Monday, November 12, 2007

Life in Nantes

A month and a half has passed since I have arrived in Nantes and I think it is about time that I update my reading republic just what is going on. I have been living here in Nantes as an English Assistant. That is to say, I am a walking, talking English expert with no expectation of teaching skill. At times I do feel like a glorified dictionary. For the most part, however, I have had great successes with my students. I am one of 200 or so American assistants chosen to work in the academy of nantes, a region stretching from the distant village of Luçon all the way to St. Nazaire. My highschool, Lycee Al Camus, is located in Nantes itself, next to the Bellvue neighborhood, an area described by the French as being mixed, which is to say, containing many immigrants. It was most famous in Nantes for the riots that occurred here two years ago in which several of our petit French gars were turned over and burned. I am working in les banlieus, the suburbs. Many of my students are coming from poorer junior high schools, so their English level is sometimes lacking. As one of my students in terminal told me the other day, “I am completely lacking in a base, what am I to do?” This is a story altogether far to typical at my school. All the same, my fellow English professors give their best effort as we try to awake some of our students from their slumber and to learn English.
I am working about half the time with BTS students. BTS is a post bac formation program. My three sections consist of Accounting, Management and sales, and future real estate agents. I had a very fun Halloween activity with my real estate agents, where we thought of the worst possible attributes for a house ever, we selected three of them and they then had to sell it. I was trying to teach them to lie through their teeth in English. Reflecting on my former studies, I realize that Kant may not exactly approve of that, but what the heck, that just may be a skill they need for the rest of their carreer.

Life in Nantes has had its twists and turns. I came here in part with the notion of continuing to work on my research from Africa. It has been hard finding a rythmn for that, but I remain committed. Spiritual reflection is also hard to come by. If anyone out there ever figures out the magic answer, let me know, in the meantime, I will continue to trudge along with my (too few and far between) 20 minute silent sessions.

I have developed quite a few good American friends here and I have avidly snatched up the opportunity to connect with relatives. Lillian and Matt, two friends I met here from the pacific northwest share a strong desire to integrate ourselves into Nantes life. They are thus quite willing to join me on some crazy adventure as we decide to attend a tango soirée or go to a perhaps overly new age spiritual documentary(more on that later)…. Okay, clearly the adventures are somewhat limited to the banal, but you work with what you got. All the same, they have also joined me in the venture of trying to learn haute French cuisine. Carl, a mate from new Zealand always provides late night thoughtful reflection, while friends like Dem and Seb continue to show me that the US and England are two countries divided by a common language. There are a host of other Anglophones who pop in and out of my week… I seem to remain a gadabout like always, despite my best efforts to press forward with the hermitage.

I have also enjoyed spending quite a bit of time with my cousins Armel and Jonathan. They have integrated to some degree with my Anglophone friends. Armel is always down for a night on the town. Jonathan, who is more constricted by a long commute for his studies, remains to be one of my closest confiders here in france. He will be coming to the US with me in a months time to attend my sisters wedding and to visit the most beautiful state in the USA.
Well, there is a start to my life here in France.

Success stories, culture shock and other musings

Culture shock: it is amazing to note the difference between how guys and girls respond here vs at home. I have always heard that it was difficult to meet French people, but I had no idea until I tried asking girls to hang out outside of a group meeting we might already have. My working theory is that French women were ruined by French men. Thus, while in the US, a phone number, and even hanging out for a drink, might be handed out somewhat indiscriminately, particularly if you have already know the person through some group or another, here, getting a phone number is much more difficult. It is as if a first date in france is like having already been on a third in the US. This all, however, is just a working theory. I look forward to it being disproved.

Success: At the train station waiting for friends the other day I heard two Americans speaking behind me, standing in front of the map. I asked if they needed any help, as I know the city rather well. We got to talking and I eventually asked them what they were doing there. The woman, Katie, asked if I had ever heard of the film “What the bleep do we know?” I vaugley recalled hearing about it. “It’s his film”, she said. William Arntz, the man standing next to her had created this documentary. He was there in france for its opening. The film, which connects certain ideas in science to ideas in religion, is a mix of interviews and a small drama. We got to talking and I later invited 7 friends to go attend the opening with me. We even had a chance to meet with William again after the Q and A period just to give our own personal comments.

Success: I can now bake a great Gratin Dauphinoise

Failure: Mousse au Chocolate

Success: managed to find 3 additional jobs adding an additional 85 euros to my salary every week. Just enough to pay off those student loans!