Almost Useful

**I am slowly but surely posting my way through the past few weeks…hopefully I will catch up this week and then I can start posting in the present tense!

October 1st was the first day of our contracts as assistants. The académie de Grenoble required all 260-some assistants to come to the city of Grenoble for a two day stage, or orientation. The Chambéry assistants all met at the train station early in the morning for the approximately 45 minute train journey, which was exciting because it was the first time all the Chambéry assistants were all together….at least most of us… The day I arrived in Chambéry, I met up with a fellow American named Kevin. In the nearly two weeks after that fateful meeting, I remained the ONLY person to have met Kevin in person. When I would meet up with other assistants, they would ask after him since they recognized his name from the Facebook group, but no one else had EVER seen him. Obviously, this led to a lot of jokes about how Kevin didn’t exist and even a theory that I was actually the real Kevin in disguise. That morning, I said hi to Kevin while waiting for the train, as he went to buy his ticket and I pointed him out to some of my other friends….”See! That’s Kevin! He’s real!” We all boarded the train, making introductions and greeting those we already had met and the train started pulling away…passing Kevin. Still on the platform.

Kevin did eventually make it to Grenoble and prove himself extant.

In Grenoble, we first were sent off on a jeu de piste, or a scavenger hunt which was engineered to help us discover the city and waste time. We spent maybe an hour wandering around taking pictures of the tourist-y monuments the jeu de piste sent us to before giving up and stopping for lunch. That afternoon we all were given a long and boring presentation about all of the administrative processes we would need to accomplish in the first few weeks of October. We were given information about enrolling in the MGEN/Sécurité Sociale, aka France’s universal healthcare system that we are required to be covered by. And in a rather long segment that was only useful for Americans (and the small percentage of other assistants from non-European countries) about enrolling with OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et l’Intégration) which is absolument obligatoire if we want to stay in the country for more than 3 months. Really the most important thing I learned was that enrollment in MGEN requires a birth certificate translated in French OR English*. This was great news for me because I had not yet gotten my birth certificate translated into French, despite the American embassy telling us several times that we should do it before leaving or immediately upon arrival. This was terrible news to several of my friends who had paid 50, 60 euros to translate theirs…

*I feel like I should specify that I have no idea if this is the same in other académies, so don’t take only my word for it.

After all of this, plus what felt like hours of people asking the same question 15 times (My birth certificate is in English. Do I have to translate it? Are you SURE?) we all journeyed down the road to hop on several chartered buses to take us to…….

The strangest camp/compound/prison? ever. Okay, it wasn’t THAT bad, but it was all very bizarre. We drove for about an hour up up up twisting mountain roads to the small village of Autrans. We were bunked in several large cabins in rooms of 8 and maybe five bathrooms shared by everyone that smelled like they hadn’t been cleaned in 10 years. Upon arrival there was very little instruction as to what we should actually do. But we managed to entertain ourselves walking around the tiny isolated mountain village of Autrans, giving the singular grocery story more business than it probably has in two weeks combined, and in general profiter-ing du soleil (enjoying the sun, in franglais…). Dinner was eventually served and we spent the evening meeting and getting to know our fellow assistants!

The next morning, we awoke to the mountain blanketed in a THICK layer of fog. After being served a rather hasty breakfast, we were split into smaller groups depending on grade level and département. I, along with the 12 or so other primary assistants from Savoie, began the day 2 session, which someone later described to me as “almost useful”… We were given a lot of online resources to consult as well as plentiful handouts with ideas for using flashcards, or other similar activities. We also watched a series of videos of ridiculously outdated sample English lessons, which showed various strategies for using vocabulary in a variety of games.

I like the “almost useful” moniker because they provided a lot of information and potential resources, but there is absolutely no way to make them useful to every individualized case. For example, my school is a very special case in that it has an immersion program, so rather than teaching English lessons, they teach math, science, art, lessons in English. So, the workshops were a good crash course into the world of foreign language pedagogy, but were not a be all and end all life line.

Later in the year, once I’ve had some time to assess all the resources, I can maybe make a post with the most useful links! ✽

(thanks to some of my friends whose picture of Grenoble I shamelessly borrowed for this post!)

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