Two of my nine weeks of French language school are over. On one hand, this seems fast. One day blends into the next. I have gotten more used to the routine and to my teacher, Helena, and she to us - my classmates and me. "Us" is a fluid term for my classmates and me. There were five of us the first week; this past week, there were seven students. Only one, Christine from Rowanda, was a carry-over from the first week. Two others were promoted into the next level up; the fifth finished her two weeks here and went home to Florida for college. This week, three wonderful German, one Astonian and one Swiss young ladies (ranging from 18-27 years old) arrived. People come and go because that is how this style of school is set up. Students can start on any given Monday; they simply join in at whatever point the curriculum is, like I did, where the class left off the previous Friday. Each level of courses run in revolving six-week cycles. I jumped in on week #4; this upcoming week will be week 6, and then the next will be week #1. The learning does not build upon the week before, so the system works. I am in "A2" which is advanced beginner. I believe the highest level here is C2 (mostly fluent). All of this has taken some getting used to, and I'm not entirely certain what happens when I finish the cycle. I guess that will depend upon how much they (and I) think I have learned. I'm planning to ask for a meeting with one of their "progress counselors" this week. I hope he/she speaks English! My reading comprehension is noticeably improved, but, in addition to awakening my brain to memorize grammar rules, vocabulary and verb conjugations, I am struggling with oral comprehension and speaking. No real surprise, but I want to do what I can to improve as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, it has seemed slow. I am at the emotional point where I am noticing feeling lonely and detached because of my lack of French. That said, each day is pretty much the same, and I have settled into what I think is a healthy and productive routine. Monday through Friday, I am up at or before 6:00 am. I have my devotional time - my church (ACAC) is reading through the Bible with and audio commentary. This is followed by some warm up exercises - mostly push ups and squats - around making my lunch and packing up my back pack for the day. I wash up, get dressed, eat a light breakfast, do a little studying, and am out the door by 7:30. Each day, I walk to and from school which I love! The sun is just coming up and the weather has been dry and in the 50's. Many mornings are clear and cloudless; a few are overcast, but that generally burns off shortly after full daylight. The hilly urban hike took me about 35-40 minutes the first week, depending on which route (a more direct but busier route, as well as a quieter but five minute longer alternate). This past week, I've knocked five minutes off: I'm both in better shape and more confident of the way (that means no more stopping to look at my map!) I also use that time to lift and swing my hefty backpack like it is a kettle bell. It's really the only "gym" time I have.
This gets me into the walking historic district of "Centre Montpellier" between 7:45 and 8:00 for an hour of studying before school starts at 9:00. Even though it is cool (I put on my jacket at this point), I love to sit outside at a table in the main square, the Plaza de Comedie. During the day into the evening, there are numerous large cafes with outdoor seating. Three of them are closed when I arrive, and I alternate views most days. I change out of my sneakers into my school shoes, stretch, people watch and get to work. The school opens at 8:00 and I will likely end up inside once the temperature dips below 50 degrees.
I'm always the first to the classroom. Teaching starts promptly at 9:00 and goes until 12:15 (sometimes 12:30), with a school-wide fifteen minute break at 10:30. During the break, I take my light snack outside to the bustling old world street-scape and enjoy people-watching, as well as the light and air. We are in a windowless, second floor classroom with a large white board, and a small wall-mounted TV/DVD/computer. The first week, I wore my contacts and reading glasses and I began to suspect I was over-straining my eyes as I repeatedly went back and forth between the board and my papers. They were so tired feeling and I had a low-grade headache. So, I started wearing my (hated) glasses this week and noticed a clear decrease in eye strain.
However, I did not observe a corresponding decrease in "brain strain"! What a battle it has been to re-adapt to being a student after all these years! To make matters more challenging, I have a physically active work life and am not used to sitting still for long. I've been told, especially recently, that I have "ants in my pants"; this is true. AND, I am relearning how to sit through the morning while I struggle to comprehend French grammar. This week's lessons were somehow easier to conceptually grasp, fortunately.
After class, I stay put and eat my packed lunch while I let my brain slow down some. I'll watch a short French video on my laptop or just sit quietly. A few minutes later, I begin the process of reviewing and summarizing the morning's information using a system of 3"x5" and 4"x6" cards I brought over with me. I learned some of this from Sandie Freeman at Bongolo. She is one of the nursing school teachers and she took in on herself to teach me a little bit of basic French grammar. More importantly, she showed me how she use flash cards to learn verb conjunctions and other vocabulary! Thank You, Sandie!! I now use the smaller cards to summarize grammar rules and the larger for list of vocabulary, verbs and phrases. I review these daily, have recorded them to listen to while walking, as well as look at my class papers. I remember back in college that my easiest 4.0 grades came from the classes where I deliberately re-read my notes every day. I'm now counting on this same system!
This usually takes about two hours, or until I can't stand it any longer. Then, I change locations and either continue to study or read until about 5:00. Sometimes, I need to use some of this time to address something happening back in the States. To break up the routine, I either find a different classroom (with a window and sunlight) or a park bench. Every once in a while, I will buy something to drink later in the afternoon at one of the outdoor cafe's and work there. On Wednesday, I found the giant, beautifully modern, public library and, for 6 Euros (about $7.50), I got a library card and access to their WiFi. It's a little bit out of the way, but will be worth it.
Then, I walk home. Sometimes I'll stop in one of the grocery stores - there are four to pick from without deviating my course - for small lunch or snack items. I've been doing pretty well in my eating seeing that I bought a 2-meal per day plan, and eat whatever Catherine puts in front of me. That said, I am starting to feel the impact of fewer vegetables and more fresh bread and cheeses. Admittedly, I've eaten some chocolates, as well, as stress relief. That's a slippery slope that I need to get quickly get back under control! Overall, I've lost about 5 pounds since arriving and feel like I've gotten fitter and stronger.
Once home, my hosts are usually doing their own thing, so talking with them isn't an option. I head to my room and either take a 20 minute nap or continue to study, or both. Dinner is at 7:00, usually with a before-dinner aperitif served by Catherine, either with Michel or by myself. I eat at their dining room table by myself. They don't seem to eat together due to her diabetes diet and his schedule, and they have their set private ways. I thought this odd at first, but have also settled into this aspect of my routine. I read while eating - at the moment, I am working my way through A.W. Tozer's, The Pursuit of God. In English, thank you very much...
After dinner, I head back into my small but comfortable bedroom (I spend nearly all of my at-home time in there) for some final study and review before one or two video phone calls back home. I use my cell phone so I can move around, and have been working on developing a mobile hands-free phone harness to make this easier. If you're interested in getting in on the ground floor of this revolutionary zillion-dollar product, feel free to contact me directly! I'm not kidding... During the week, my goal is lights out before ten, which I've been overall successful at achieving. I've been so very tired from these first two weeks that I need all of the rest I can get.
The weekends are a topic for another time. I'm overall pleased that I've been as diligent as I have been and hope to continue this pattern next week. I certainly value and appreciate the opportunity I have to study and learn! Now, if you will excuse me, it's time to start to get ready for class tomorrow.