Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

Buongiorno from Italy!

The Texan Holiday Ambassador (or in other words, my father) finally arrived! With him descended madness, much laughter, thoroughly missed Texan cuisine (re-fried beans and tortillas!!) and a gift bag stocked full of goodies from ma mere (which I have been diligently waiting to open until xmas…well most of it anyways).

Some how relaxing took a back seat as dad and I ran around trying to prepare for our trip, fighting with gps technology (or lack thereof), and printing out last minute maps. We made a snap decision to cut our trip in “half” (if only we knew), crash at Antoine’s in Grenoble Wednesday, and brave the snowy French Alps on Thursday all to avoid Swiss tolls and make it to Como, Italy. After the 4 hour drive turned into over 10, and as sanity, patience, energy, and motivation to make it to our remote mountain villa faded, it seemed as though we would not arrive at our final destination in one piece. But we finally arrived and the sight of our beautiful (and GIANT) lake view villa was enough to breathe new life into us. We couldn’t believe that such lavish accommodations were all ours! But lesson learned- sometimes your time IS worth the money.

The past few days have been dreamlike, or as Dad keeps calling it “Disneyland!”. We took ferries around the pristine lake from Menaggio, to Bellagio to Como and caught the funicular in time to watch night fall over Como. (Fun fact: for those of you who don’t know, George Clooney owns a villa in Como. Unfortunately no sights were made). Today was just as surreal, as we popped across the border and took another (much bigger) funicular up Monte Bre in Lugano, Switzerland. While I might have an ever increasing personal annoyance with Switzerland (their “neutrality” is a little too convenient, they hold most of the world’s money, they’re surrounded by EU countries all sharing in currency and border privileges and yet remain their own little island of superiority AND charge out the wazoo to pass through their little island…), I cannot deny the breathtaking beauty that is the Switzerland. Layers of snow capped mountains stacked upon steep rolling hills with crystal waters and cozy villages nestled in valleys is pretty hard to scoff at. As we ate our pre-packed sandwiches, we stared in awe at the fairy tale scenery before us. Sometimes I really have to stop and remind myself of the amazing experiences I am having. I truly am lucky.

That being said, I must reaffirm what I already learned through my travels (especially during my East Europe trip) as well as some new insight.

1. Maps- always have them. Especially detailed ones. Don’t rely on technology (namely stupid Garmins!) to help you.

2. **A little planning goes a long way** I’m staring this one because as much as people like to write my desire to plan trips off as just another anal tendency, there are certain factors that, when planned, can alleviate stress and insanity.

  • Knowing where you’re going and having a general time frame helps avoid hunger, night driving, tolls and delirium…
  • It also helps to think about when to leave (especially by car), when to pass through, and when to arrive in big cities. Will you hit traffic? That goes for small cities too! Will you get lost if there is a detour? Will you be able to find your way at night?
  • Having detailed maps for leaving one location and arriving in another is always good. Surprisingly enough, the highway roads are not as easy to find the next day.
  • And I have learned that roads always take longer in Europe. They’re windy and you don’t know they way and maybe even the language. Prepare to get lost. Prepare to smile.

As Dad likes to quote from Peepaw, “Prior planning prevents piss poor performance”.

3. There’s something to traveling off season. True, things might be more dead than usual and you might miss out on some experiences due to off season closures, but there’s a tranquility, a peace that you don’t normally get to have when travelling to hot spots. During off season, you’re not battling the crowds, the jacked up prices, or the stress of “gotta see it all quickly!” You have time to set up the shot that you want to take, to breathe in the air, to listen to the sounds. Most of these places are beautiful in their own right- because of the area and not necessarily the tourist attractions set up around them.

4. And finally shoulda/coulda/woulda doesn’t ever really help. It’s tempting to pull them out during times of frustration, but it never changes your situation or predicament. And most of the time you don’t really look back and think of the bad things. I won’t resent the traffic jam in Milan, or the scary snow/ice covered alpine roads, or the expensive tolls because they led me to the good. And they helped pave the road for future travel knowledge. Instead of lamenting the things that should or could have gone better, it’s best to keep our eyes on the road, the final destination and learn from our mistakes- our experiences.

Here’s hoping I can apply these things to Nice! Tomorrow we bid the mountains arrivederci  and make our way towards the Cote d’Azur!

Ciao ciao!

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Monday Musings

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Vintage Santa

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since my last post. Oh how time is flying. Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but I can’t believe it’s already December and I’m reaching the half way point of my time here. I want to pull the emergency breaks and slow everything down, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re enjoying your time. It really does fly when you’re having fun.

In the past few weeks I’ve visited Strasbourg, Paris and Lyon for fun, friends, and fete des lumieres. I’ve also spent much of my time at the noel marche, searching for christmas presents but ultimately warming myself in the food hut with vin chaud and good company….and of course seeing bizarre daily spectacles including a family of singing clowns, French Texas two-steppin line dancers, Pere Noel or Saint Nicolas himself and my personal favorite, Père Fouettard, or the Whipping Father. We are luckily far enough North that we have privilege of the German influence of not one, but two Santa figures. In the U.S. if you are naughty, you are threatened with coal and a lack of presents. Here, children get the Père Fouettard, a man dressed in black who not only carries a whip but uses it freely to scare naughty children nice. Unfortunately my enthusiasm to witness the Whipping Father did not go unnoticed as he beelined it over to my table. Luckily for me, he couldn’t squeeze over to my spot, but Maribel was not so fortunate. We got a good laugh out of it all, while the table full of children next to us cringed in anticipation and fear. Who knew the holidays could be so horrifying?

Vin Chaud Tower...I had help!

Vin Chaud Tower…I had help!

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Pere Noel

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Maribel was not spared the wrath of Père Fouettard

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Texas in France??

In other news, I had quite the Frenchventure when I decided to get a hair trim with Maggy. I realized there are many things you say when cutting your hair- things I did not have the French vocabulary for. Trim, thin hair, fuller, trying to grow it out, want to keep the length, but get rid of the bob- are among the words and phrases I wanted to say. I worked up a good bit of butterflies, wondering how I would communicate something I had never prepared for. However, we came equipped with pictures and a print out of french vocabulary words. We were nervous, but happy we had a safety net of pictures and words. But nothing is ever quite that simple. As the woman spoke quickly and gestured at my hair in swift movements, suddenly all of my practice phrases previously memorized vanished from my mind. It soon became a Me Talk Pretty One Day scenario as I pointed at pictures and brokenly tried to express what I wanted. “I try for the long hairs. This was a bob but I don’t want. I like the fringe of her. But I want more long. My hairs are tiny. Will that work?” She kindly laughed and nodded in some sort of sign of comprehension. Thankfully it was successful and I left happy. Thank god for patient stylists and pictures.

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Happy Haircut!

To expel or not to expel…

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From Friday…

Out of all my classes, the only class that I see every week (it never changes) happens to be my last class on a Friday and consequently- my hardest. When my lesson finished last week, I left foul and disappointed. Why was it so damn hard for them to listen? Why was there so much disrespect? I worked hard to make my lessons fun and engaging. Shouldn’t that be enough? But as most people who studied education, or have any experience working with children, will tell you, the answer is no. An engaging lesson is never quite enough.

Feeling lost and seeing as how I am not the actual teacher (but rather a mere assistant), I e-mailed my professor for help. His response- “Kick them out. Too bad. They had the chance. Give me their names and I will kick them out.”

Maybe it’s the sappy teacher in me that sees the potential in all my students, but I just couldn’t bring myself to hand over the names. True, as a whole, the class can be unfocused, rambunctious and as of late, disrespectful, but when it comes to each student, they’ve all had their shining moments. I wasn’t ready to just expel a big bunch of them and be done with it. Maybe if I didn’t have a passion for teaching, my life could be a little easier.  I could say fuck em. If those little shits can’t be respectful, then they can leave. But I’m not just an assistant. I like to teach and *nerd alert* I leave elated when I know that they’ve learned something. So even though I wasn’t ready to expel them, the question became- What should I do now?

Many conversations and even a little research later, I devised a solid plan. I would come in firm but somehow still leave as the “good guy”.

My plan of attack was this.

1. Come in early. Open the door by myself. I have had the hardest time with my keys and have never actually been able to open room 129 on my own. One student has somehow mastered this skill. How can I have respect, if I can’t even open the damn door?

2. Change their seats. I conveniently had slips of paper with their names on them and arranged them around the room so that 1. they were no longer by their friends and 2. were closer to me.

When they entered the room and sighed in disappointment, I asked, “Do you know why I did this?” to which one student replied, “Because you hate us?” Oh how wrong she was. If only they knew…

3. Have clear classroom expectations. This was linked to the be early part of the plan. I wrote my expectations on the board.

1. Come in, sit down and wait for your name to be called

2. Respect- do not talk while I am talking and do not talk while your peers are talking

3. If you have questions or problems, raise your hands. I am here to help

4. Listen to your classmates and participate. TRY

5. 3 strikes and you’re out.

The last one particularly amuses me as it is a policy I use with my elementary kids. Normally I wouldn’t think such a thing would be necessary with high schoolers, but with this class it seemed to resonate. Especially after I told them their professor wanted to kick them out.

4. Be Reasonable. Give them some input- Seeing as how the professor presented this class to me as “make it fun for them. make it fun for you” I didn’t want to leave as the crazy strict American Assistant. So I wrote some questions on the board for them:

1. What makes a classroom work?

2. What do you expect from your teachers?

3. What do you want from this class?

Their answers impressed and amused me:

“Funny works”

“The teacher speak with a student and joke with us”

“I would like to learn English in a good ambiance”

“A teacher who is interesting and learning us”

“A good ambiance, a good and nice teacher, students who participate”

“A class works because we have an exam to pass at the end of the year and for our personal culture. This exam and the marks you have can give you a school and also a work”

“Pupils have to be nice and respect the teacher. A classroom works when there is an exchange between pupils and teacher”.

It’s so wonderful when they get it. ‘Good ambiance’ was a common theme in their responses and by the end of the lesson, I’m happy to say that good ambiance was achieved. The class ran smoothly and we even had time (and focus) to try the adjective game I’d invented. I regained respect. I established my expectations and we still managed to have fun at the end. Teacher 101: It’s always good to shake things up and amazing to see what happens when you stick to your guns.

But we’ll see what next week brings….