My teaching contract officially started on Tuesday, October 1, but I didn't have to start observing classes until Thursday the 3rd because all of the language assistants in the Nancy-Metz school district had to attend an orientation seminar on Wednesday in Nancy. Located about 110 kilometers (70 miles) from Forbach, Meike, Rudi and I had been planning on taking the train to Nancy, which costs about 13€ each way, but I had been chatting with one of the English teachers here who said he was going to be a presenter at the orientation, so we were more than welcome to ride there and back with him - score!
We hopped in the car with him at 7:15 am and headed off to Nancy. The car ride gave us plenty of time to chat and get to know each other better in 3 different languages - Rudi, Meike and Manuel (the English teacher) all speak English, French and German, so we swapped stories in an interesting mix of franglais (French & English) and frallemand (French & German), with a few breaks of English thrown in there too! Though I don't know more than a handful of phrases in German, I'm getting better at recognizing words here and there and have high hopes that I'll improve my German lexicon by the end of the year.
During our day-long seminar, we listened to multiple presenters speak about a myriad of topics, from learning statistics about our school district (there are 92 language assistants this year from 15 countries, of whom 46 are English assistants), to information about applying to La Sécurité Sociale, buying additional health insurance, and getting tips on pedagogical methods for interacting with kids in the classroom. The day was split up with lunch at Le Grand Sauvoy, during which I was able to catch up with one of my fellow Sweet Briar Paris students who I had randomly bumped into during the seminar. I had no idea that Sarah was doing TAPIF, nevermind that she got placed in the same school district as me, so when we saw each other in the hallway we had a good laugh! It's always nice to see a familiar face so far from home.
|Sarah and I - Sweet Briar Paris reunion!|
Also, I finally bit the bullet and went to the bank to open an account - which is necessary for me to be paid monthly and to receive reimbursements for any medical expenses through Social Security. This is no quick task! Meike and I went to open our accounts together, and it took us a combined total of 2 hours, versus the 10 minutes it might take per person back in the USA. Thankfully the lady who waited on us was very nice and extremely helpful - she spoke German as well, so Meike was able to clear up any questions we might have had problems with in French. The bank asks you a lot of very personal questions (not just in casual conversation with the agent), many of which I'm not quite sure how they're related to banking or why it even matters: how many kids do you have? Which religion do you adhere to? Are you married? Do you have a car? How much is it worth? Anyways, after jumping through their hoops and literally signing 30 papers, I now have a bank account and renter's insurance through BNP Paribas! I'm looking forward to getting paid at the end of the month because I'll finally be earning Euro, which is much more valuable to me than paying out of my American bank account, where I essentially pay 1/3 more for everything because of the exchange rate (today, for example, 1 Euro = $1.36, and $1 is only worth 0.74 Euro - not good for Americans!).
Since I now had a bank account, I could finally finish filling out all my other paperwork and turn it in. I happy submitted my Social Security application, multiple forms to my school, mailed out my immigration paperwork and essentially washed my hands of all the bureaucratic matters that needed my immediate attention. I still have to work on getting my birth certificate translated, but apparently that isn't as urgent as these other papers, and I'm still waiting to hear back from some local translators to get that ball rolling.
Friday began my week of classroom observations. I was glad that I had had some free days in order to get all my paperwork done and appointments out of the way, but I was getting antsy to see how English classes here work and was interested to see what the students would think of me. The classes I observe usually start off with the teacher reviewing the homework and teaching a short lesson, then having me come to the front of the class so that students can ask me all sorts of questions in order to find out who I am, all while practicing their spoken English. Let's just say I've been thoroughly entertained! Some of my favorite questions and comments are as follows: Since you're American, how many hamburgers do you eat in a week? How many celebrities do you personally know? Do you know Obama or 50 Cent? How many TVs do Americans have in their houses? Are you related to Walter White (the protagonist in Breaking Bad)? Are you sure you're American, because I thought Americans are supposed to be really fat?...the list goes on!
So far I've found that everyone's level of English varies greatly in each class, and I've also noted that the kids in middle school are much less apprehensive about speaking English in front of me than the high schoolers. The younger kids just want to ask all sorts of questions, while some of the older ones are just too worried that they'll make a mistake when talking to me and will feel dumb if they mess up. I remember feeling like that when I first moved to Paris - I was very apprehensive about speaking in French to the locals, but I also knew that it was the only way for me to gain confidence and improve. Everybody makes mistakes when they speak - for example, in English, when someone asks "how are you doing today?" how many people answer "I'm good" instead of saying "I'm well"? Nobody's perfect, whether we're speaking our mother tongue or a second language, so I think the sooner the students realize that, the quicker they can start improving their skills.
My roommate Meike's boyfriend, Simon, came from Germany to visit this weekend, so we decided to take a day trip to Metz on Saturday. In addition to the TGV train, we're lucky to have the TER as well, which is a smaller train serving many cities in the region of Lorraine. We paid 6€ each way to take the local train to Metz, the capital city of both Lorraine and of the Moselle département. Steeped in both Roman and Germanic culture, Metz has an extremely rich 3,000 year history and is really an amazing city.
After a 40 minute ride, we stepped off the train into the rain and headed straight for Cathédrale Saint-Etienne. Interesting side-note: churches designated as 'cathedrals' are home to the bishop, from the Latin cathedra, meaning "seat," and they literally contain a special chair for the bishop to sit upon.
Built in the Gothic style between 1220 and 1522 AD and nicknamed "La Lanterne du Bon Dieu" ("the Good Lord's Lantern"), the Metz cathedral houses the world's largest ensemble of stained glass windows, a staggering 69,920 square feet! Tall, airy cathedrals such as St-Etienne are only able to have such vast expanses of stained glass windows thanks to the innovation of flying buttresses, which channel the downward force from the roof out and away from the walls/windows of the church, through the buttresses, and down into the ground below.
|Thrust from the weight of the roof is channeled out away from the fragile windows, thanks to flying buttresses|
|Plan of the cathedral, with each 'X' representing the intricate ceiling vaults|
Constructed from locally quarried yellow limestone, the cathedral's nave soars to a height of 136 feet, one of the tallest in the world. As you step through the main portal into the church, you can't help but look up, and everyone walks around the cathedral with their chins up and mouths agape. We spent about an hour roaming about and taking pictures of the church's gorgeous interior - while it was stunning even in the rain, I can only imagine what the inside must look like when sunshine filters through all the windows, projecting a multicolored spectacle throughout the building. A return trip is a must!
|View down the nave of the cathedral towards the altar|
|Behind the altar, looking back towards the Rose Window|
|The church's modern organ|
|So much stained glass!!|
|The windows in the chapel are works by the modernist Marc Chagall|
|Looking back down the nave to the beautiful Rose Window|
Next, we explored the market taking place on the square surrounding the cathedral. From fresh fish to flowers, hand-crafted cheeses and hot crêpes, bolts of fabric and antique books, you could find pretty much everything for sale here. After grabbing a quick snack, we walked over to the Musée de la Cour d'Or, a museum of the history of Metz.
|Meike and her boyfriend Simon enjoying some fresh-baked pretzels from the market|
|The façade of the cathedral looms over the market|
|Fresh squash, yum!|
As I had said, Metz has been inhabited for nearly 3000 years, and thus has a lot of history for visitors to explore. It began as a Celtic settlement inhabited by the Mediomatrici tribe, was later incorporated into the Roman Empire under the name Divodorum, got renamed Mettis under the Franks and later became Metz. Former residence of the Merovingian kings of Austrasia, the city became a part of the Holy Roman Empire and was passed back to the Kings of France in 1552. More recently, the city fell under German control during World War I, after which it returned to France, only to later be annexed by the Third Reich during World War II. Finally, in 1944, the US Army attacked the German-controlled city, freeing it and returning it to French control. Needless to say, the history of Lorraine is very complicated and has been influenced by many cultures throughout the centuries.
|Gargoyles on the cathedral doing their gargly downspout job|
La Cour d'Or does a great job highlighting Metz's diverse past, leading visitors chronologically through exhibits showcasing everything from Roman baths and graves, to medieval weaponry and household goods, architectural remnants from all eras, and even rooms filled with paintings from the Renaissance through modern day. I highly recommend this museum to any history buff!
|Extensive remains of a large Roman thermal bath house were excavated next to the museum when they were trying to build an addition, thus the museum has left the ruins intact and constructed exhibits all around them - cool!|
After grabbing some delicious pizza for lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant, the rain had finally stopped and we trekked over to see la Porte des Allemands (literally "the Germans' gateway"). Once part of the Medieval ramparts enclosing Metz, the fortified bridge and gateway to the city spans the Seille river and has multiple towers, crenelations and meurtrières (slit-like windows through which arrows could be fired, literally "murderers"), all key to defending the city from invaders. Some parts of the monument were closed for renovations, but the parts we were able to explore were quite impressive.
|Meike and I in front of La Porte des Allemands|
|La Seille River running under the Porte des Allemands|
All in all, Metz is a really lively town (much better than Forbach!) with lots of history, cultural events, restaurants and shopping, so I have a feeling Meike and I will be back quite often to get our dose of excitement every now and again!
Quick side note: apparently people from Forbach go to Metz quite often - and this was quite the source of confusion for me when I first arrived...I learned the hard way that "Metz" isn't pronounced the same in French as it is in English. In English (and in German for that matter), we pronounce it just as it sounds : METZ. But in French, it's pronounced MESS. Everyone was always saying "je vais à Metz" (I'm going to Metz), but I thought they were meaning to say "je vais à la messe" (I'm going to Mass) and being lazy by leaving out a word, which is common in French. I was surprised that the people of Forbach were so holy and talked about going to church so very often...only to realize they just go to Metz when they're bored - whoops!
|Random flash-mob dancing to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" in front of the train station in Metz|