really be?

Working on their pumpkin!
Working on their pumpkin!

You can’t buy canned pumpkin puree here, so I’ve had to make my own in order to really be in the Fall spirit. They serve a pumpkin soup in my school’s cafeteria sometimes, but in general, pumpkin isn’t a common flavor here. So I get my fill each morning with a bit of pumpkin oatmeal. So good. And I’m having a vegetable for breakfast! Love it. I’ve decided that the French version of pumpkin is chestnuts (marrons). They love them. Chestnut paste, chestnut tarts, chestnut cremes, chestnut soups, chestnuts everywhere!

I've heard its good, but I have yet to try it.
I’ve heard its good, but I have yet to try it.

Thanksgiving is, obviously, not celebrated in France. There are two main impacts this has on the Fall. Firstly, the food in a grocery store is different. Good luck finding a turkey, because turkey is really only eaten at Christmas here. Similarly, it is difficult or impossible to find yams, pumpkin puree, and cranberries/cranberry sauce. Secondly, there is nothing to mark the start of the Christmas season. In the States, Christmas is nicely contained by Thanksgiving and New Years. Obviously, in the interest of capitalism these limits are not always observed. Nonetheless, it is known when the Christmas season officially starts – the day after Thanksgiving. Without Thanksgiving, Christmas starts so early! It’s November 6th, and there have been Christmas decorations at the local mall for a week. The stores have had Christmas decorations for weeks. The Christmas market is getting set up (!!!).

One last observation on Fall is the lack of evergreens here. Lille has a similar climate to Portland, but doesn’t have big evergreen forests. There actually just aren’t a lot of evergeens. I miss the Douglas Firs! But for the moment, this means all the trees are changing color and altogether, they look beautiful. I’m not looking forward to a dreary, barren winter, once all the leaves are gone. For now, though, it is nice 🙂

From a couple of weeks ago.
From a couple of weeks ago.

A bientot,



The last leg of my trip to Scandinavia! I knew I had to stop in Denmark after hearing about it for years and years from my grandpa. I loved it!

One really nice thing about Copenhagen is that Ryan Air flies into the main airport, about 15 minutes away from the city center by train. So so so much nicer than flying into a small airport an hour away. The other really nice thing is that my hostel (Urban House) was a grand total of 500m from the train station. Since I arrived pretty late, this made it so much easier to get to my hostel and go to bed.

Day 1:

I was not particularly thrifty in Oslo and Stockholm so I wanted to be a little more budget-friendly in Copenhagen. Fortunately, this was not hard at all! There were a lot of free things to do, and the city is small enough that walking places isn’t tortuous. Especially since the weather was so nice when I was there, I was glad to walk and see the cool buildings and parks.

Observations from walking:

  1. THERE ARE SO MANY BIKES. I thought there were a lot of bikes in Ghent and Uppsala, but Copenhagen blew them out of the water. Like it was basically an entire sea of bikes.
  2. Copenhagen is like Oslo and Stockholm, very very clean. I found the streets prettier here, though. The buildings are very colorful and all of them look different and interesting.
  3. Coffee is expensive here. I passed a million and one coffee shops, planning to stop when I found one with a cheap latte. The average espresso-based drink was 30 dkk ($4.50). I did eventually find the best café/book store with wifi, outlets, food and coffee (Paludan’s). I felt like I scored when I got a double latte and a roll for 45 dkk ($6.50).
Streets of Copenhagen
Streets of Copenhagen

Apparently everything touristy (i.e. museums) is closed on Mondays. This day was a Monday, so I mostly just explored and found good spots to have coffee and chill. I was honestly pretty tired from Sweden, so it was nice to be able to take a slower pace. I stumbled upon the Nyhavn neighborhood.

Nyhavn. The weather was sooooo good for almost November.
Nyhavn. The weather was sooooo good for almost November.

I wandered for a bit longer before finding Christainsborg Palace. The Royal Stables behind the palace still have horses and contain a museum. I didn’t see the museum, but I did see the horses being trained, which was kinda fun.

ze horses
ze horses

I ended up in Christianshavn, a neighborhood with various churches, parks, and pretty views. I wandered around the park for a while – it was beautiful and big and nice to be in. On my walk, I ended up in Christiania. This is a little area in Copenhagen that is self-regulated to a degree. Basically, it is where the hippies live and you can buy and smoke pot there. It really was just a place to get high – which was kind of lame because the internet told me it was like a hippie commune, with shops and many different things. I was hoping there would be a good organic/hippie food truck. Or some fun hippie stores. Or environmentalist stuff. Nope. Just weed. Maybe I’m spoiled by the Portland hippies, but there is a difference to me between stoners and hippies. I promptly left and found a hot dog stand.

The Danes love hot dogs. They are the most popular fast food in Denmark. They invented something called a ‘French Hot Dog’ and its kind of like a small baguette stuffed with a hot dog and a special sauce. I had a long conversation with the vendor about the sauce, because he doesn’t know how to tell foreigners what its like. Its basically a honey dijon mixed with mayo. They are good!!

I had dinner at Riz Raz, a reasonably price vegetarian buffet. So good! Falafal, lasagna, bread, several good salads, beets, potatoes, etc. etc. I also had an elderflower drink with it. I guess it is a Scandinavian specialty, but it was really good. You can buy the syrup at any Ikea, I guess. Going to try to recreate it at home!

Day 2:

If you have read many of my blog posts you can probably guess what I did next…….

Botanical Garden! Copenhagen’s Botanical Garden was THE BEST I have been to. Big, and beautiful with lots of ponds and ducks and various plants. They also have some sort of juniper (I think) growing there so it smelled really good.

It's Fall in Copenhagen. (Botanical Gardens)
It’s Fall in Copenhagen. (Botanical Gardens)

Also, lets talk about the green houses. I wish I had been there during a more standard time, because they have so many and you can go into a lot of them, if your timing is good. They even have one that recreates Arctic conditions for growing Arctic plants!!!!

Fanciest greenhouse I've ever seen.
Fanciest greenhouse I’ve ever seen.

The most famous attraction in Copenhagen is the Little Mermaid Statue. The botanical garden is right next to 2 other parks that lead to the statue, so I just walked through the parks until I got to the statue.

I would like everyone to know that random spots of gravity are just as common here in Europe as they are in the States. There I am, standing near the statue with the 10 or so other people, we are all taking pictures. All of a sudden, I find a random spot of gravity and fall over, with absolutely no grace. I took out a 10 year old boy with me….. I mean….uh.. the random spot of gravity got both of us 😉 Needless to say, I took my picture and left promptly!!

Den lille havfrue
Den lille havfrue

Okay, since travel is really all about food, I decided to treat myself to a sit-down lunch. It was a priority to try the famed danish open-faced sandwich, smørrebrød. I found a great little restaurant! It was called Kronborg, and was very reasonably priced. Although I may have splurged and got 2 dishes…. and a beer. Because I’m trying to save money, right? But I had to have a Carlsberg beer while I was there. Anyways, I got an open faced sandwich with a chicken salad that was quite good. And then I also got danish meatballs with pickled cucumbers and beets that was excellent!!


After my late lunch, I headed to the National Museum of Denmark. This museum is free, has free wifi, and places to charge your phone, and it is huge! An obvious focus is the history of Denmark, but they also had exhibits with African and South American artifacts. The viking displays were very well done and they also had rooms staged as if from different periods of time in Denmark — fun to see how life has changed there.

That was the end of Copenhagen, and it was time to return to Lille. I had a great time in Scandinavia, but was excited to return home and just relax for a little bit before Toussaint ends and its back to work.

A bientôt,



After visiting Oslo, I was off to Stockholm (& Uppsala), with my main goal to visit one of my best friends from college, Svea. Svea is an au pair in Stockholm now and it was so so good to see her! My time in Stockholm was really nice because I stayed with her and got to do more normal life things than a hostel/tourist type experience.

Everyone in Sweden is highly proficient in English. The kids she nannys (granted the parents lived in the US for several years) are really good at English, and all the adults can speak it very well. To me, this is really interesting because I have always felt hesitant to just jump into speaking English with people who have a different native language. In the States, there is fear of being an egotistical American (at least for me) by assuming everyone speaks English, but what I have observed in Europe is that it is the most common language spoken. Yes, French/Spanish/German/Swedish etc. are spoken in their respective countries, but English has the most crossover for various countries. I was talking to some Swedes about how well everyone spoke and they basically said it is necessary to learn English, because Swedish is limited to such a small area, and most places people speak at least some English. I feel very lucky to have English as my native language, but I still feel a bit uneasy about just jumping into English if I don’t speak the regional language – I feel a bit rude/entitled.

Day 1:

The first day was spent helping the kids do artwork and catching up with Svea. I was a novelty, so they were well behaved! Later that evening we went to a viking bar (Aifur’s)! Definitely touristy but very fun nonetheless. We drank mead and beer and enjoyed the decor. I want a viking drinking horn!

Not the best picture, but you can see the viking boat candle holder, and the fur covered bench seats.
Not the best picture, but you can see the viking boat candle holder, and the fur covered bench seats.

Day 2:

This was the main day to explore Stockholm. We started the day by going to the Vasa museum. To get there, we took a ferry. I really lucked out with the weather when I was in Sweden, the ferry ride was beautiful and a great way to have a view of the city.

From the ferry ride
From the ferry ride

The Vasa is an ornate, extravagent warship from the 1600s that was built in Sweden and sailed for about 15 minutes before sinking. In the mid 1900s, she was pulled up from the sea and work on preservation/archaeological analysis began. The museum was huge, with tons of different things to see and fairly well organized. Unlike most museums I visit, I actually watched the film and did the guided tour and I thought it was worthwhile.

The Vasa!
The Vasa! She is 98% original.

We did a few more things in Stockholm that afternoon, and headed to Uppsala for the rest of the weekend. Uppsala is a student town just north of Stockholm. There is this thing called the Nations. They are kind of like student unions, and historically were gathering places for people from each region in Sweden (hence the name Nations). They are cheap bars/restaurants and put on various events. We got guest passes thanks to Svea’s boyfriend and went to a Halloween party. It was really fun, and I was happy to have a little Halloween celebration this year. The French don’t really understand Halloween.

Day 3:

This was probably the best day of all! We got up earlyish (felt early after the night before 😉 ) and went with Svea’s boyfriend’s parents to their summer house on an island on the east coast of Sweden. This was great! The area the house is in felt kind of like Bend in Oregon, but with an ocean. The parents are really nice, welcoming people. The dad is a professor at the university in Uppsala and has his PhD in medicine. I really enjoyed talking to him about his research, and what academia is like in Europe (i.e. funding sources, international research collaborations, etc.).

Sweden has this great thing called fika. It is basically a coffee break, but more social and can last for quite a while. You drink coffee, and eat a little (baked) something. I had fika most days I was in Sweden, but the best was at the summer house. We bought fresh bread and pastries on the way to the house, so they were top notch.

Isn't fika just the best?
Isn’t fika just the best?

We helped the parents out with a few work projects, and explored the area by bike and foot. Very beautiful, and kind of woodsy. Its the most nature-y place I’ve been since I left the States and it was refreshing. I need to be outdoors.

View of the dock from the summer house. Very pretty! The family bought this property before all beaches were public in Sweden, so they own it all.
View of the dock from the summer house. Very pretty! The family bought this property before all beaches were public in Sweden, so they own it all.
The house itself. They are working on building a sort of compound for their family out here.
The house itself. They are working on building a sort of compound for their family out here.

Day 4:

Day 4 consisted of visiting Uppsala’s sights. With a Nations pass, you can go to most/all of the museums for free, so we went to a couple and the old church. I also bought the best red rubber boots! Fleece lined!! There is a large botanical garden in Uppsala, so of course, we went there. We biked around, had fika, and spent time chatting.

It was so good to spend time with Svea. To speak English, to reminisce over college stories, and to just be with someone who I know and knows me. It felt very home-y and comfortable. The thing about moving abroad is its really hard to build good friendships. Not only are you moving somewhere where you know anybody, but there is a huge cultural and language divide between you and 95% of the people who live there. I am lucky in that I get along well with my roommates and have a few assistant friends in Lille. Nevertheless, it is hard to have friends. In terms of cultural exchange, many people are interested in American culture, and I am interested in French culture, but that is more of a novelty sort of interest than a community-building interest. It takes time to build that network in the States, and it is even harder here. In light of that, it was nice to be with a close friend for a few days.


On a lighter note, the Swedish word for speed is ‘fart’. This word is on many signs, and since Svea and I are 10 year old boys, we found it hilarious. A speed bump is farthinder. Because we all need to hinder our farts 😀

You can't tell me this doesn't make you giggle at least a little.
You can’t tell me this doesn’t make you giggle at least a little.

To Copenhagen!


The French LOVE school breaks. The first day of November is All Saints Day, and so the Vacances de la Toussaint happen at the end of October. And yes, for some reason despite the fact that this is a Catholic holiday, it does not break la laïcité (secularism) that the French school system is based on. One can’t really understand the French, just do as they do 😉

Thanks to the break, I completed 2 weeks of work and am enjoying my first 2 week break now. Love it. I’m using my 2 weeks to explore Scandinavia and started with Oslo, Norway.

Oslo is an expensive expensive expensive city. Also, they aren’t in the European Union and like Sweden and Denmark, use a currency that is on a scale approximately 10 times the euro/dollar. In Norway, this is the krone. It is extremely easy to spend way more money than you normally would because it is such a different number it feels like fake money. 100 krone isn’t nearly as meaningful to me as 10 dollars/euros. It is necessary to be alert, I keep on realizing I am about to spend $6 on a coffee!

All in all, Oslo was an awesome city. It isn’t as popular of a tourist destination because it is expensive and out of the way of other European cities, so it feels much more liveable/comfortable to me than a city like Paris. Also, everyone speaks excellent English. Three cheers for a break from the French language!

Day 1:
I arrived midday and just wandered around. I stayed in the Anker Hostel – one of the cheapest options in Oslo. Very close to Karl Johans Gate (main drag/shopping street), the train station and other popular spots. It was obvious how cheap it was though and I had no interest in spending much time there. It was a rainy few days but I liked it – rainy feels like home. I dropped my bag and wandered without aim (except to find the elusive ATM). Oslo has a harbor and is right on the water, has a lot of interesting shops, and about a million 7-11s.


At the end of Karl Johans Gate is a park and the Royal Palace. You can watch the changing of the guard every day at 1:30 and a kind of fun free thing to do in a spendy city.

The view of the palace from Karl Johans Gate.

I am addicted to soup, and found a nice cheap soup restaurant, What’soup. In a food court underneath the Steen & Strom department store, there were many good food options. The soup was still 100 NOK but that’s cheap for Oslo! And they have free Wifi!! Really, what more could a girl want?

Day 2:
I always try to find botanical gardens when I travel, they are free, pretty, and I really like them. So first thing was a trip to the Botanical Garden. Very pretty, although I would imagine it’s much better in the spring and summer. You can tell Fall is here.

View from my walk to the gardens. I have a habit of leaving with a very very general idea of where I am going and spending a long time searching. But then I find places like this and it is worth it!

It took me a long time to find the garden, so by the time is was done there, I was hungry! I found a good bakery and had a norwegian cinnamon bun and coffee and was fueled up for the rest of the day. Oslo has a lot of cool museums and viewpoints but they are pretty spread out, so I bought a 24 hour bus pass for 90 NOK and headed to the Munch Museum. The museum was fine, although I’m not sure I would go back because it was a little pricy for me. Art museums have the best gifts/souvenirs.The art postcards are the best cheap, packable thing to buy so I got some good ones.

I then wandered around the roof of the Oslo Opera House, which was fun. It’s a slanted roof you can walk on and a fun, free thing to do for a couple minutes.

Flat Jane in her rain jacket on top of the opera house. (hiiiiii mom!!!)

I then took the bus out to the Fram Museum. This museum was awesome!! And only 40 NOK. It has 2 ships used for artic explorations around 1900 (the Fram and the Gjøa). I’m not a huge museum person, but any adventuring, science person would be interested in this museum. I learned all sorts of things about how the north pole was explored and the ways they studied the unique atmospheric and magnetic properties near the north pole. The museum was well presented and the absolute coolest part was getting to go on the Fram and walk on and below deck. I can’t believe people spent years based out of these small spaces.

Their outfits. The explorers learned a lot about living in the arctic from the Inuit people, including the best way to make clothing.
One of the biggest cabins on Fram.
From on the Fram’s deck.

The last thing I did was go to the Vigeland Sculpture Park on my way back from the Fram. This park has hundreds of sculptures and was a good way to end my day of wandering. Another free park to explore.



I went back to the food court for a cheapish burrito – the best burrito I’ve had in Europe! (not saying much) and went back to my hostel to plan for Sweden.

Oslo had many things I didn’t do that I would’ve liked to. There is the Holmenkollen ski jump and Kragstotten viewpoint for great views of the city, the Norwegian Folk Museum (an open air museum with traditional Norwegian houses), the Kon-Tiki museum, and the nearby forests. To make that affordable, you can buy an Oslo Pass for admission to all the museums but in the winter they have limited hours and it wasn’t feasible to shove them all into my day. I would love to come back to Norway in the summer for hiking and kayaking or in the winter for snowshoeing and skiing. A beautiful country. And if you head north, you can see the northern lights and fjords!!

To Stockholm we go ✈✈

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,


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,