Unfortunately, I had to abandon this blog as I was bogged down by school work and now it is far too late to continue writing in this blog. Since then, I have created a new blog about my reintegration into American culture, http://www.howdoiamerica.wordpress.com. Please check it out!
I showed up in this class for the first few weeks to see what it was like. The English teacher said I could be there or not be there, it made no difference. I noticed that, for most of them, their English wasn’t very good, which is too bad for them. I can’t blame them though. It seems like the same sort of grading system in English as well. They learn to the test and to the grade, not to the concept, not to the language. Here again, we did a decent amount of document study. One key difference from Spanish was that we had to make PowerPoint presentations and present them with narration and elaboration to the class. Another key difference was the lack of communication between the students. There were no group assignments, and the group presentations usually meant one person doing the research, another building the PowerPoint, another presenting it, and the last one clicking the mouse. So even for the group work, there wasn’t much group work. After a few weeks, I stopped going to that class because it was honestly miserable. The students were putting in minimal work and the teacher had no enthusiasm because of it.
The teacher of this class was our prof principal and he was a very fun guy, but unfortunately he had to be very tough on our class because we were generally disruptive and unconcentrated. Our personalities were similar, I could tell, in that we both had the same style of clothes (graphic tee/sweater, overshirt, jeans, skater shoes, scarf, and peacoat), the same passion for Game of Thrones, and a shared appreciation for history. About the class, it was hard but fun. There was little student participation; it was mostly the teacher lecturing the class, accompanied by a PowerPoint. The students had to note the statistics and event word-for-word. There was never any homework for this class, but we were expected to study for the tests. Tests were twice a month and covered one topic that we studied. These were all to be very long essays (at least 8 long paragraphs) that are very rigorously structured and completed in no more than two hours. Sometimes, we were simply given a problematic and we had to answer that to the fullest possible extent, using concepts, examples, and statistics. The problematic either asked us to relate one subject to another or follow the evolution of one concept over time. If we didn’t have a problematic, we were given one or two documents. If we were given one document, we had to relate it to the theme; if we were given two, we had to relate them to each other. Like I said, these tests are very difficult. They are graded out of 20 (like all assignments and tests in France) and the highest score I’ve ever seen on such a test was a 17/20, with an average of 11/20. I managed to perform slightly above the average (usually 12/20) despite my lackof structure or complete mastery of the language. Getting back to the class, I should talk about the PowerPoints. They mostly consisted of bullet points of text, but they also had some very helpful photos, like political maps, pictures of landscapes, historical figures, movements, concepts, and my favorite of them all: the satirical map. The satirical maps were always in English, probably only because they don’t exist in French. My class isn’t very good at English, so I was the only one who could understand these hilarious maps. My favorite one was, “The world as seen by a Republican,” which left me cracking up in the corner of the room while everyone else was quietly staring at me or chuckling to themselves. All in all, very good class.
This is my first ever Spanish class and I walked into class on the first day not knowing what was being said or what was going on. The rest of the students had taken Spanish at least three years before this year. Because I could already speak French fluently and had been taking Italian for five years before this trip, I was able to catch up pretty quickly. In this class, we mostly looked at documents and were asked questions about them. Occasionally, we did round-table interviews/discussions and rarely we made speeches. After two months, I was giving good speeches to the class (one specifically about an American perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis) and there were multiple occasions where I had to explain what I just said (that’s either really good or really bad). I didn’t like the French style of language teaching as much as the American style because everything is graded. I understand that there must be grades, but there is no opportunity for the students to engage in a natural conversation, and especially no opportunity to do that while being corrected in real-time without a grade attached to it. All in all, it was effective as I learned a communicational level of Spanish. The teacher was young and enthusiastic, which made learning easier and more fun because the classroom environment was less stressing than in other language classes.
I have forgotten to write about something fairly important about my class schedule. I only lasted two days in the scientific program because it was exceedingly difficult. I switched into the ES program (socioeconomics) but I stayed in Terminale. In total, I had nine classes: Spanish, History-Geogrpahy, English, Philosophy, Math, Spanish History-Geography, Socioeconomics, Italian, PE, and Specialty Math.
Every year in France, for the month of December, leading up to Christmas, there is a marché de Noël (Christmas market). This is a large gathering of vendors with decorated shacks in all of the big cities in France, probably even in all of Europe. The marché de Noël in Brest is situated in front of the town hall and is in the area of commercial activity. Among the many stands, there were specialty lollipops, cotton candy, churros, hot wine from Alsace, scarves, jewelry. Along with the stands, the entire central square is completely decorated with Christmas decorations, such as giant stockings, bows, and presents hung from wires, as well as impractically giant benches and chairs on the ground. I found the Christmas market to show much more Christmas spirit than in the United States (at least in Colorado, because I’ve heard Christmas is quite active in New York). In Colorado, there are generally some Christmas decorations, store sales, Christmas movies and music, and Chrostmas-themed items. In France, towns take on an entirely different atmosphere, I dare say a whole new personality during the month of December. I think the reason it’s not like this in the United States is because in Europe, there is neither Halloween nor Thanksgiving the precedent two months, so they can afford to go all-out for December instead of having less time or energy to celebrate from consecutive holiday months.
In my class when I was in première, I made friends with the German exchange student. Since then, we have kept contact and on the Saturday of the three-day weekend, he invited me to an ice hockey match where his host brother one of the players.
His host father is a Spanish teacher at the school and I heard him and one of his friends speak Spanish. They both come from Andalousie (how do you say that in English or Spanish?), so I had a hard time understanding their accent. Even though it was minor league ice hockey, there was still a fight. At half-time, the German and I went to a kebab place next door to the stadium. Those were some prime kebabs and they were cheap as dirt. We need this in America. When we got back, we finished watching the game, but right in front of the glass. We were allowed to do that because the German had a connection to the team. We took advantage of this opportunity by fist-bumping some of the home players through the glass and banging on it to rally against the opposing team. Our team won by a decent margin, so all was well.
On Sunday, I had invited him to see his first live American football match. I was absolutely astonished by how much I knew about football and was able to tell him what was going on. During the first half, we mostly watched and talked. During the second half, we got half-time snacks and continued talking. I tried speaking German with him and it turns out I can say and understand more things than I thought I knew, but I am still severely deficient. During half-time, our cheerleaders and the opposing team’s cheerleaders had a show-off as well. Throughout the second half, the cheerleaders mostly stopped because it was intolerably cold, windy, and rainy. The German and I sat under shelter and spoke with the one cheerleader we knew until the end of the game, which our team won by a landslide (something like 44-6).
On the final day of the long weekend, my host mother suggested that I go to the Conquêt and stay with a woman on the Brest-Denver sister cities committee who had two sons my age. As is custom between the testosterone-influenced adolescents, we played video games until lunch time and then I played a game of chess with the younger brother until the older brother invited me to check out the town with him. We ended up not doing that and instead seeing some of his friends, all the while talking about American culture and specifically Denver because he is planning on going there with a school trip in a few months. We stayed out and talked for a few hours and then we headed home and I finished my game of chess (which I lost horribly). And then the weekend was done.
The Halloween party was everything an American teenager would expect of a Halloween party: Halloween-themed snacks, candy, costumes and horror movies.
I was told to come between 7:00 and 7:30 at a house that was a mere kilometer from mine, but I showed up at 7:45 because I got lost for a while out by the Dellec and found some people who just so happened to know me, the person hosting the party, and where they lived! When I finally did arrive, I saw the costume line-up. A few of them wore metal lore and face paint, seeing as there were at least five métalleux, the girl who showed me around town was a vampire cheerleader, the host and a couple other girls were witches, and there was a guy dressed up as a cow. When we put on the Rammstein, the metal fans started their own mini mosh pit.
That’s pretty much what we did all night. Then, when we all went to bed, some of us couldn’t go to sleep so we put on some horror movies and I was out cold within a half hour. Horror movies have the opposite effect on me. When we woke up, we all went straight back to the horror movies until we had to leave the next morning.
All in all, the only difference between American Halloween parties and French Alouine (spelled by pronunciation) parties is less dancing and more insanity.
The school days here go from 8:00-6:00 four days out of five, with lots of bac prep and frequent exams. It’s no wonder they take a 2-week long vacation every 6 weeks of work!
On my first day of vacation, I went downtown just to check it out and maybe buy a few things. I walked around for a while until I heard a brass band playing outside of the bookstore. There were about a dozen members of this band, with a guitar, a timpani, a saxophone, a bassoon, various brass and reed instruments, as well some others I don’t recall. These musicians were all dressed in zany yellow and black outfits (maybe they were anarcho-capitalists?). They all played very well and I listened to them for a half-hour before giving them €2 and heading into the bookstore. It wasn’t very long before I found the international section where I saw a bunch of books in English (like Game of Thrones) and language learning books. I sat in the corner reading Japanese learning books for at least twenty minutes. At the end of the day, I hadn’t bought anything except for a pain au chocolat.
The next day, we commenced our 5-day family vacation. We headed off to Nantes by car and ate lunch with friends of the family and stayed for a few hours before going to our final destination, which was La Rochelle. La Rochelle is a small and beautiful maritime town in Poitou-Charentes, which is the region directly southeast of Bretagne. Most of the days we walked or biked around the town and then ate dinner with different family friends every night. By the end of the five days, I think everybody was sick of each other from living in the same room and not ever having any separation except while sleeping. It was good to be back home.
We returned home on Friday night, and I didn’t do much of my weekend except prepare for my philosophy dissertation. On Monday, I saw my new cheerleader friend in town and we hung out for a few hours before my host parents came to pick me up for my bus to Quimper (more on that later). I asked her to take me to clothes shops so I could buy something for one of my friends. Everything was exceptionally stylish, just like the people here, but also exceptionally expensive. I postponed that purchase. Later we went to McDonald’s because I still hadn’t tried a French McDonald’s and I ordered a quarter-pounder with cheese or, as they call it here, a royale with cheese. It’s the same burger, but slightly more cooked. The interiors of the McDonald’s are much more high-class in that everything is more modern and styled like a café. Afterwards, she took me to a candy shop and oh my god there is so much variety! There were all kinds of candies, most of which I had never heard of or seen, and they all tasted like raindrops from heaven. She only bought a half-full bag, while mine was bursting out. Finally, we walked back to the library and talked while waiting for my host parents to pick me up for my bus.
Quimper is the capital city of Finistère, the western department of Bretagne, and is south of Brest. I have been there twice before on different exchanges and I had kept relatively close contact with two of my former host families in specific. When I arrived, one of my former host brothers, who is 18 now and finally allowed to drive, picked me up and we hung out with some of his friends. The two of us then went back to his place and we celebrated the youngest sister’s 12th birthday with delicious French pizzas. Later on, the oldest brother and I headed out to the bar to drink and hang out with friends again. The parents told us to come back home at midnight and we came home at quarter to one. Whoops. I spent the night and the next morning I didn’t do much except talk with the youngest brother and play GTA V. For lunch, the whole family went out to a crêperie and I ate myself a couple of delicious complet and caramel au beurre salé crêpes, washed down with some apple cider. Bretagne is renowned for its crêpes and ciders (as well as beers). Then us young’uns went to the cinema and watched a French comedy called 9 mois ferme. French humor is certainly more uncomfortable, ironic, and gruesome than American humor.
That afternoon, the host mother from the other family I kept contact with picked me up and took me to their house where I played video games with the brother my age all night. So much Halo 4 co-op. We didn’t go to bed until midnight, and that was only because the parents told us to. There was a break in our video game streak for dinner, cooked by the father who cooks master chef-quality meals. His kitchen is large, modern, and industrial – it really looks like a high-class restaurant’s kitchen. He cooked us up some delectable croque-monsieurs and perfectly spiced hamburger patties. The burger patties had no grease, but they didn’t even need any. When we woke up, we continued the streak but none of his friends were awake (because they presumably played ’til three in the morning) so we played old school games. For lunch, we finished the remaining burger patties and had home-cultivated, home-fried french fries. I never knew the potential of the potato until today. After lunch, the two brothers and I went to a Halloween costume shop because I have a Halloween soirée coming up and I was told that I must show up in costume. Halloween doesn’t exist for the little ones anymore, but the teenagers use it as an excuse to have a party and watch horror movies. Once we got what we needed, we went to the bowling place and played billiards because all the aisles were taken and we didn’t have the time to wait before my bus back to Brest left.
That is where I am right now, writing from the bus, looking forward to my Halloween party because I thought that was an American tradition that I might miss.
At school, just a couple of days before our vacances, I met a girl in the hallway who just so happens to be a cheerleader for the team. I asked her if she remembered lifting me and then we talked about the cheerleaders.
The youngest cheerleader is 15 (the one I met) and the oldest is 21. There are exactly 20 of them, as the team manager insists. There were dozens more applicants, but 20 seems to be the magic number. None of them are paid and they all go to all of the home games, every other week. The reason that they are so good at what they do is because they train 2 hours a day, 4 days a week, no breaks or vacations. Given that almost all, if not all of them, are in school, these are extremely dedicated young women. At the trainings, they learn the cheers and the dances, as well as do intense exercise on all of their muscles.
They all pay for their uniforms and the training. The reason that they do this is for the sheer love of it. By being a cheerleader, it gives these girls a taste of American culture, of their American dream. They all fantasize American football games with all of the lore: the burgers, the hot-dogs, the Coca-Cola, the beer, the letterman jackets. To those who know Kerouac, it’s the vanilla ice cream and warm apple pie. These young women love the culture and are all very proficient in English, with very good accents. It saddens me how few of them have been to or can go to the USA in the near future because they are all so passionate about American culture and I want them to accomplish their dreams.
If I could be half as passionate as these cheerleaders are about US culture, for anything, that would make me so happy.