The days since my arrival in Auch have passed in a marvelous blur—I’ve been exploring new places, meeting new people and learning how to make children learn.
I also feel like I’ve been going full speed ahead with little opportunity for “me time”; I haven’t had time to finish A Feast for Crows, watch “Downton Abbey,” or catch up with friends and family over Skype and email. (I promise I haven’t forgotten you! For now, though, you have to get by by reading the mass missives that are my blog posts.)
Here are my first impressions:
Auch as town is everything I could have hoped for—it was love at first sight. It’s big enough that I don’t feel trapped or bored, but small enough that I don’t feel overwhelmed or like I’ll get lost anytime soon—plus, the locals are really helpful and friendly! It has all the necessary elements of a modern town, but is totally filling my nerd quota with its historical awesomeness.
On my way to and from the market (at the foot of the cathedral!) on Saturday morning I was definitely seeing la vie en rose (there’s just something about those terra cotta roofs). I actually started tearing up because of how happy I was. I can’t believe I get to live here for seven months!
Selected favorite sights:
Saturday morning market and la Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d’Auch
A cat lounging at café on a lazy Sunday afternoon (N.B. the paintings of cats just inside the café)
Musée des Jacobins, one of the oldest museums in France!
Pousterle de l’est, an old medieval alleyway
L’Escalier monumental, a grand staircase that takes you from the bank of the Gers river up to the cathedral, complete with a statue of D’Artagnan (It’s currently being renovated so I had to be crafty about photo angles to get a shot without cranes and fences in it.)
2. Housemates, fellow assistants and supervisors
All of my housemates arrived by Sunday. I live with three other girls and we’re getting along fabulously:
Marcela: Twenty-three years old, from Bolivia, a TAPIF Spanish assistant last year and aspiring pastry chef this year. She led me on a two-hour-long trek to a music store so she could get a new guitar string (she told me it would take 20 minutes…), she taught me how to use the washing machine and kitchen appliances, and we’ve bonded over a mutual love of tea while watching the French evening news in the kitchen.
Ashley: Twenty-one years old, from Newfoundland in Canada, my fellow TAPIF English assistant in Auch. We share a love for French and history, enjoy learning about (and of course poking fun at) each other’s homelands, and had a great time rummaging through all the nooks and crannies of the house. Tonight she let a cat into our kitchen. Basically we’re BFFLs.
Lyanne: Twenty-two years old, from Colombia, this year’s TAPIF Spanish assistant in Auch. Lyanne is one of the most bubbly and cheerful people I’ve ever met and definitely helps keep me in a good mood. Despite not always understanding each other right away, we’ve already accumulated a ton of inside jokes. Today she got lost trying to find her way her way home from downtown and then back again. Ashley and I roamed the streets looking for her, to no avail, before she showed up back at the house around 6:30 p.m. as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
Maurice II: The house pet, a taxidermied weasel who resides in my room and who was initially discovered by Ashley in the bathroom cupboard. (Maurice I is, of course, our absentee landlord who is spending the next six months in Morocco). Pictured with Maurice II is a figurine we’ve dubbed Grand-père, whom we found in the attic.
Today and Monday we had our journées d’accueil for TAPIF primary school assistants of the Gers department. In addition to me, Ashley and Lyanne, there are two other assistantes in the department, neither of whom will be teaching in Auch, but both of whom had to come here to be oriented:
Lorna: Twenty years old, from Devon in England, the TAPIF English assistant for a town called L’Isle-Jourdain. Lorna lives in Toulouse because (according to Stéphane) it’s an easy work commute and L’Isle-Jourdain isn’t too happening of a place otherwise. She stayed at our house Monday night and we had a wonderful girls’ night in including: family-style dinner, lots of cheap sangria from LIDL, dark chocolate, and a hybrid British/American multilingual version of King’s Cup (called Ring of Fire in the UK). She’s as lovely as her accent and we wish she lived with us all the time.
Yelitza: Twenty-four years old, from Venezuela, the TAPIF Spanish assistant for a town called Vic, roughly half an hour from Auch. She’s super talkative (in Spanish and French) and very confident.
The Gers TAPIFers from left to right: Yours truly, Lorna, Ashley, Yelitza and Lyanne
And we were guided through the orientation process (which was an interesting mixture of French bureaucratic procedures and the most condensed teacher training session ever) by our fearless leaders/adoptive parents:
Stéphane: The responsable pédagogique for the Gers English assistants. Stéphane met me at the train station and had me to dinner my first night in town. He’s incredibly friendly, patient and welcoming, as well as a very passionate teacher with lots of excellent resources and tips to share. He also has an adorable giggle and says “ouais” (the French equivalent of “yeah”) with a breathy intake of air that I’ve yet to master. We had a high old time learning “Jazz Chants,” teaching him the meaning of weird idiomatic English expressions (ex: “high and dry”), and following him like a bunch of ducklings all over Auch.
Cathie: The responsable pédagogique for the Gers Spanish assistants. Cathie is essentially Stéphane’s female equivalent. She prompts us to faire la bise without fail each time we greet each other or say goodbye. Today she gave me an answer to the question I’d posed about whether or not French people get as fed up with their own bureaucracy as I do: she rolled her eyes big time to Stéphane when the lady at the bank demanded that Lorna author an official letter stating that Stéphane could pick up her debit card and checkbook in her stead next week (so that she won’t have to come all the way back to Auch to retrieve them).
3. My role as an assistante de langue vivante
First off, it’s wonderful to finally have more concrete information about when and where I’ll be teaching: I’ll be in three different schools in Auch (all within walking distance of my house) and work three days a week (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday—THREE-DAY WEEKENDS!—starting at 8:30 a.m.—blerg) for a total of 12 hours a week.
Secondly, orientation has only made me that much more excited to start teaching! I feel like the “teaching” part of “Teaching Assistant Program in France” has been on the back burner since my acceptance in April, as it was eclipsed by all of the French bureaucracy I’ve hade to wade through. It’s been great to be reminded of the passion for language and culture that made want to teach abroad in the first place. (It’s also been a blast reliving childhood by reading Goodnight Moon, playing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”)
TAPIF timeline for October: Stéphane is taking me to my schools to do introductions on Friday, next week I have a period of observation to (start to) get comfortable in the different schools and with the French education system, and I’ll finally start teaching the following week.