Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

First day of school in France

Custom User Avatar
More by this author
First day of school!

I've been in France for 2 weeks on a 3 month exchange program, and today was the first day of school for me. For the two weeks before that, I was on vacation like the rest of the students.

This is the real test of this whole experience.

I slept at about 12 the night before because I still can’t really get used to sleeping before 11. Dinner is served around 9:30 and 10 o’clock, so I can’t bring myself to go to sleep right after. Plus, I procrastinate on the computer and chat a little with people because that’s about the only time France time coincides with Canada time so that people are online...

Anyway, midnight was actually early for me considering through my two weeks of vacation I’ve always slept after 12, or after 1...or even early morning, ahah.
I set my alarm for 7:30 because we were leaving around 8:10, but somehow I woke up around 6:30...I flipped over and went back to sleep, only to wake up again a few minutes before my alarm clock. So I just turned it off and pulled myself out of bed reluctantly. I’m still lazy and wish I could wake up at 11 like I’ve done for the first week I got here.

So after all the fussing in the morning, I go downstairs to have breakfast, and then Célia’s dad drove us to school (Célia is my exchange partner). The school is about 20-25 minutes walk from the house, but some mornings they can bring us, and we went early so that she could introduce me to some of my classmates.

She brought me to the front of my class (the school is HUGE. There are 2 main scholastic buildings with 5 floors each, one building for the technical classes, and two gymnasium buildings), introduced me to Marianne, whom she knows from elementary school and agreed to show me around because she was in my class. Then Célia promptly left me for her own class.

Yeah, it was intimidating standing there because I didn’t really know anyone and the three girls there were in their own discussion. So it was a tad awkward. After standing there for a while, Marianne introduced me to some of the kids standing around waiting for the class to start, which means in other words, my classmates for this two months. So a bunch of bisous later, in which I’m introduced to names but couldn’t really remmebr them all, the teacher came and opened the door and we entered.

There are no lockers, so everyone just brings their books in their bags and leave it beside their chairs. Besides, we move around a lot from building to building, so lockers would be impractical. As well, there aren’t really textbooks, the one textbook I’ve seen is really thiin, and they just have a giant file for putting in papers from every class. And there are a lot of papers.

Turns out we’re doing plays in French, which is like us doing Shakespeare in English. The play we’re studying is Herani by Racine, and we’re currently going over the characteristics of tragedies written by Classical playwrights and romantic playwrights. I’m surprisingly following what’s going on. Of course I get lost some times, but

I understand more than I thought I would and I can sort of follow, so that’s okay. I took a total of 6 and a half pages of notes...I guess I came on a busy day. We were going over themes and using quotes from samples of plays to prove the characteristics. I didn’t have too many problems with the themes, but I did have trouble understanding the plays because, well, they’re like 18th century plays, so the language was difficult for me. But it wasn’t too bad.

It’s probably worse when I have to do my homework, which I just read over. I understand about 70% of it, but then I have to be able to express my ideas, which I lack the vocabulary for, and theres also understanding the rest of the questions. Ah well, I’m expecting a bit of a failure anyway.

French went on for 2 hours, and then it was gym. The official name is Physical Education and Sports, but I think I’ll just stick with gym. I came just in time for a new unit: endurance, which meant running for 30 minutes straight.

Apparently there’s a fundraiser in April to raise money to send to Madagascar, and we have to run around the school. The money raised depends on the number of kilometers ran, I think. I didn’t get it very well, but i think that was the gist of it. We change before running, like in Canada, but there’s no uniforms. So as long as you have running shoes and clothes that sort of look like comfortable running gear, its okay. Jewellery isn’t mandatory to be taken off, and ipods are allowed to be taken with you as you run. Oh the freedom.

First was two warm up laps, in which the teacher says it’s important that we’re not huffing and puffing by the end of it, we can just walk and talk with a friend. Wow, they never tell us that in Canada. After that we had to run for 30 minutes straight, but if we were tired we could walk around this smaller circle on the inside. I stopped twice, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Ha, watch me wake up tomorrow morning feeling the after effects.

Running is Mondays only, and which the teacher says we’re running rain or shine. Apparently it forecasts for rain next week...That’s gonna be interesting. Tomorrow I have gym again, but apparently we’re doing ping-pong! Sounds fun.

After gym is lunch. Marianne was supposed to show me their cafeteria, but she forgot her lunch card, so she went to another girl’s house for lunch. I followed a group of other girls and they showed me how the cafeteria works. You just swipe the card, which shows you how much money you have in the card, and I guess it takes out a certain amount everytime you swipe it. Then you grab a tray, and just put whatever food you want on it. It’s usually consisting of a appetizer (salad), main course (macaroni, chicken), and dessert (fruit, yogurt..etc). Then you just go to a table and eat.

The kids are definitely more self-disciplined and manage time a little better than us Canadians, I think. They know when they have to get from one place to another and how much time they have and if they can squeeze in sometime to do other things and still not be late. I guess that’s why they have more freedom than we do.

In class you just walk in when the teacher opens the door and sit down wherever, beside whoever you want. Sometimes a teacher will make the request of sitting one per table if there are enough desks (sometimes the classes are really small, especially when it’s one of those classes that are divided), or they’ll asking you to remain standing until they’ve surveyed the room and made sure it’s to their satisfaction that no one is sitting beside someone that will distract them, then ask you to sit down. Fair and liberal, I think.

I have yet to go to the bathroom in the school because it partially scares me a bit. The bathrooms are coed, so there are facilities for both guys and girls and anybody can enter at anytime because the door is fully open at all times. I think I’ll pass.

I was supposed to have Spanish class after lunch, but because of the way teacher absence works here, I didn’t have class. When a teacher is absent, there usually isn’t a substitute, the kids just get a free period. Word got passed around that the Spanish teacher wasn’t there today so we took an extended lunch. After spending an hour in the cafeteria (many minutes after we finished eating), during which we were talking about random things I tried to keep up with the fast chatter, and elles m’ont demandée si j’ai un copain, and joked around about the senior guys in the cafeteria. It was all good fun.

After lunch I had French module...I have yet to figure what it means, the module part. But apparently its different than what we do in class and a couple of people skipped the class, opting inside to go to McDonalds. I don’t think I had that option. We were given sheets and I can say for sure, I can’t analyse 18th century plays on “les champs lexicaux” and “les procédés stylistique”...I don’t even know what they are properly!

Oh well, it’s French, I think my teacher will understand I tried for my homework.

Math was the next subject. I met the teacher during lunch...the teachers and the students all eat in the same cafeteria and basically the same food, which I find interesting. It’s quite fair that way I think. The girls I was sitting with warned me that he’s a good teacher but he is quite strange and is proned to do strange things. When I met it, I think he just reinforced those remarks, not in a bad way though. Just eccentric.

They were doing probability in math, which is like a grade 8 topic or something. I thought back to our parabolas and trignometry and calculus and functions...I wonder what they would do in an IB class? No wonder Ywen was so lost when he came in our math class. To them, math class was “Recreation”. We were doing fractions like ¼, ½, and most of the kids don’t listen. He has to repeat himself several times and the basic concepts weren’t understood the first three times around. I felt a bit bad for the teacher. His manner of speaking was a bit strange and he flicked his hair back every so often because he had long hair, but I could tell the class liked him.

Once I got past the vocabulary in French, the work became really easy in math. I’m not sure what to expect in terms of showing work and all that (They don’t reduce fractions! Ms.Yeganigi would have a heartattack seeing this math class, I think), but anyway, I’m just glad math isn’t that work. That means easier work to do.

My last class of the day before leaving proved to be one of the hardest ones I’ve had, which is history. It’s hard because he put on a slideshow and we were expected to take notes as he talked. I was struggling to understand what he was saying, and then to take notes! It took a lot of brainpower. Thank goodness I had a friend beside me who let me copy some of her notes and refer back to them when I got lost. The teacher was nice as well, he mentioned my name when they got to a mention of Canada. I think he realized I didn’t understand much, but that’s okay. The double work of listening and taking notes is especially difficult when its in a new language, I secretly rejoice when he writes some notes on the board.

The classes are about 50-55 minutes each, unless we have a double period, but it’s much shorter compared to the classes we have in Canada, so it passes fairly fast. I made a few new friends, whom I basically followed around all day so that I wouldn’t get lost from class to class.

They’re really nice about showing me around and i’m mostly quiet, just listening, but I’d add in here and there and they’re pretty understanding if I get things wrong. They’ve also made jokes about me (moi et mon copain, bien sur, quoi autre?), and I didn’t feel too left out.

By the end of the day, I was learning names, and by this time, I’m already used to the whole bisous things everytime I see somebody, so it was good. It went much better than i expected, and I have to get to my crazy french homework soon (which I don’t really understand at all, but i shall try my best), but I’m definitely put more at ease than when i first stepped through the entrance of the school and it’s not looking so bad anymore.

I met Célia at the front entrance of the school after the bell and she showed me the way home. I’m supposed to walk back by myself because her classes end an hour early. I hope I don’t get lost. But I’m feeling not too bad at the moment, so i think it’ll be alright.

I’m beginning to be more confident I can do this, ha.



Join the Discussion


This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

Nicolas said...
Jun. 30, 2011 at 9:10 am:

First of all, nice article. I'm glad you had fun in our wonderful country.

However, having lived in France for 9 years (I'm 13), I can tell you what you've lived looks wonderful to the average French student. The schools I have been going to have all had the same traits: oppressive and authoritarian (Stalinist..). 

Oddly enough, you've never mentionned 'les Carnets'(School report book)  in your story. These books are used to control your every move, to c... (more »)

 
OnyxDivine This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 30, 2011 at 5:04 pm :

Merci beaucoup! 
It has been a while since this was posted, I'm glad you took the time to read it, its much appreciated!

I did feel the authoritarian traits that you mentioned when you were in class, particularly when we just sat and took notes. However, I have also studied in China, so compared to other experiences, the French schools are definitely liberal!

As for les Carnets, I did have one, but I rarely used it, thats why it wasn't mentioned. It was not a big part ... (more »)

 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback