Making an Impact

Hello friends and family! I know it’s been a very long time.. but I’m back! I wrote this post for the France-US Fulbright blog (for all those interested, check it out here: https://laureatscommissionfrancoamericaine.wordpress.com/ ), but I thought I might as well share it on my own blog. It’s a little long, so I apologize, but you will learn about my experiences working in special education classrooms at my high school. 🙂 Enjoy!

 

As I walk through the halls of my lycée, I hear voices exclaiming, “Hello Cydney!” in timid but excited French accents. I look up in time to see several students walking past, smiling with pride at their abilities to express something to me in English. I respond with an eager “Hello! How are you?”

While I often hear “hello” or “hi” as I walk through the halls, these particular “hellos” are special: they come from a group of students that I work with once a week, and they are all part of the SIFAS program for students with disabilities. The fact that the say hello to me in the hallways is exciting for two main reasons: 1) it means they recognize me and are excited to share experiences in my own language, and 2) they are retaining something in English! It may not be much, but I find it pretty awesome that students who often struggle with communication and self expression in their own language are willing and excited to speak another language. Learning another language is difficult for anyone, and progress of any kind for these students, even just a hello in the hallway, is impressive in my opinion!

My personal project for Fulbright was to learn about and hopefully get involved with special education classes in France, and by chance my placement high school offered me such an opportunity. In the SIFAS program, there are two groups of students: one group that is at school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and one group on Thursdays and Fridays. The two groups vary in their abilities; those on Mondays and Tuesdays are higher functioning, with a variety of disabilities, while those on Thursdays and Fridays are all students with autism.

Since my second week of teaching, I have been joining another English teacher on Monday mornings to give lessons in English to one group of SIFAS students. Every student in the class has some kind of intellectual disability, and some are higher functioning than others, but all have been able to succeed at learning at least a little bit of English. And watching them succeed, and be proud of their own success is amazing! (I know now exactly why teachers do what they do!) Our lessons with them are basic—greetings, numbers, days of the week, parts of the body, and questions meant to aid in identifying vocabulary. While they seem to be able to retain the majority of the vocabulary words, at least collectively, they struggle with the grammar and questions. For example, most recently they struggled to grasp the difference between “what is this?” and “what are these?” and when to use each. This is because in French, there is one question, regardless of it is singular or plural, for both of those in English: qu’est-ce que c’est? It is interesting as an English speaker, who also knows French, to see what mistakes they make in English and to think about why they make those mistakes. Questions and ideas that require more abstract thinking are objectively more difficult, and watching them process the information and correctly give an answer feels like a success for everyone. Being a part of this class has also been interesting on a personal level, because I’ve had the opportunity to see how two other teachers, the special education teacher and the English teacher, go about teaching. From this class, I’ve learned the importance of repetition, patience, and thinking outside the box to teach complicated ideas.

Since my third week of teaching, I have also been working once a week on Thursdays with the group of students with autism. This group of students are lower functioning than the other group, and I thus join in on regular classroom activities, in French (which has been good for my own language skills! Speaking to the teachers in French, but also trying to decipher what the students say to me in French has most definitely helped my listening comprehension!). When I work in this classroom, I usually aid in arts and crafts activities, giving instructions and making sure the students follow the instructions. A lot of the students struggle with fine motor skills, so I also help with activities such as painting or colouring inside the lines, as those can be difficult for the students.

After several months of working with this class, I can finally see the impact I’ve made. Every time I walk into the classroom, I am greeted with several voices ecstatically shouting “Bonjour Cydney! Ca va?” followed by handshakes (their attempts at socializing and being polite—people with autism often lack basic social communication skills, so hellos and handshakes such as these can actually be a big deal for some people). When I’m in the classroom, students ask me questions often and reach out to me for help on difficult tasks. Seeing the positive impact of my presence in class has been really special, and I love hearing the resounding “a jeudi prochaine! (See you next Thursday!)” as class finishes each day.

As for the differences between special education in the US vs that in France, a few things have stuck out. First, however, disclaimer: I am not a special education teacher in the US, nor in France, but I have worked in special education classes and programs in both countries now, and I can offer observations from my personal experiences. In the US, there seems to be a lot more positive reinforcement with tangible rewards. For example, in the pre-school classroom that I worked in one semester, the children received one M&M occasionally for good behavior or following directions. Usually every student would get an M&M in the end, after much positive reinforcement and praise such as “thank you [student names] for following directions!” or “I love the way [student names] are following directions!” until everyone was following directions. This doesn’t seem to happen with the groups I work with in France. However, the teachers are always encouraging in France, and are very creative in getting answers or comments from students. The group of students with autism in France often have lessons on social interactions, emotions, and how to act in situations, something that I’m not sure happens in all special ed classrooms in the US. As for similarities, both countries use picture representations everywhere—in assignments, directions, class rules, etc., and students often get individual attention as there is more than one teacher in the class.

I know that many more differences exist, but those go deep into the systems and ideologies and would take much more than an already too long blog post to explain! I thought that some of the small things I’ve noticed, though, both different and similar, were worth noting.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear! I’ve very much enjoyed my experiences working in the special education classrooms in France as part of my Fulbright.

 

Thanks for reading! xox

Cydney

Strasbourg: Capitale de Noël

Hello friends and family! I’m back! I know a lot of you avid readers have been dying for more posts! 😉 I apologize for the long delay, though, life got busy around the holidays and then getting back into a routine. This post will be about my life during the holidays because a lot happened, and Strasbourg (and the Alsace region in general, really) is a truly magical place during Christmas. Enjoy 🙂

 

Christmas in Strasbourg unofficially begins the week after Halloween–meaning the Monday after Halloween, the giant Christmas tree was brought to Place Kleber (the main square in the city), and a team of people began reassembling the tree branch-by-branch. By the weekend after Thanksgiving–which is not normally celebrated in France, obviously, but was eagerly and enthusiastically celebrated in my little apartment with my flatmates and 25 or so of our new friends from around the world, many of whom were celebrating their first Thanksgiving! And let me just say it was a lot of fun sharing one of our biggest holidays, and my favorite holiday, with friends from around the world who don’t usually celebrate it, especially when we Americans couldn’t be with our families–anyway, by the weekend after Thanksgiving, the giant Christmas tree, along with all the Christmas market stands, were ready to present themselves to the residents and tourists of Strasbourg. My friend Carlos and I went to the tree-lighting celebration, which was pretty cool. For the following 4 weeks, Strasbourg was overflowing with Christmas spirit, and thus tourists eager to experience said Christmas spirit. Christmas lights lined every inch of the city, the smell of “vin chaud” (mulled wine) and crêpes filled every corner, and the soft sound of Christmas music seemed to come and go around the entire city. The markets were filled with everything from trinkets to Christmas ornaments to typical Alsatian treats–you could pretty much find any and everything at the stands in the markets. If anyone is ever thinking about traveling to Europe during the Christmas season in the future, I highly recommend you stop in Strasbourg, the aptly nicknamed “Capital of Christmas.” And while you’re in Strasbourg, you might as well adventure to the small Alsatian towns around Strasbourg, which also celebrate Christmas with markets! Just be aware that the city and surrounding towns are crazy busy during the Christmas season..but it’s worth it, in my opinion!

 

 

For the actual holiday of Christmas, I packed a suitcase and headed west to Rennes, France, to spend the holidays with my host family from study abroad. I’m so grateful that my French family invited and graciously welcomed me to their home for Christmas! I got to experience a real French Christmas, including an amazing homecooked, 4-course meal prepared by my host mom and sisters–they spent hours preparing for and cooking the food! So while in Rennes, I was spoiled with delicious food, French tv (a luxury I absolutely love but cannot afford as a poor post-grad living and working in France), and wonderful (and honestly unexpected) Christmas gifts. Thus, a huge thanks to my French family for hosting me and spoiling me during the Christmas holidays–it was truly an unforgettable time! 🙂

rennes christmas
The beautiful Christmas tree at my French family’s house.

After living it up in Rennes, I headed to Paris to meet up with my brother. An exhausted-and-sleep-deprived-Sam and I explored Paris, and saw the typical tourist attractions. Please enjoy some pictures of my brother being a tourist in Paris, I think they speak for themselves (sorry I’m not sorry, Sam!):

 

After a few days in Paris, Sam and I then headed to Strasbourg, where our parents were waiting for us. So yes, I got to spend the New Year with my “real” family, who came all the way from the USA! We toured Strasbourg, where I showed them the cool places and must-see sights of the city. One day we took the train to southern Alsace to see the (actually) really impressive car museum, which houses the cars collected and then abandoned by the Schlumpf brothers (if you want more details of the history of the museum, you should contact either my dad or the internet 🙂 !) We also spent some time in Colmar to see what was left of the Christmas markets, because Colmar kept its markets until the last day in December, while every other city or town had closed the markets by Christmas day. It was fun showing my parents my life in Strasbourg and my favorite places in the city, and to introduce them to some of my friends. Thanks for coming mom and dad! 🙂

My brother stayed a week longer than my parents (as he had a long winter break from university, and he had never been to Europe before). Because I had to work, we couldn’t travel anywhere, but that gave him time to explore Strasbourg as he wanted. And of course there’s always Netflix! While he was here, we had several adventures, though, and we learned some things, so let me share our wisdom! :

-Single mattresses in Europe (at least blow-up single mattresses) are big enough for a small child, not an averaged sized adult–sorry about that Sam!

-Some of my friends (and family..) could use some lessons in dancing (including myself, unfortunately)

-ALL of Europe is closed on Sundays! Don’t even try to plan things on a Sunday.

-Offenburg, Germany, is a beautiful city, with one of the coolest, but most random museums I have ever been to! (Sam and I went to Germany on a Sunday–the only thing open was a museum about the history of the city, or so we think… There was everything from rocks to animal hides to African ceremonial masks to paintings of Jesus, and everything was in German, a language neither of us speak, so we really aren’t sure about what we were learning in that museum!)

-Rey is probably most likely Luke’s daughter.

-Brunch doesn’t really ever happen in Europe, which is quite unfortunate for Europe in both our opinions.

-Hot chocolates in France are basically just melted bars of chocolate with a little bit of milk. All chocolate lovers take note!

-No one likes to go back to school or work after the holidays.

 

Thanks for reading, friends! 🙂

xo

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving me the world

This post is very late, as it was meant to follow my trip to the UK, which was several weeks ago. However, after another problem with wifi, and trying to acclimate to my teaching schedule and the life of a teacher, I have fallen behind on my posts! Sorry everyone! But after everything that has happened in France, and the rest of the world for that matter, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which is quickly approaching, I think it is actually almost perfect timing to share this post. 🙂  So read on my friends, and enjoy!

 

Some of my friends from Uni might remember that I was considering putting this phrase (Thank you mom and dad for giving me the world) on my graduation cap last May. For various reasons, I instead went with “Pin a rose on my nose, I’m graduating!”–it’s a Full House reference (yes it exists!) and something that I would frequently say to my friends, and was thus an inside joke of sorts. Anyway, back to the purpose of this post: as I’ve been traveling around Europe, the phrase (aka the title of this post) popped back into my head. I recently had 2 weeks’ vacation, after only having worked for 2 weeks–the French love their vacations, but no complaints here! For my time off, I decided to head to the UK. My cousin Emily and her family live in London and I was missing family, or at least familiarity. So I headed first to London with 2 friends from Strasbourg to visit with my family. After exploring Notting Hill, Portobello Market, Piccadilly Circus, Borough Market, the London Bridge, the London City Museum, Westminster, the Parliament buildings, and Trafalgar Square, and seeing Les Mis at the West End, London was solidified as one of my most favorite cities. It was my third time visiting, and I would go back again in a heartbeat. It’s a magnificent city with a rich history, that is combined beautifully with modernity. For all those thinking of going to London, I highly recommend it! After a few days in London, my friend Esther and I headed up north to Scotland. We stayed with her friends in Edinburgh, who were gracious enough to drive us up to the Highlands one day. Edinburgh is amazing in almost every way—the history preserved so well through time, the stories, and the landscape of the city are enough to make anyone question if the city is real or not. And the Highlands are absolutely breathtaking! The mountains are covered with orange grass, and at the base of several mountains are lakes as smooth as glass, quietly watching as people drive by on the windy highway. After exploring downtown Edinburgh, climbing Arthur’s Seat (a mountain just to the side of the city), wandering Edinburgh Castle, and tasting haggis, I headed back to London for a few days (because why not?) and Esther headed back to France. After a few chill days in London, I went to Paris for yet another Fulbright orientation—a one-day meeting for all the ETAs. The meeting was rather long, but it was nice seeing my fellow Fulbright scholars since I don’t get to see them that much. After Paris, it was finally time to return to Strasbourg, just in time for Halloween!

I absolutely love traveling because meeting new people and being a part of another culture, if even just for a moment, is one of the coolest things one can do, at least in my opinion. The cliché that you learn a lot about yourself when you travel is actually very true—you learn about yourself, your own culture, and what you truly believe in and value. Seeing how others live their lives reminds you that the world is huge, and that there is more than one way to live life. And so, I wanted to thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to travel and to experience the world. I don’t know when my now-never-ending inclination to travel began exactly, but thank you mom and dad for not squashing it, but for embracing it with me. Thank you for letting me form my own opinions of the world, all by myself. And thank you to the strangers I have met while traveling that show kindness and compassion, and the family and friends who are always willing to lend a hand, or a spare room, to a young adult without any money—you are the ones who make traveling worthwhile.

So thank you, mom and dad, for everything you do and everything you have done! I wouldn’t be in France, enjoying it as much as I am (and I am enjoying it so much! Possibly too much…), if you hadn’t given me the world. 🙂

 

xo

 

The things you do when friends arrive and you are given the wifi password!

A few days ago, I was talking to one of my assistant friends about my blog and what I had written about so far. I told her that one of the posts was about things to do when you don’t have friends around and you don’t have wifi (see post 2), aka the first 6 days of my time in France. She laughed and told me that I should now write a follow up post since by that time all assistants had arrived, I had made some friends, and I had been given the wifi password. So, here is that post! However, it won’t be in list form, but instead paragraph form, and pictures will be included!

Once I knew that other people were around to hang out with and get to know, things really started to pick up. I began to have dinner plans or drink plans with the other assistants, and most importantly I had a fellow dorm-resident with whom to complain about the no-wifi situation and the no-kitchen situation. Dinner became something to look forward to when I had plans with people and didn’t have to worry about roaming the grocery store for non-perishables, but also non-cookables. Having others around is also nice to discuss ALL the paperwork required in France–the land of documents! More importantly, though, there are so many people from all over the world participating in the language assistant program, speaking and teaching so many different languages! Meeting everyone has been an experience in itself! Because the Alsace region borders Germany, there are many German-language assistants–I now want to learn to speak German. The language sounds so strong and impressive. I have no doubts I will learn some German before I leave! I’ve also met Spanish assistants, an Italian assistant, some Irish and UK assistants (teaching English of course), some Austrian assistants (teaching German), and so many more! And while most everyone speaks at least some English, we often speak French amongst ourselves, which helps everyone learn French since we all learn from the mistakes of the other language speakers. The coolest things, in my opinion at least, are hearing everyone speak in their native language and learning about the different cultures. I love language and culture, and being surrounded by multiculturalism and multilingualism is a dream come true!

Since meeting other assistants and making plans to hang out quite frequently, I have done a lot in Strasbourg and beyond.

I’ve walked around and gotten lost in Strasbourg so many times that I pretty much know my way around the city now.

I’ve almost become a regular at a popular restaurant down the street from my school (a positive of not having a kitchen!)

I climbed almost 400 feet to the top of Notre Dame Cathédrale de Strasbourg by way of a very narrow spiral staircase (and I’m afraid of heights… I tend to forget about that until I’m doing something involving heights! Not learning my lesson has helped me face my fears several times though, so there’s a positive!) To see a picture of the view from the top, scroll to the top of this blog–I took that photo while standing at the top of the cathedral!

I watched a rugby game at an Irish pub.

I participated in (part of) a 5K walk against breast cancer.

I took a train to Colmar, an idyllic town 30 minutes south of Strasbourg, even more photogenic than Strasbourg. However, everywhere you turned townspeople were prepared for tourists, and I like how Strasbourg doesn’t feel like it’s only a tourist spot. That being said, Colmar was gorgeous! And I have a few pictures to prove it.

Houses of Colmar
Houses of Colmar
Sunshine in Colmar (also posted on my Instagram, so you may have seen it already) :)
Sunshine in Colmar (also posted on my Instagram, so you may have seen it already) 🙂

After visiting Colmar, I headed to Germany for a mini Oktoberfest being held in Kehl. Kehl, Germany is right across the border, aka a city-bus ride away from Strasbourg. At my first ever Oktoberfest, I drank beer, ate sauerkraut and potatoes, listened to music playing constantly, and cheered for the many competitions, including lederhosen, dirndl, and beer-holding. Sadly, I did not take any pictures of this, but trust me when I say it was fun!

I took a tour of Strasbourg on a boat.

I’ve eaten traditional Alsatian foods.

And I’ve taken pictures of the city to share 🙂

Strasbourg5

The Cathedral! Or at least part of it
The Cathedral! Or at least part of it
Around the city are statues of people doing random things, this one is of a man taking a picture of the Cathedral, which is just out of frame.
Around the city are statues of people doing random things, this one is of a man taking a picture of the Cathedral, which is just out of frame.

Strasbourg2

An area of Strasbourg called "La Petite France"
An area of Strasbourg called “La Petite France”
A fortress at the edge of "La Petite France."
A fortress at the edge of “La Petite France.”

Strasbourg is beautiful! And having friends to explore it with has been so fun. And having wifi to share it with the rest of my friends and family halfway around the world makes it that much better.

xoxo

Paris, je t’aime !

One of the benefits of being a Fulbright in France : orientation in Paris.

I will admit, I am extemely happy that my teaching placement for the year is in Strasbourg, and not Paris. Paris is obviously stunning in more ways than you could count, but it’s huge and can be overwhelming at times. And sometimes it feels like tourists outnumber Parisians (but maybe that’s because I’ve always been a tourist..). Obviously being a resident would allow you to find all the hip spots and quiet corners of the City of Love, but being placed in Strasbourg also allows me to explore other areas of France. Seeing Paris was never not on my list of things to do (in France and in life), but seeing Strasbourg was only ever at the back of my mind. After extensive google searching, especially google images (google “Strasbourg Christmas market” and you’ll be buying a one-way ticket in no time), it moved to the top of my list, and now I am living the dream in Strasbourg. That being said, I can always go to Paris: a 2-hour train ride and friends and fellow ETAs in the city means my trips to Paris could theoretically be endless. And, being placed in Strasbourg means I got to look forward to traveling to Paris for the Fulbright orientation this past weekend!

One of my closest friends from college, Molly, is currently living in a cute little town outside of Paris while working as an au pair. I decided to travel to Paris a day early to meet her host family (who are adorable!) and to spend time exploring the city with her. Which meant too many selfies in front of the Tour Eiffel, a walk through Shakespeare and Company, metro navigations, a stroll down the Champs Elysee (on the day without cars, so we were literally strolling down the Champs Elysee), wine, and, of course, crepes.

After leaving Molly, Fulbright stuff began. A day and a half (although the extra half day was only for the ETAs) packed with important information was a little tiring, but meeting the other Fulbrights, especially the other ETAs (English Teaching Assistants), made everything worth it. This year’s crew of Fulbright scholars to France is quite impressive! (Although I’m sure every year is just as impressive as the next.) People are studying everything from grape diseases to gender in art history to the pipe organ to nuclear fusion. And people are coming from cities all over the USA. So many brilliant people are wandering around France right now, and Paris seemed happy to welcome every one.

Fulbright, you are beginning to amaze me even more than before.

And Paris, you will never cease to amaze me. Until next time! ❤

xoxo

une histoire

I went into the city today to get a phone plan. So happy to finally be able to communicate with everyone, both in France and the US! The head of the English department at the school helped me get it all set up, and while we were there, he gave me a small tour of the city. Without knowing anything about it, I could tell you that aesthetically, Strasbourg is gorgeous. But there is so much more to it! It’s history is amazing. I remember when I first found out that I had been placed in Strasbourg, I called my parents to inform them of the good news. The first words out of my dad’s mouth were “Strasbourg has such a cool history!” (Or something to that affect). He went on to explain that the Alsace region, in which resides Strasbourg, has been fought over by France and Germany for a really long time. He told me more on the phone that night, but I was too excited to listen…Sorry dad! Anyway, today the history lesson continued.

I learned about the history of the trams (which is actually quite fascinating!). The importance of the architecture, which is mostly German for various reasons. (Mom and dad: this is the perfect place for you because the architecture is a major proponent in telling the city’s history, more so than any other city I’ve personally visited). The stunning 1000 year-old cathedral (and stunning is an understatement). The Protestant churches. The importance of the rivers. La Petit France. The history of the Synagogue (and the fact that police guard it at all times). The desire of Alsaciens (people from Alsace) to be French, and not German.

My appreciation for history is ever-expanding. And I think that France is as good a place as any to start developing that appreciation. And what my dad said really is true: Strasbourg does have a really cool history.

A toute xoxo

The things you do when you have no friends around and no wifi…

Get up early because you went to bed early (thank you jetlag).

Meet the coworkers, in the English department and beyond.

Discuss how to get involved in one-of-a-kind special education program in France (my high school is one of very few with a program like it–yay to being awesome!).

Introduce yourself to some English classes, and watch as stares of confusion, intrigue, and self-determination sweep across the faces of the students as they try to understand fully what’s been said.

Walk to the grocery store and back.

Try to figure out the tram system. (Super easy).

Aimlessly walk around Strasbourg.

Waste time thinking of things you could do without friends or internet.

Clean dishes.

Stare at packed suitcases and tiny wardrobe, wondering how best to fit everything in it.

Stare at the ceiling.

Read.

Write.

Learn to get used to a French shower (think about your fastest shower, then cut that in half. Hot water is often limited. And long showers are a waste of resources).

Go to bed early (which is still nice since jetlag lasts awhile).

In case anyone ever finds themselves in the same position I am currently in, you may refer to this list. Hope it helps! It’s good to know that one can actually live a normal, eventful life without good friends nearby or wifi. It can be daunting, though, especially when all your loved ones are only accessible via facebook, email, or phone applications. Regardless, I survived! Once I get my phone up-and-running with a French phone plan, all will be good again. Until then, I guess I’ll expand my mind with some more reading!

Peace out homies.