Diary of my first week as a Language Assistant in France
Boulogne-sur-Mer by Jimmy Legrand
Louise Gill is a Joint Honours student at the University of Liverpool studying BA (Hons) English and French. She has just begun her year abroad in Boulogne-Sur-Mer in the North of France as a British Council Language Assistant in an international boarding school for 11- 15 year olds. This is the diary of her first week there...
Journey and Arrival, SundayArrive late this afternoon in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, a small town on the Channel coast. I am picked up at Boulogne Ville train station by my responsable, Lucile, and her incredibly French- looking husband Pierre. My first impression is what lovely people they are, as they fret over the train being around three minutes late and carry my bulging bags to their car (giving my aching shoulders a much needed break). My second impression is of how overwhelming their French is. As they jabber away to me I can barely understand a word, let alone say more than a few weak phrases back to them. With a sinking feeling of dismay, I hope this gets a bit easier!
Over a lovely four course meal they have prepared for me at their house, it does, slightly. We talk about previous assistants and what the collège I am due to begin work at is like. Horrified, however, to hear that I am to start at 8am tomorrow: thought I wasn’t beginning for a few more days, cripes!
Day One, MondayAfter getting up at 6am (ew) and a quick breakfast of croissants, Lucile marches a sleepy me firmly to the car and I am whisked away to my first day as an English assistant. Before lessons begin, I have the opportunity to chat to the other English teachers for a few minutes: it is somewhat of a relief to speak in English a little, as my brain already feels like it’s turning to mush!
Have three hours of lessons one after the other, where I introduce myself in English, answer lots of questions and sit at the side watching how things are done. Earn major street- cred from a lot of the lads for being from Manchester (‘you know Wann Roohnie, oui!?’) which I instantly lose for knowing nothing about a single football player. Before I know it the lessons are over, and so is my first day.
Day Two, TuesdayAnother day of dashing around frantically, desperate not to be late for lessons as I get my bearings around the large school. Quickly beginning to realise how slowly I need to speak in order to be understood, and how varied the English ability is from class to class. At lunchtime I sink exhaustedly into a chair in the canteen (after being served a three course meal- no Turkey Twizzlers in France!), grateful for a moment of peace. Not so. I am quickly joined by two Maths professors and the Chemistry lab technician, none of whom speak a word of English. Yet they are all very friendly and interested in discovering as much about me as they can over their portions of ratatouille. Before the end of lunch, I feel as though my head might explode!
Day Three, WednesdayUp at 6 again, feeling genuinely drained before the day has even begun. After two hours of helping lively ten year olds in sixième play rowdy games of Bingo (they also randomly shout ‘ALLO!’ at me at various intervals throughout the lesson, making me nearly drop the whiteboard pen), Lucile again whirls me into the car off to an appointment at the bank. Really grateful for her presence as I open the account, as the myriad of bureaucracy in France is crazy. Beginning to realise just how handy the twenty photocopies of my passport and other official paperwork will be as I blindly feel my way through my first few weeks of life in France. Lucile then helps me to buy a phone and set up a six month contract. This is great, as I have heard how difficult it is to cancel a twenty- four month contract in France.
Day Four, ThursdayAlthough my worst nightmares prior to leaving England have not been realised (paper aeroplanes to the face in every lesson, skirt tucked in knickers in front of the handsome young histoire- géo teacher etc.) I must admit I am slightly beginning to crave company my own age. Beep beep. A text! A text on my new French phone! It is from Steve, the American assistant at another school in Boulogne. He has got in touch after my details were passed to him from a teacher at his school who is friends with a teacher in my school. Realise how easy it will be to meet the other assistants in a small town like this, as teachers from neighbouring schools often have contact details for all the assistants. I discover Steve lives with three other assistants in a local lycée, (mentally do a solo Mexican wave) and we make plans for Saturday night.
Day Five, FridayAttend the English teacher’s staff meeting in the morning, a lot of which goes right over my head. Must admit though, it is definitely already becoming easier to follow the gist of fast conversations. It is also seriously helpful to witness the tricky tu and vous forms in conversational action. One more lesson, where I answer many questions such as ‘Do you ‘av any pets? Do you ‘av brother and sisturr?’ and my first week of the observation period is over. It did not feel like I was merely observing whatsoever, but I feel this was practical, particularly as I am the only assistant in my school. Already, I have had the opportunity to let some of my personality come across (terrifying as it was) to classes and other teachers, and now, the worst is over and I am not the mysterious figure of silence sat at the back.
Lucile then drives me to my new studio to sign the contract, which she found for me before I arrived in France. After having lu et approuvé, I instantly fall in love with it: it is directly au centre ville, and I have my own bathroom all to myself, a luxury never before experienced! After taking me to Carrefour for groceries, she leaves me to it. I collapse in bed, exhausted and very excited for a lie in.
Day Six, SaturdayNo such luxury. My body clock is used to waking at 6 now, and I cannot sleep in. With a sudden surge of energy I decide I don’t want to waste a second of my YA, and get up to explore the town. For a small place I see it has many more bars and clubs than I previously realised. It is also really pretty, and very French. Feel terribly cultured and European as I purchase my first baguette.
Later on meet up with the assistants: Steve the American, Theo the Spaniard, and Teresa and Eva the German girls. We head for a bar none of us have previously been to. After the first few stilted sentences and the initial accent barrier, the drinks start flowing and we gradually begin to have a cracking time! It is so interesting to hear the others' reasons for being an Assistant (I am the only one who is still a student) and we already begin to make travelling plans.
Finally return home in the wee small hours. Realise after a few minutes in bed that I have not cried a single one of the million tears I thought I would have by now, and also, with a slight pang of guilt, I have not even really thought about home. My mind has constantly been occupied, whether through desperately trying to recall the third person conditional in point three seconds, or through pathetic attempts to memorise two hundred student’s names. Above all, I can’t believe how quickly my first week as an Assistant went! Now feel ready to tackle the rest of the year, whatever it may bring!