Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Not just a vacation...

First of all...you may be asking, "why did Marissa move to France for 7 months?”. 


I thought that explained my job pretty well.

I’ve already showed you some pictures of Strasbourg, where I live. Now I’ll show you the little town(s) where I work!

I work Monday-Thursday, so I take a 40 minute train ride 4 days/week to Barr and Heiligenstein. It's worth the commute to not live in the middle of nowhere!

Barr, where the high school is, has about 7,000 people. Heiligenstein, where the middle school is, only has about 1,000. 

I haven’t walked around Heiligenstein at all (not sure there’s really anything to see there anyway...), but I did walk around Barr the first day I was there and took some pictures.

My first thought was that it looks straight out of Beauty and the Beast. People even say ‘Bonjour’ to you occasionally as you walk by (that definitely did NOT happen when I lived in Paris). 

In this picture you can see a mountain in the background. I had no idea there were even mountains in Alsace. Geography fail.

The mountains surrounding Barr are called the Vosges Mountains. They remind me of the Appalachians, because they’re not very high but are green and beautiful. I like mountains like this much better than a certain desert state’s mountains (*coughutahcough*).

Here’s a picture I took from a window in the middle school because I liked the view. Pretty trees, rolling hills, and a vineyard.

So more about my job...

I’ve only had 2 weeks of work so far. I’ve only had to come up with own lesson plan once. I did some observations, and then spent a lot of time introducing myself to all of the different classes. Most teachers had the students come up with questions to ask me about myself (all in English). That was  usually pretty entertaining. 

Some of my favorite questions they asked me and conversations we had:

“How many weapons do you have?”  (Alluding to the fact that they think all Americans are gun-crazy...)

“Do you like Obama?
“Not really.”
“Is it because you’re racist?”  (No child, that's not how it works)
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Why don’t you want one?”

“Have you a domestic animal?”  (Translation: do you have a pet?)
“Yes, I have a dog.”
“Why like you not cats?”

“What are the pros and cons of America getting involved in Syria?” (I love how an 8th-grader is informed enough to ask this question)

“I want to hear you try to speak French.”
“Is that a question?”   (In case you're wondering, I did pander to them and show off my French)

“What do Americans think about French people?”  (I had to answer that one delicately haha)

In general, their level of English is really impressive! But they have VERY think accents. I’m learning how to decipher what they say. Their accents are so adorable though! I’m teaching in classes that are the French equivalent of 8th-12th grade, so obviously there’s a wide range of abilities. But I must say that in general, the students are very smart and are advanced English speakers.

I would also say that these students are much calmer and better behaved than American students. They really have them whipped into shape over here. My favorite is how the students stand at attention at their desks until they greet the teacher and the teacher gives them permission to sit down. 

Besides teachers being stricter (last week a girl got in trouble for coughing before she finished her worksheet- how dare she!), they divide students at the beginning of middle school based on academic performance. Students that don’t get good grades, have behavior issues, or have special needs are in different classrooms or different schools. So all of the students I work with are the high-performing kids.

One thing I like about French schools is that they have lots of vacations. After working for 2 weeks, I now have 2 weeks off. I'm writing this post on a train to Italy!! 

When I get back to work, for the most part I’ll be teaching lessons to about 10 students at a time, with the goal being teaching them about American culture and getting them to speak a lot of English with me. After the break, the high school teachers want me to teach about European immigration to America and talk about where my ancestors are from. The middle school teachers want me to talk about Thanksgiving. Should be an adventure!

Monday, October 21, 2013

My New Best Friend

Introducing...the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Strasbourg!

It's so tall that it's almost impossible to take a picture of the whole thing! 

A few little facts...
1. It's the tallest structure built in the Middle Ages that's still standing.
2. It was tallest building in the world from 1647-1874.
3. It's 466 ft high.

I'm SO impressed that this cathedral started to be built in 1176. The church as it is today wasn't finished until 1439. I just really appreciate the amount of effort that they put into these things so many centuries ago!

After a very stressful day of trying to get settled in (if you only knew about all of the hoops that France makes you jump through), my mom and I went on a nighttime walk around the city and kind of came across the cathedral by accident. I'm happy that the first time I saw it was when it was all lit up at night. It's so pretty! Also, there were no other tourists around. Usually it's really crowded and loud at the cathedral, but it was quiet and peaceful at night.

We had to come back a few days later so we could actually go inside and see it in the light. That didn't disappoint either.

Since Strasbourg isn't a huge city, I wasn't expecting there to be such an amazing cathedral here! But this is Europe, right? That's just how they roll.

Because it's so tall, I get to enjoy views of the cathedral from all over the city.

So anyways, I go visit this cathedral every few days. Plus I stalk it from other vantage points in the city. That's why we're best friends now.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bonjour, Strasbourg!

After our mini-vacation in Paris, we took the TGV (high-speed train) straight to my new city for the year, Strasbourg!! It was both exciting and stressful to see where I would be living and to start getting all moved in.

On my application for my internship, you got to name your top 3 picks of where you wanted to be sent in France. A lot of people don't get sent to any of their choices, because they have to send people to every tiny little village in the country. I was lucky enough to be selected as an intern in the Strasbourg region, which was my first choice!

I chose Strasbourg because:
1. Alsace is a part of France that I've never seen before.
2. Since the region has gone back and forth between France and Germany, Strasbourg has lots of German influences (like the architecture that I loved on my vacation to Germany last year).
3. It's the coldest city in France  :)  :)  :)
4. Strasbourg's a pretty good sized city- about 800,000 people.
5. It's a small region, so there was less of a chance of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no chance of commuting.
6. Strasbourg is called the 'Capital of Christmas,' because of it's famous Christmas markets. That is obviously a plus.
7. Since it's in eastern, eastern France (I can literally walk to Germany from here), there's easy access to other European countries.

The school where I work is actually in a small town called Barr, which is a 40 minute train ride away. But I quickly decided to commute and live in Strasbourg, so I could take advantage of the city!

So far, Strasbourg has definitely lived up to my expectations. I really like the size of the city- not too crazy and big, but there are still lots of things to see and do. And I think that Strasbourg is basically the quintessential European city. It is the headquarters of the European Union, after all!

Now allow me to show you the adorableness of Strasbourg. I would like to brag that each one of the places in these pictures is less than a 10 minute walk from my apartment.

I live on the main island of the city, so I'm surrounded by rivers on all sides.

I LOVE walking along the river and taking in these views.

This whole area (the cute, old part of the city) is called Petite France. Here's me and Jenna hanging out there.

The main plaza/square of the city is called Place Kléber, and it's pretty much right outside my door. There's lots of good shopping here, and this is where some of the Christmas markets will be. 

Please note the huge cathedral in the background. That gets it's own post because I'm obsessed with it.

I'll also throw in a picture of Strasbourg's palace, the Palais de Rohan. I'm excited to tour it because Marie Antoinette visited there on her first day in France.

I've been in Strasbourg for a little more than 3 weeks. I'm so glad I get to live in such a beautiful place, because it is definitely an ADJUSTMENT moving to a foreign country, let me tell you. 

So I bought this postcard on one of my first days here, and I finally found where they took the picture from. So last but not least...one of the best views in Strasbourg:

Not bad. 

Stay tuned for more about my life in France!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Au Revoir Paris

The last day of our whirlwind trip to Paris started out at Sacré-Coeur, a huge basilica on the outskirts of the city. The church is on top of a huge hill, so you hike up a lot of stairs to get there.

I like the walk to Sacré-Coeur because the neighborhood that it's in, Montmartre, is a very charming and pretty place. It used to be the hangout of artists like Van Gogh, Degas, and Renoir.

The basilica itself wasn't built until 1875, so it's pretty new by Paris standards. There was political instability and a bloody uprising after France lost a war to Germany in 1870. This church was built to ask for forgiveness for the crimes of the Commune government. I think they did a pretty good job.

Ever since my mom saw my pictures from the Paris Opera House 3 years ago, she has wanted to go! So that was our next destination.

I didn't make it to Versailles on this trip, but going to the Opera House helped me get my fill of gold and luxury.


The balcony off of the ballroom has some lovely views of Haussmannian Paris.

Right across the street from the Opera House is Galeries Lafayette, one of the fanciest, most famous department stores in Paris. It's always worth a stop not only for the designer shopping, but just to see the building itself.

When you travel with my mom, expect to accidentally be in all of her pictures.
Later that day we met Claire at the art gallery where she works, the Palais de Tokyo. It was Paris Fashion Week, and they were holding fashion shows in Claire's building! Lots of crazily dressed people were hanging out in the lobby.

My mom chased down a man/woman (verdict's still out) wearing a yarn wig, square hat, and plaid suit to get a picture... but was unsuccessful.

When we left the building, there was a ton of paparazzi waiting to take pictures of people's outfits. Sadly I don't think we made any magazines.

The Palais de Tokyo is basically right across the river from the Eiffel Tower.

We walked down to Les Invalides with Claire, and then she helped us find where our boat was taking off for the river cruise down the Seine that we wanted to do. It was great to get a last view of pretty Paris at night before leaving for Strasbourg the next day!

Until next time, Paris! Thankfully you're only a 2 hour TGV ride from my new city.