French Catholic School
So after a week of travel from Washington State to the VERY North of France I was jet lagged and tired and not even a full day after I finally arrived to my host family, I got the great joy of starting school…lucky me.
I wasn’t sure what to except at my school, I mean I had been home schooled for two years while traveling Europe and now I would be attending a private Catholic School where the hours were 8am-5:30 am. When my family found out all of this they actually laughed! I was told horror stories of getting hit by rulers, wearing awful uniforms, and how I better prepare to be in a very strict environment. *Gulp.* So starting my first day at school while jet lagged and not understanding French was NOT on the top of my bucket list. But, I didn’t really have a choice.
The Marcq Institution
Just looking at The Marcq Institution was incredibly intimidating. The huge campus with a tall stunning chapel, big iron gates opened to allow the flood of French students to enter. A tall french flag blowing in the wind under the grey sky. Yikes.
Biking to school
I rode my bike to school so I followed the other bikes to find where to lock up the bikes. What I found blew my mind, in a good way. There was entire basement garage COMPLETELY filled with bikes. I’d bet that in Washington the amount of students that biked to school couldn’t fill up that garage. And yet in one town in France, not even the only school in town, had filled this garage so full there wasn’t any space left! Bravo France!
I didn’t know anyone yet, but my host mom brought me to meet the lady who was in charge of my grade ‘1L’ then she brought me to my class. Classes are different than America. While in America you have seven classes each with a different classroom, classmates, and teachers. In France you stay with your class of about 25 kids throughout the whole day. and it is the teachers who change classes not the students.
I was introduced to my class and all of a sudden they were all coming up to me to talk in English, saying how they all loved my name, asking me to sit by them, so it was pretty easy to make friends. Then the actual class started…
I couldn’t understand ANYTHING that the teacher said! I sat there eyes wide the whole time trying desperately to find just two words I could understand. The breaks are different in French school as well. Every two classes you have a 20 minute break. Everyone must go outside too you aren’t allowed to just stay in the school. All my classmates split up to find their friends and I awkwardly stood there not knowing what to do. One of the girls in my class with very good English came and stood with me for the break. By lunch I had sat through 4 classes understanding nothing. At lunch the exchange students who had been going to the school for a week longer than me came to find me. We all sat together and they attempted to show me around the school that was huge and confusing.
I found out that the only bathroom in school was outside. And for some reason tons of girls just stand in the bathroom talking during every break. They aren’t waiting for anyone, they just stand there talking.
School lunch in France (also called ‘the canteen’)
Lunch was also very different EVERY class eats at the same time. Which means it is more crowded then you could EVER imagine. You grab a tray and your silverware and then you pick out a salad you would like things like a regular salad, pasta salad, cucumbers in sauce, or slices of melon. Then you choose either a fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, etc), yogurt or chocolate mousse (the good quality stuff), or a dessert (slices of a tart, eclairs, or cake). Then you move on to the main course which is something like plain rice, couscous, potatoes, or pasta and a choice of a topping like fish or chili your choice. There are also several baskets of sliced french bread and spread cheese to go with it, regular or herb and garlic flavoured. And trust me when I say EVERYONE gets several slices of bread every time, you can tell what country we are in. Then for drinks there is only water. And also only one place you can get that water. Sometimes it’s so crowded we don’t even bother trying to get some.
Next you have to scavenge for a table and sometimes ending up at tiny round tables have to ditch the trays to make room for all 8 of the exchange students. The most dreaded part though is what happens when you finish eating. Lunch is about an hour and a half, and we spend most of it eating and talking. But once we are finished it is each persons job to take care of their dishes and trays. Which is a good idea, however the execution of it is less than pleasant. First you have to stand in, what I can’t even call an ATTEMPT at a line. With people crowding you and knocking trays into your back with people going in front of you left and right. Then when you finally finish waiting for what seems like forever to get to the front you put your water glass in its place, scrape the food off your plates into the garbage, put the silverware in its place, and then put away the dishes and tray. We always sigh a big sigh of relief when we get through that process of school everyday with out having food spilled down our backs. Then we wait outside till the bell rings and we go to our next class.
Differences in French school
There are about 8 classes a day for about an hour a piece with the 20 minute breaks every two classes and lunch for 1 and 1/2 hours so the school day is very long. Also I learned that whenever a teacher enters the room everyone stands up to show respect. And you stay standing up until they tell you to sit. The teachers are much better respected than in a lot of the schools I’ve been in. They are often strict, but fair. The English teacher was so excited when I was put in her class. She often asks for my help explaining things to the others and asks me to do presentations. There was also a class in school that I had never heard of before. It is called “permanence.” It is a class in which you study or do your homework. A teacher sits in the front of the room to make sure everyone is working and quiet. This is the one class that is actually as strict as I expected. If someone talks even whispers they get yelled at in French in front of everyone and in permanence there are many more students then just our class, about 100. So I always keep my mouth zipped tight during that.
Often me and my friends are so tired after a day of school we like to go to one of the bakeries for some well deserved pain aux chocolate (chocolate croissants). Trust me, we more than deserve them!
I have been going to the Marcq Institution for two weeks now and am about to start my third. It has been such an experience and I am already starting to understand French a LOT better. However, while I can understand it better, I can’t quite respond yet other than things like “Tres bien!” “Oui!” “Non.” and “Un peu.” which means “Very good!” “Yes!” “No.” and “A little.” But I am defiantly making improvements! So there you go! Some of the things I have noticed while going to a French Catholic School! More updates next week! Until then, au revoir!