Reflections from a Lectrice d’Anglais

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It feels rather strange to be working on wrapping up these classes I’ve been teaching since last fall.

I’m definitely going to miss my class full of sci-fi/LOTR fans. Never can tell where class discussion is going to go and my yes, do they have some pretty strong opinions. On an exam last fall for bonus points I gave them sentences to put into passive voice. One of the sentences was “Frodo destroyed the ring.” One of my students crossed out Frodo and put Gollum before putting it into passive voice. This may or may not have been the same student who spoke for the rest of class in a Gollum voice after I showed the Air New Zealand Flight Safety video with LOTR characters a few weeks ago during our travel unit.

I can’t say it’s all gone smoothly teaching here, but it’s definitely been a learning experience on multiple levels.

What’s it been like teaching English in France?

Different. Very different. Naturally, I knew it wouldn’t be the same as what I’ve been used to. My entire teaching career up to this point has been focused on teaching students French. Now, for the last 8 months I’ve been standing up in front of a classroom to teach English, my native language, and it is even more of a challenge than I fully realized it would be.

100_3968 - CopyI’ve sometimes felt like throwing up my hands because I feel like there’s an overall lack of
organization in the university system (welcome to France, Stace). Throwing me 8 or 9 classes and telling me to do whatever I want with little clue as to what my students have done previously absolutely overwhelmed me starting out. I was so very thankful for a couple of teachers who shared their lessons with me and gave me an idea of how to teach these classes. It’s been pretty rocky, but I think if I were to do this another year, it would go somewhat smoother.

What was one of the biggest differences?

The students.

Of course, it does make sense that French students would not be the same as the American students I’m used to teaching. However, I was not prepared for the discipline problems I ran into those first few weeks. After I established rules and they got used to my rules and the consequences, things did start to go smoother though I did often feel like I was teaching high school all over again. Alhough I don’t think I would ever have heard myself saying “Arthur and Clément, please put that flask away. I want you happy in this class and ready to talk but not quite *that* happy!” in either a high school or a university in the U.S. Yes, that really did happen!

What I did love about my French students was that I could talk more freely with them without worrying so much about someone getting easily offended. In my conversation classes especially we talked about so many different things and everyone felt free to voice an opinion. Although we always had a theme for the week, I really wanted them to take the conversation where they wanted it to go. They were much more likely to get into lively conversations even debates if it was about something that interested them. You should have heard one of our book discussions the other day. 😉

It was a joy to me as a teacher to see many of my students blossom. They often wowed me with their presentations. Two of the guys pretended to be sports anchors for several minutes and then had the class do a game show quiz on sports news in Europe and U.S. Or, I had another student who had the entire class involved in a game show over different anglophone accents. I’ve had students who got up in front of the class and started off nervous but as they continued, gained confidence and were able to get the class involved in discussing their topic.

Sure, I’ve had more lessons than I want to count fall flat and there were plenty of times when I just about wore myself out trying to get these kids to talk. I have also had plenty of times I left the university after a long day nearly in tears because I wanted so badly to go home as things went just that horribly with classes. I remember at one particular low point another teacher seeing how discouraged I was, sweetly told me that I was here to touch lives and that somehow or other all these other difficulties I was going through would work out. I call that a turning point because it took the focus off of myself and put it back onto others where it should have been. I’m thankful now to look back and see the strength the Lord gave me on those tough days and smile about the good times I’ve had in class. Yes, I’m also really going to miss a lot of these kids I’ve gotten to know.

The students did also pick up on my great enjoyment of coffee….

100_3965One time I intended to write on the board for students to be sure to print a copy of a worksheet to bring to class and went along giving them instructions. I was interrupted by giggles and students pointing at the board saying “Uh, Miss? Miss! *hahahaha* Print a coffee!?” Yes, it’s rather obvious where my mind was at that time. They kindly suggested I go find myself one as they walked out of the classroom. Later that same day, two students in another class were doing a partner oral exam and decided to impersonate me interviewing for a job in an espresso company. That absolutely cracked me up, and “I” apparently got the job….Woohoo!

As much of a learning and often stressful experience this has been, there are some unique things about these students that I have enjoyed uncovering. They love to tell me about their culture and about things I need to try while I’m here. Often if class discussion was lagging, I’d ask them questions about France. Conversely, you should see how excited and curious a lot of them are when I tell them about my life back in the States. Sometimes they come up to me after class to ask questions like “Do you prefer our coffee here or the coffee in the States?” “What kind of an accent do you have?” “Where did you learn how to teach?” “What does a Texan accent sound like?” “Do you really know cowboys?” We also have laughs when there’s a complete breakdown in communication in the classroom. This is usually when they mispronounce something, and I can’t figure out what they’re trying to say, so they try in French which depending on what it is might still not work. An impromptu game of charades then begins often ending in laughs.

I have many, many stories to tell, but for now I’m content, relieved, and maybe just a little sad that the semester is almost over! What an adventure it’s been!

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Long Days and Mountain Air

I was yawning and scraping the last bit of my fromage blanc (kind of like yogurt) mixed with a little honey and canned peaches out of a bowl when my landlady walked into the kitchen. I looked up and said a tired “Salut”. She mentioned she was tired as she opened a cabinet for a glass, and I agreed that I was too. She looked at me and then said in her typical fast French (had to get her to repeat herself as usual) “Your days are too long! Way too long! This is not good for you.” She’d been observing for the first time some of my school routine during the week. I slowly nodded in agreement and told her that I was trying to see if I could change my schedule a little for the next semester, but I’d have to wait and see if it would be possible. She nodded and said that I definitely should change it up because it just doesn’t seem healthy to be working those long hours. Oh dear, good thing she hasn’t seen me during a typical semester back home.

Things have been incredibly busy and in many ways quite difficult over the last few weeks. I keep coming to terms with the fact that at least while I’m in France, life will most likely not be simple or absent of complication. Though really, why am I so special to think that it would or should be so? I’ve strangely grown accustomed to things not working anyway. o_O On the flip side, I get extremely excited when something does go smoothly.

Happily, I’ve lately received a couple of big answers to prayer. I finally received my medical appointments for the validation of my long stay visa and (1) neither of them are on a Wednesday and (2) they came before I have to leave the apartment for three weeks (long story). I was concerned about retrieving the letter with the appointment dates if I didn’t have access to the apartment mailbox. Thankfully, they came through email. Both were specific requests I prayed for as I waited and waited for my appointments to come. God does indeed work in the details! 🙂 The first appointment known as the “Awkward Chest X-ray to Prove I Don’t Have TB” (in true French form that would be the acronym: ACXPIDHTB pronounced as”AX-PID-HiTiBi”) is on Monday, and the second medical visit is in January. Don’t ask me why they’re spread out like that as I have no clue. After all the trouble I went through to get these appointments, I’d rather not say anything for fear of it all falling apart resulting in my being shipped back to the States before I’ve finished my contract. I’m just so happy to finally be making progress with this long administrative nightmare I’ve been going through since my arrival.

Since my last update, the weather has gotten quite a bit colder. It’s been snowing high up in the Alps! Beautiful isn’t it? The natives are happy because some of the ski slopes have now been able to open. They’d been rather concerned with the Indian Summer we’d experienced that the ski season would start later than usual. 100_1861

It reminds me of how the Alps looked my very first time in Grenoble nearly seven years ago. Maybe I really should try out skiing here this time. The weather is rather chilly but not unbearable. I can still feel my face and don’t have to wear five layers to keep from getting frost bite. 🙂 Can you tell I’ve spent the last two winters in Indiana?

French is also coming along. Sometimes in conversation it feels like I have a little person up in my head going through all of the French files in my brain trying to find words or phrases to try to express what I want to say. This file searching often causes a delay leaving me looking at the person I’m talking to with a deer in the headlights look as I’m mentally urging the little person frantically throwing papers out of filing cabinets to hurry up because I really need that sentence structure/word NOW! This results in a few papers being thrown my way to “make do” which causes the French person I’m talking with to smile and tell me that they understand me but that one should really say it this other way. The little person in my head usually has a sulking expression after his efforts as he makes note of the correction and files it in the MISC cabinet before finding an easy chair to collapse in {Yes, I do think they need to make another version of Inside Out devoted to the multilingual brain}. Sometimes it does get discouraging, but I’m glad to have seven more months to keep on trying.

In any case, there’s so much to look around and be thankful for despite all the long days and obstacles I seem to run into! I have food in the pantry and the ability to make hot coffee in the morning (important skill there). I have family and friends who love and pray for me. I have dear friends here that mean the world to me. I get to wake up each morning and see the Alps outside of my window. I can make myself understood even if it’s not always “grammatically correct”. I have somewhere to go to hear the gospel preached and have fellowship! These are just a few of so many blessings!

Life may not be perfect here, but it is a blessed life because I know Who has given me life and from Whom these blessings come!

Dear 14-year-old Stacey,…

Due to the last month of crazy paper writing and lots of grading and insane coffee drinking, this poor blog has been neglected. I thought of many ideas for things I wanted to write in a post but had deadlines staring me in the face! So, here’s to a happy return after finally finishing yet another semester of grad school! 🙂 Not surprisingly, this post has something to do with one of my papers…

In an effort to work on a project for Arabic, I decided to write out some ideas to help me plan it. My project was to write a letter in Arabic to my 14-year-old self. The result is this blog post…in English. I assure you, my project didn’t turn out quite this deep or humorous, but it is a nice reprieve from all the craziness to be able to write all this. 

This letter is written to the Stacey who’s greatest worry in life was passing Algebra 1…

Dearest 14-year -old Stacey,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI know the book you’re reading right now is probably of more fascination to you than this letter, but I thought you might enjoy an update from the future Stacey. Yes, I see you putting down that book and looking up with interest. Before you ask it, no you’re not married, and yes, you’re still in school. Before you slump your shoulders with disappointment, let me explain.

In one year, you will begin studying this fascinating language called French. Study it well because it is about to become the main focus of your studies and will basically shape your life and provide you with amazing opportunities. However, it will also annoy you, follow you everywhere, take away your time and sleep, confuse you with its crazy grammar and verb tenses, and yet, you’ll keep coming back to it to learn more and improve. Crazy? I think not!

Yes, you’re probably thinking “What?” (really you should say “Comment?” or perhaps sparingly even “Quoi?”)

How did this happen? you may ask.

Simple: You fell in love….

with a language. Not quite what you were expecting, right? 🙂

Then, at age 16 you will find out that you can actually major in that language and you will know what you want to do. I won’t give away everything much like you hate it when Justin (older bro) or Jesse (younger bro) give away the ending of a movie. However, you do get accepted to Texas Tech with a major in French. Don’t look so surprised. You do survive math all the way through Calculus, so no worries on that end and you will love French. You even go off to France for a while at one point.

Why am I writing?

Because I know you! You’re a dreamer! You do build castles in the sky despite how much you claim you don’t. My point in writing is not to discourage you from dreaming. My counsel is that you need to realize that not every dream will come true. However, from the pieces of those broken dreams, you will build and discover new ones that will often exceed the ones you had before.

For example, this is a pic of you just two days before you will leave for France for the first time! Exciting, or what!?

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You see, dreams are important. But, you have to learn how to control them and realize that God is the one who ultimately guides your life. When you recognize His hand in your life, it becomes less of a crushing experience when things don’t work out like you wanted them to. Then, He takes your dreams and your hopes and will show you something even better than you imagined even if you don’t see how it is something better at the time.

Yes, disappointing things will happen and your heart will be broken. People will hurt you and let you down because, well, we’re all human. But, even when family or friends hurt you, you must never stop loving them. Yes, it will hurt and life will seem unfair and cruel. However, no matter how much you’re hurt, you cannot let that hurt determine your life. Just as Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, you have to keep moving forward ever onward towards the Celestial City. Let the trials and hurts you face help make you a stronger and wiser person! Don’t let the hurt and the disappointment make you into a bitter and unforgiving person.

By the way, these people become some of your greatest friends and allies in life.

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11540_198715852501_5689400_n396248_623374052010_634838792_nI actually can’t even post pictures of everyone who will have an effect on your life because it would take up so much space. That’s the other thing, I wanted you to know. Life is not all about you. If you think that, you need to take a step back and rethink things. When you realize that life is not all about finding out what makes you happy and what you want to do, but instead how you can help make others happy and help others, that is where you will find true happiness. You will find that a lot your success in life is actually due to others setting aside time and energy to help you.

Just a couple more remarks:

“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth…” Ecclesiastes 12:1

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Now, is the time to serve the Lord. Not later! Yes, I may be few years older now, but I still know this to be true. When you ask God to lead you, He will. His answers may seem late or not what you were looking for, but that’s not the point. The point is that you follow where He leads. This is the answer to life’s questions. I am also writing this to myself presently because I am facing some very important decisions that will have an effect on the rest of my life. Who knows? Maybe 10 years from now the older “wiser” Stacey will write a letter to the present me with similar or better advice.

Enjoy growing up though realize that even being a grown up isn’t all you think it is. 😉 There’s that little thing called bills and then responsibility, but I won’t get into that. Enjoy life and the journey!

A Little Intermission…

You’ll have to excuse my absence for the next few days.

That time of the semester when I’m supposed to show the evidence of what I have learned this semester….

HAS COME! 

*dramatic music*

I shall be in a paper writing hibernation/coffee addiction peak for the next 11 days or so trying to spit out papers and projects. But, as my mother always says:

“This too shall pass, my dear.”

So, in the midst of my getting through all of this lack of sleep insanity and stacks upon stacks of books and research, I bid you to have a good week. I’ll be smiling much bigger around May 11!

Graduate school…psh….

When I Grow Up…

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I used to love this question as a kid! It seemed to hold endless possibilities! I could be a scientist or a doctor or a teacher or plenty of other things. All I had to do was dream…

For many years as a kid I thought I wanted to be a nurse or scientist or something along those lines because I was fascinated with science, but things changed…

Around maybe age 14 or 15, I realized that I really didn’t think I wanted to go into science after all. I really didn’t know anymore what I wanted to do until I picked up that French textbook my sophomore year of high school and the rest is history which you can read here!  🙂

The only trouble is that I’m “grown up” and still am not sure what to become exactly.

I was sitting the other day reading a book for class (when I was actually trying to be productive during spring break) when a thought struck me. The character in the book was talking about all of the ins and outs of trying to be a successful writer. Hmmm….

I was sitting there book in hand staring hard at my clock on the wall facing me contemplating this new idea. Could I see myself as a writer? Is that what I want to be when I grow up? This could take some doing for sure. Then, my next thought was:

If I were to become a writer, what in the world would I write about? Would I write stories with characters and plots? Would I write about social issues? Would I write textbooks?! (that might make some money)

Yes, saying you’re going to become a writer is not just that simple. Writing is not just simply picking up a pen and paper and just writing random things. The character in the book I was reading was imagining how ideal it would be if his first best-selling novel would just come to him out of the blue, and all he would have to struggle with was writing it all down before the thoughts left him.

No, writing–the good kind of writing–takes a lot of thought and work. There’s not only the ideas, but the words to choose to best convey those ideas in order that the reader can understand exactly what message you the writer want to get across. Then, there’s how you write it, what voice do you take? Are you the all knowing invisible narrator in the story of a plot? Or, are you the counselor speaking directly to the reader about an issue that you find important for their attention?

It’s not just a flippant thing to just decide one day “I’m going to be a writer”!

There’s not very many kindergarten kids who will give you that as their future occupation either. But, it’s an idea worth considering. What we read everyday effects us in one way or another. Yes, people don’t read like they used to, but they still read even if they’re just simply browsing the status updates of their friends on Facebook.

I enjoy writing despite how difficult it often is. Most of my writing of late has been in French and there are plenty of times in which I am staring at a blinking cursor not at all sure where to go or even start with this paper I’m writing. Yes, indeed there are times when it flows, but the last paper I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the progress and philosophy of the changes in Paris in the 19th century just would not come easily. I was nearly banging my head against the wall bemoaning the fact that I had chosen that particular aspect for a topic for the midterm. I did finally finish the paper with about 25 minutes to spare before class was going to start. Whew! Guess I’ll see in a couple of days what the prof thought of the result of that headache that became a paper.

It is remembering this experience that makes me stop and think a little more objectively about this idea of writing. Is that what my life would be?

Right, maybe I’ll just keep a blog to satisfy my writing cravings and teach kids how to properly say “Mon professeur de français est la meilleure!” for a living.

Though I think I’d always have a longing to dwell in the land of imagination and contemplation from which some of the greatest fiction of all time originates…

With that thought, I suppose I need to get busy reading those books in order to write all of those papers that are due next week. Guess my job right now is that of a writer whether I’ve actually chosen it as a profession yet or not.

Here’s to another week and plenty more cups of coffee to be had in the meantime…

French? Why would you study that?

As a graduate student studying French, one often receives some interesting responses.

When I was an undergraduate working on my Bachelor’s in French, I usually would cringe when someone new at a gathering or church event would come up and try to start a conversation with the question:

“So, you’re in college? What’s your major?”

I suppose, the response they were probably expecting was something like nursing or education maybe a science of some sort. I would respond with:

“Oh, I’m a French major.” *smile*

From here, there was usually one of two responses:

“Wow! That is really neat! I’ve never heard of someone doing that before! So, what are your future plans?”

or

“French?! What in the world are you going to do with that? Teach?” As if teaching was the only “doomed” existence for someone with this kind of degree.

I usually responded with some statistics as well as how much I loved the language and how useful it is in the world. Though my living in Texas usually sparks the next question:

“So, why don’t you just study Spanish? That seems like it would be more useful.”

Yes, maybe around here it’s more useful to speak Spanish, but French is spoken on five continents. Not putting down the Spanish majors because I do have several friends who are, but I think French majors should get a little of the spotlight occasionally since Spanish does seem to usually get most of the funding and attention.

Then, I started graduate school…

It seems that if you then have the audacity to then continue these studies of French into graduate school, the questions only intensify.  Studying French in graduate school simply means that I am trying to reinforce my skills and delve even deeper into the language and the culture. It may seem crazy, but I do love it….even though it seems to be slowly killing me. Believe me either my exhaustion from paper writing is going to do me in or the constant guzzling of coffee will. But, people are still curious which is great, however, I often feel a little self-conscience when I don’t know the answer to one question every single one seems to ask.

So, let’s take a look at those same questions again with the viewpoint of grad school.

“So, you’re in college? What’s your major?”

“I’m actually a graduate student working on my M.A. in French.”

The following statements/questions are usually along these lines:

“Really? I didn’t know you could even go to grad school for that!

“What’s an M.A.? And, what do you use it for?”

“Why didn’t you study Spanish?”

“That’s ummm…different. How in the world is that going to be useful?” *raises eyebrows*

Oh, and my personal favorite which was actually indirectly asked through one of my brother’s professors upon learning that I was a graduate student in French:

“So, is your sister in the ‘Occupy’ movement? ‘Cause she’s probably not going to find a job with that kind of major.”

Yeah, let’s just say I was about ready to fire back with–with–with an essay when this was reported to me.

However, crazy the questions, they always end up at the same place with a question along these lines which I was actually even asked today:

“What are your future plans?”

Frankly, my friends, the answer to that question has yet to be determined. God is a great God has lead me thus far and I know He’ll continue to lead me to know how to use the knowledge He has blessed me with. I am addicted to learning, so I’m very tempted to continue my education for a doctorate, but I will wait and see His will.

My point in all this?

Please don’t be too judgmental about what others are studying. Ask questions, but ask them in a way that shows you’re truly interested not that you’re ready to see how flimsy of a response the other will come up with. I know I’ve been guilty of mentally putting down other majors, but then I realize how much it annoys me when people put down what I am passionate about. We all have different gifts and passions. Not everyone needs to go into the most common fields. God has a plan for each of us.