Saturday, December 21, 2013

What A Week

Saying that I'm happy it's finally Christmas vacation couldn't be more of an understatement.  After a very trying week, I'm finally done teaching and eager to begin travelling once again for my two-week break!

Angsty high school students, problems with the bank and a general lack of empathy from anyone I went to looking for help made this week one to remember, but unfortunately not for good reasons! be an English Teaching Assistant in Forbach!!
I had the difficult task of trying to keep classes of students who were all too eager for school vacation to start under control - if you all could see what goes on in French classrooms, you'd be amazed.  I thought that my bad experiences at the Université de Paris III two years ago were just a fluke, thinking I had been put in classes with rowdy kids who misbehaved all through the lesson and couldn't care less what the teacher was saying.  Now, I can confidently say that behavior like this (general animosity, talking over others, throwing things during class) is omnipresent in all French classrooms, regardless of the kids' age or grade.  Every day here is an adventure: the second I turn my back to write something on the board, I brace myself for the worst.  I've been hit in the head with a flying pencil case, told I was ugly when I asked someone 3 times to spit out his gum, and am generally just disrespected by a vast majority of my students...and it's driving me crazy!!!  When I look back on all of these incidents, I can generally laugh it off, but simply cannot imagine what American teachers would do if they were transplanted into a classroom of animals here in France!

No, I didn't make this...someone else in the world just happens to share my same sentiments!
Thankfully, I'm not the only teaching assistant I know who's facing these same problems - in fact, every teaching assistant I talk to is having the same issues. Daily frustration in the classroom compounded with weekly bureaucratic hassles are really becoming a pain.  For instance, La Sécu, the French Social Security office, has been sending me nasty letters requesting a copy of my paystub from October...since the end of October...and as of this past Thursday (over halfway through the month of December), I had still yet to receive it.  Every time I would go to ask about it, I'd just get brushed off and told that things here just take a little extra time - if we're talking about a mid-afternoon wine break taking extra time, I'm all for it, but when important things just seem to get ignored time and time again, I really start to get annoyed.

[Side note: my paystub finally appeared on Friday! One more thing to cross off my bureaucratic to-do list!]

To top it all off, I happened to notice a mysterious 120€ charge on my debit card early Thursday morning...hello hackers! So I had the pleasure of going to the bank to try to straighten out the matter and getting stuck with an uptight banker who told me that in all his years of banking, he'd never heard of such a thing...was I sure I hadn't forgotten I'd gone out to lunch that day and spent a lot of money without realizing it?? 

"BNP Paribas: The bank for a changing world" which has apparently never heard of hacking!
Back at home, I know these problems can usually be corrected within minutes, as I had a similar problem a few years ago that was taken care of over the phone in under 5 minutes. Not in France! After being laughed at by the banker, I got to trudge through the pouring rain to the police station where I sat in the waiting room for 45 minutes (coffee break apparently takes precedence over customer service! "Things take time here," remember?) before I got to explain my whole story once again to a policier while he typed up a report for me. I was the second person before noon that day with the same hacked bank card problem, yet the man at the bank had never, ever heard of such an occurrence...Back to the bank I went with my 12-page report, only to be told that they'd have to launch an investigation to try to figure out who took my money, and if they could figure out who it was, maybe I'd get my money back, but it'd take at least two to four months! All this would be stressful enough back home, never mind trying to sort all this out here in a second language…

To top it all off, I had to cancel my French debit card and go without it for a few days until I get my new one in the mail sometime early next week. Conveniently, I leave for Christmas break in Geneva & Germany on Sunday, so I won't get my card back/have access to my account (where my month's salary was just deposited yesterday) until January 6th when I return. What a nightmare!!

[Second side note: Yesterday morning, the mystery charge was strangely deleted from my account, and my balance was restored to much for that taking 4 months, but at least I got my money back!]

The Swiss Flag
But, on a happy note, it is officially Christmas vacation now! I leave early Sunday morning on a train bound for Geneva (the land of fondue and world-famous Swiss chocolates!), where I'll meet up with Eric for a Christmas adventure on the scenic banks of Lake Geneva. The day after Christmas, I'm heading up to Germany to spend the rest of my break at my roommate Meike's house with her and her family (with the prospect of a ski trip to the Black Forest included!).  I'm very much looking forward to getting away from Forbach for a couple weeks and doing some more exploring, and by the time I get back, I'll be halfway through my stint as a foreign language assistant - hallelujah! Although the second half of my time here will be more exciting, as I'll have a good number of visitors coming and a few fun adventures up my sleeve.  

So, as we say in France, Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année! Here's hoping that 2014 is a fresh start to my last 4 months in Forbach!  

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