Archive | June 2010

Feeling better

Eglise Saint-Eustache

After my interviews on Wednesday, it was such a glorious day that I couldn’t bear to take the metro back home (last week was quite grey and chilly, but the last few days have been amazing – Wednesday was 26 and sunny, and I got my first French sunburn), so I wandered around the area, down Rue Montorgueil later down to Les Halles where I sat in front of the Eglise Saint Eustache.

Rue Montorgueil is incredible – it is a long, winding market street that is practically entirely pedestrian, filled with cafés and their small, round tables spilling out onto the road, as well as gourmet cheese shops, artisan bakeries, a couple of beautiful chocolate shops, and butcheries.

The surrounding quarter is just as interesting – filled with similar streets as well as clothing boutiques and expensive hotels, the buildings are like something from a film, with wrought-iron window-boxes that have red-flowered pot plants attached to the edges, and the plants have outgrown their pots so that the balustrades are draped in leaves.

Although the Quarter Motorgueil doesn’t have traditional market stalls, it still has all of the noise and colour and life that I love about the French markets – every few meters the scent of smoky meat frying, fresh bread or bouquets of flowers wafts onto the street . . .  Some of the cafés had their own music playing and there was a flurry of conversation everywhere, it was an eclectic mix of smells and sounds.

Later I sat on the grass outside the Eglise Saint-Eustache de Paris, where the air smells like jasmine in summer. Kids were splashing barefoot in the fountains and climbing all over a statue of a head (I still have no idea what it’s called), while older students had picnics and lolled about on the grass steps – I think I was the only person there who was wearing a suit.

The air was alive with the fountain’s waterfalls, children’s gleeful cries and the hushed tones of friends and couples, and I reflected on how lucky I am to be here.

You may have noticed that my mood has improved – being active by having interviews helps, and making the most of my free time in Paris by wandering around small streets and large parks keeps me busy too. When I was sitting in front of the church yesterday, I finished Almost French, and my anxiety about dragging the ending out seemed exaggerated.

TEFL Interviews

I had set up four interviews in Teaching English as a Foreign Language before I left. One of my TEFL teachers said to never accept the first job you’re offered. Looking at the rundown of each job’s conditions below, I can see why.

Interview 1 – Formaland, 18/06/10

This school was just outside of Paris (surprising), but teachers get sent to companies in Paris to run courses. Each course is 20 hours split into 1.5 hour classes twice a week – no materials are provided to the teachers, so the teachers need to create the whole 20-hour course from scratch based on the results of the students’ initial placement tests. Already this is unappealing – although I have a good knowledge of English and have a TEFL qualification, I don’t have any real teaching experience, so I don’t think I would be capable of doing this.

A teacher would only start with one contract (so two 1.5 hour sessions a week), and then get more contracts based on student feedback – this means it could be a while until this job would cover my living expenses. The pay is 25 Euros (I don’t remember whether this was an hour or a class) for one-on-one lessons and 30 Euros for group lessons (the groups get up to 4 or 5 students). There would be no paid preparation time which, considering the amount of preparation time required in the job, greatly lessens the hourly rate.

They wanted to hire me. I don’t want to work for them. I haven’t gotten back to them yet, as I’d like to hear from some of my other interviews first, but I don’t think I’ll accept this even if I get nothing else – I just don’t think I’m capable.

Interview 2 – Transfer, 21/06/10

Printemps

This school was in one of Paris’s main shopping areas (the Opera district, down the road from Printemps and not far from the Galleries Lafayette), so it’s probably a good thing that we get sent to schools, as working in this area would not be good for my budget.

Materials are provided but it’s up to me to choose how I use them, so I have freedom over my lesson plans. Students are automatically given levels based on their initial test results. In busy times I could expect 6 hour days at 18.21 an hour, in slower periods I’d only be working 3 hour days. In slower periods I can negotiate more work on the side.

Class sizes are usually 5-6 (10 students at the most), and 50% of your travel expenses are covered in central Paris.

Downside? There wasn’t actually a job available; they just wanted to meet me for future reference.

Interview 3 – BTL, 22/06/10

I received an email for this job when I was between France and Australia, asking if I’d be able to do an interview on the 16th and start immediately, assuming things went well. I tried to call on the 15th and the 16th, but Renée (the interviewer) was in meetings. I then emailed, and she suggested an initial phone interview on the 22nd. Don’t ask me why there was so much urgency in the original email.

So I originally rang up for the phone interview using Skype, but because the internet connection is really bad where I’m living for the moment (more details next email), I ended up disconnecting a couple of times. As I didn’t have a French sim card yet, Renée, the interviewer, called me back on my Aussie phone, which charges me when I receive calls over here. My credit ran out in 5 minutes (I’ve learned my lesson – I bought a French sim as soon as the call was dropped).

Interview 3; take two – BTL, 23/06/10

I waited in reception for 10 minutes, during which time I was referred to as ‘the Jolie girl’ (I know – I already have a reputation. One of the girls in the office was the one on reception the day before when I was calling for the interview).

In this job materials are provided and they offer a lot of assistance to new teachers – you meet with a coordinator every week to get feedback on lesson plans and there are regular out-of-hours training sessions. All of the teachers use the same series of books, which helps course quality remain consistent, reduces preparation time, and makes it easier if you’re new.

The pay is 16 Euros an hour, 60% of your lunch is covered, 50% of your travel expenses are covered and you get paid holiday leave, which is calculated pro-rata (12% of the time you’ve been teaching). They also give free French lessons starting in October – 1.5 hours a day.

Classes range from individual to 6 or 7, and in busy times I could expect 20-25 hours a week.

So far this has been the most appealing position. However, I may have messed up the interview. We were getting along really well just talking about my background and the job details, and then she decided to quiz me on some class room situations – one was how I’d teach the present perfect tense, another was how I’d use an article in a classroom setting, and I don’t remember the third. I crashed and burned – generally I started well, but ran out of steam after one or two examples. The problem is that I did my TEFL course in the second half of last year, starting in July/August and finishing in early November. For anyone else considering doing this – do your course in the few months before you travel, or revise before you leave.

The interviewer actually made a comment that this is why BTL is weary of online courses (my course consisted of 100 hours online and 20 hours in person). Trinity and Cambridge seem to be respected here. I did i-to-i, thinking that because it’s the one STA Travel organises (though I went directly to the company) it must be a good one. Although the course was good, it didn’t provide teaching experience, so going to Asia first to get some experience may have been more sensible than coming straight to France.

Interview 4 – ICB Europe, 23/06/10

My fourth interview was a two-hour group interview with ICB. The school’s office was in a great little area, right near the Rue Montorgueil.

There were seven of us in the group – four girls and three guys, and I was the only one not from the UK. All of us either had a TEFL qualification, or had tutoring experience. We should find out the results of the interview next week, at which point the successful candidates will get a one-on-one interview.

This school has a training department where everyone gets a 3 hour session before they start to determine whether they need some more training or whether they are ready to go out to companies.

Classes, as with all the other schools, are based in companies and teachers can expect 25 hours a week. Unfortunately we don’t get to find out any details about payment until the second interview.

I performed much better in this interview. We started with a general introduction to the school, then had two written tests – one on grammar (ten sets of questions, each starting with a sentence that you had to correct, then explain what the problem was, how you fixed it and why you fixed it) and one on financial services terms (I knew about half of them and made up the other half – argh, if only it had been a year ago when I was in London reading finance articles for work!) – then a general discussion. This morning’s interview’s discussions about classroom activities had given me some examples I could use, so I plagiarised them and think I did quite well :p

Expat anxiety

It’s interesting – I finished my uni exams at the end of 2007, then left Melbourne for London for 18-months. So far this trip has been different to my London one. Not just because it’s a different place, but because I’m different. I don’t seem to know how to relax here – I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not as tough as I was when I first started travelling, but I feel a bit like being taken care of, as if I’m not ready to rush into the French rat-race just yet. I left home because I didn’t want to be trapped in a 9-5 world that wasn’t leading anywhere. I wanted to be free, yet I don’t seem to have found the escape for which I was looking.

I know that I shouldn’t be expecting my life to sort itself out immediately, and that it’s difficult to be carefree when I don’t have a permanent roof over my head or an income coming in, but I almost wish that I already knew whether or not I was going to find work soon. If I knew that I wasn’t, then I could go travelling for a couple of months. If I knew that I was, then I could commit to life in Paris.

I haven’t been committing yet. Formerly I would have immersed myself immediately. If someone started talking to me, I would have a conversation in French. I would compensate for any of my verbal failings with laughs and batting eyelashes; playing on the flirtatiousness of the language.

This time I have been lazy. Torn between wanting to stay here and wanting to travel, having a friend from London here for my first week also prevented immediate immersion. Then, as I realised how bad my French had gotten, I avoided speaking. If someone spoke English, I wouldn’t even try, and if someone approached me in the street, I would pretend that I didn’t speak French.

Almost French - Sarah Turnbull

On the plane, I started reading a book that I received as a gift before I left – Almost French by Sarah Turnbnull. It’s an Aussie journalist writing of her experiences in Paris. On my second day here I was reading it when my visiting Londoner was napping – I was so frustrated that I was merely reading about Paris instead of experiencing the amazing world that was right on my doorstep! Now, one week later, I don’t want to put it down. I’m in the final couple of chapters and I’m trying not to read it too quickly, because once I finish I’ll be forced to have my own adventures instead of vicariously devouring someone else’s. It’s like I’m about to lose a  friend who had already experienced everything I’m going to, and then it will just be me against the world.

Finding a room

The Seine and the Eiffel Tower

After arriving in Paris, my first priority is to find somewhere to live. I have a friend from London visiting on my first week; however, I try not to let him slow me down too much.

Using Fusac, Appartager and ClickFlatShare, I have four rooms to look at. Considering I only looked at four or five each time I went in search of rooms in London, I figure this should be plenty.

A quick note on the websites – Fusac is a magazine that has English and French classifieds for rooms, jobs, etc. in Paris. The appeal of this is that I might get a landlord who speaks English, which will mean we’ll both know what I’m signing.

Appartager is a site I came across when I was searching for rooms. It has a large range; however you either need to pay for a premium membership to contact all of the members, or you can only contact other members with premium memberships. There are virtually no ads in English. I tried emailing in French before I came over here but, after trying to speak to someone in French on a payphone, I gave up and started spamming people in English to see who would reply in my language.

ClickFlatShare – this is another one I came across when Googling. It doesn’t have many ads, but they are in English.

Room 1 – 17/06/10, Boulogne-Billancourt, €410 a month, source: Fusac

As the landlady is in Russia, she gives me the current tenant’s details and I have her show me around. The tenant is Manuela, a lovely Bulgarian girl who has been in Paris for five years, and who has also studied in the UK and has very good English. The area seems decent, and there is a small but beautiful park right outside the building. The room is 11m2 and has a desk against a window overlooking the park. The only disadvantages are:

a) The bed is a single one. Maybe I’m spoilt, but I’m a grownup now and would like a big bed.
b) We don’t have access to the living room. Because the landlady isn’t in Paris very often, she uses the living room when she is here. That means it is locked the rest of the time, which makes socialising difficult. Socialising with housemates was the main way I made friends in London, so it’s very important to me.

I decide this room is a good backup option, and tell Manuela that I’ll think about it.

Room 2 – 18/06/10, Montrouge, €470 a month, source: Appartager

Again this building seemed to be in a decent area, and again it was a room in a two bedroom flat. Although slightly messy, the flat is beautifully decorated with a brand new white couch/futon, a new TV, a bar/kitchen area, and colourful material draped over the coffee tables. The room is awesome – yellow wallpaper with two red-roses on one of the walls, and a double bed!
The people also seem nice – a girl who mutters that France losing one of its World Cup matches is a ‘catastrophe!’, and a young guy who does most of the translating.

I confirm that the price is €470 (it was advertised at €430 + €40 in charges). No, they tell me. The room is €600 a month, but it’s not going to be available for another three months. They are currently advertising the couch in the living room at €500 a month.

Scratched off the list.

Room 3 – 19/06/10, Marie de Clichy, €450 a month, source: ClickFlatShare

This one I’m a little bit wary of from the beginning, as the girl I’ve been emailing says the current tenants are herself, a German student, and her mother. I don’t really want a mother-figure during my year in Paris, but I decide to give this one a shot because this mother is about the same age as mine, and my mum’s pretty awesome.

As I’m running late, the mother ends up showing me around the flat. Within the first few seconds I realise that the communal areas aren’t actually communal – they are mother’s domain. She isn’t unwelcoming (quite the opposite), but most of the share houses I’ve seen either have a neutral decor in the shared areas, or the shared areas are a mess of pieces from everyone’s cultures. In this flat, the kitchen, bathroom and living area of this flat are filled with Vietnamese calendars, family photos and plastic flowers. Mother’s domain.

As for the room, it’s slightly smaller than the first one I saw, but otherwise similar.

I tell mother that I’ll email her daughter and expect to leave, but mother has more she wants to show me. She takes me to the bathroom cabinets and points out which shelf will be mine if I choose to live here. The takes me to the fridge and shows me my future shelf. She shows me which keys go into which locks, and also takes me down to the basement to show me where the rubbish goes.

We finally get to the foyer and I think I’ve made my escape, but she tells me that I don’t need to walk to the station. Apparently there’s a free bus, and she insists on walking me to the bus-stop. At the bus-stop she tells me about all of the buses that stop here and goes through each of their timetables with me. When she’s done there’s still a seven minute wait for the bus, and I think she’ll leave me to wait. Of course not – she waits with me.

After nine minutes the bus still hasn’t come and I tell her that I’ll just walk. She insists that I wait another couple of minutes, because the bus is more crowded on a weekend and often runs late. After another couple of minutes, I volunteer to walk again, thinking this might be my escape.

She walks with me. How on Earth do I get rid of this woman?! This is beyond hospitable. She walks with me until I reach the final turn before the station, and we say our final goodbyes.

I don’t take this room.

Room 4 – 19/06/10, 11th arrondissement, €350 a month, source: Appartager

Of the four rooms, this is the only one in the centre of Paris, near the metro stop Nation. As soon as I come out of the metro, I’m delighted. I’m at a large round-a-bout with a small park and statues in the centre, surrounded by a boulangerie, supermarket, pub, patisserie and more. As I walk down the main road towards the house, I pass more bakeries, a fromagerie and numerous other specialty shops.

This house is about five minutes from the station, down a beautiful, cobblestoned little laneway and next to a Japanese museum. Inside, the main living area is warmly lit – there is a large kitchen area and hardwood floors, and a number of desks with large Apple monitors are set up. The owner explains to me that this is used as an office during the day (this is slightly distressing – I don’t have any work yet, so will I be kicked out every day?).

The room is smaller than the others, but given the price, the flat and the location, I only remember this in hindsight. The room also has a door leading directly to the bathroom, which has a huge tub, as well as two basins set in a brown marble bench top in front of a wall-length mirror. This is awesome!

I tell the owner that I need to think about it, and go away to deliberate. I try to establish a catch, but my friend and I can’t think of any, so I resolve to email the owner back once I return to my hotel and laptop.

I email back saying that I loved the place and would like to move in the next day, if that’s possible.

He emails me back within five minutes. ‘No sorry, I’m not interested.’

Damn.

I frantically call up the first room – my ‘backup’ option to see if it’s still available. Mon Dieu – it has been rented out by a girl who will be moving in on July 10th! I panic – this is supposed to be my last night in my hotel room and I have nowhere to sleep tomorrow but she says I can stay there until the 9th.

On my first day in the room I am kicking myself – why didn’t I say yes immediately? It’s a great little place, I love my desk under the window, and it even has a good shopping area. By the next day I settle down. I feel like a giant climbing into the single bed, the lack of a living room means that Manuela and I don’t really hang out, even though she’s lovely, and there’s a really bad internet connection that keeps dropping out. However it’s safe and dry, and I now have two and a half weeks before I need to worry about sleeping on the streets.

. . . packing for Paris

I moved to Paris on June 15th. The plan was to live and work here for a year and see some more of Europe. So far, things have not been going to plan.

I knew I would write about things being needlessly complicated very early in my trip. I never imagined that I would start writing it before I left. When I originally wrote this, I was sitting at the gate in Melbourne airport, 90mins before my flight. It took me an hour to get from the check-in desk to passport control. Without having to wait in any lines.

When I arrived at the check-in desk, I was asked something I had never been asked before. This is my third extended trip to Europe, I have been on shorter trips to Asia and the US, and numerous domestic flights. And I have never been asked this.

Brace yourselves – they asked to weigh my cabin baggage. Who does that?! Now this is a year-long trip, so I stuffed my checked baggage (a very large backpack) with all of my clothes, then put my shoes, books and laptop into my cabin baggage (a wheelie suitcase, measuring approx 50cm x 30cm x 25cm). The checked baggage weighed in at 20.3kg (I was allowed 23). The cabin baggage weighed in at 17.86kg. I was allowed 7 (though they raised this to 10 because I had a laptop). My options were:
1. To move 3kgs from the suitcase to the backpack (which was already so full it was ready to burst) and send another 4kgs home with my sister
2. Pay another $700 to check the second bag and take the lot

Now, my bank balance as of last Monday was -$10 (not including my mortgage) so option 2 wasn’t really an option for me. So my sister and I went to a corner and repacked, switching some clothes in my backpack with some shoes in the wheelie suitcase, and moving my books to my handbag (Nine West, slouchy, soft purple leather).

Second weigh in:
Big backpack = 21.8kg
Wheelie suitcase = 12kg

Back to repacking – I gave Rhiannon, my sister, a small pile of things to take home (I couldn’t give her too much – I was going to Paris after all!), moved another pair of shoes to the backpack and unpacked a second handbag into which we put my resumes, notepad, portfolio and a jacket.

Third weigh in:
Big backpack = 20.8kg (I have no idea how it got lighter)
Wheelie suitcase = 10.5kg, which they accepted. Success!

My backpack checked in, Rhiannon and I hid behind a pillar and proceeded to put some of the items we’d removed from the wheelie suitcase back in (I figured now I was safe). We said our goodbyes and I walked through the international gates. I showed my boarding passed, turned the corner, and there was a blonde airport employee standing next to some scales and weighing cabin baggage (I knew we shouldn’t have put everything back!).

There was no escape. I put the suitcase on the scales. 14.8kg. The blonde advised me to move my bulky things to my handbag, and I was sent back to repack my things for the fourth time.

Rhiannon returned to help me – I gave her some more things to take home, took out the second handbag again and put it over my shoulder, with my long jacket hanging over it so it wouldn’t look too conspicuous.

We said goodbye. Again. I showed my boarding pass. Again. I put the wheelie case onto the scales . . . 10.5kgs!

Then the blonde asked me to put my handbag on top of the case. 15.4kgs. I told her that she was the one who had told me to put my heavy stuff in the handbag, and she said she hadn’t realised it weighed that much. A man came to help her and the verdict was unanimous – I have too much baggage.

I went back out to my sister in tears, sank back down to my knees and started unpacking again. Rhiannon flew to my defense, saying that we’d already been through this several times at the check-in desk and were told the weight was okay. So we were sent back to the check-in desk to get a special stamp and signature on the tag of my suitcase. They did this without any issues and said that the blonde shouldn’t have been weighing my handbag at all.

I went to the gates and the blonde’s accomplice was there. I showed him my boarding pass and the stamp, and he told me to see how I went. I went through the gates towards the scales.

The blonde wasn’t there.
I looked left.
I looked right.
I make a run (well, a swift walk) for passport control.

And that’s how it took me an hour without waiting in any lines.