Things to bring to France?
August 15, 2013 7:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to France for seven months to teach English to French high schoolers with a program through the French government. I'm incredibly excited to try my hand at teaching and improve my French. As someone with a chronic medical condition, I'm also excited to be enrolled in the Sécu and the MGEN - I imagine my medical costs will be some of the lowest in my life! Anyway, my question is what to bring to France for seven months, 1) for general quality of life, and 2) as teaching materials for my high schoolers.

I have some ideas for the first category - headphones, a super-comfy travel pillow, a travel towel, an adapter, an international power strip, an external hard drive, my camera, a jacket (I'll be in the north of France) and a carry-on that fits Ryanair's bag requirements. I have little to no ideas for the second category, however, as I've never taught before and would love to find easy-to-carry things that share my culture (American and north Floridian) with the students. Any and all ideas will be greatly appreciated and taken under consideration.

Bonus side question: I'm having a bit of a hard time finding an apartment in Amiens. Anyone know any good free sites for apartments besides and
posted by Devika to Travel & Transportation around Amiens, France (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
One of my favorite parts of high school language classes was song tests. So you could compile a mix cd of songs that you think are culturally relevant, and use them for that sort of exercise.

I was going to suggest Hoot by Carl Hiassen as reading material, but a) the reading level might be a bit low, depending on how advanced the students are, and b) a class worth of books doesn't really fall into the "easy to carry" category. I believe there's a movie version...maybe you could have a movie day?
posted by tan_coul at 10:00 PM on August 15, 2013

Best answer: When I taught EFL in Taiwan, some of the most important things I brought from home were photos and other illustrations of home: photos of my parents' house, photos of my family, photo books with great bird's-eye views of my hometown, postcards from my hometown (showing all the seasons, major landmarks, etc.), and other illustrations of where I'm from. There are tons of activities you can do with such materials, and they're just plain useful in helping the students get a better sense of who you are, where you're from and what it's like to live in the US.

Another super-useful thing I brought with was a weekly magazine/alternative newspaper. (Specifically, I brought an issue of Citypages, to give you an idea what I'm talking about.) Less useful now in the era of internet access, but if your students don't have ready access in the classroom, a weekly can be useful for understanding American slang, getting a sense of what American counter-culture is like, learning to read American want ads and apartment listings, etc. Zines might serve the same function, and inspire students to create their own.

Other things that can be helpful: high school yearbooks; sample ballots from a US election; US currency or play money; boardgames and party games like Scrabble or Boggle that use language skills; magazines about topics you're interested in; magazines in general; restaurant menus. There's a concept in teaching of realia, which are real-life things that you use in a classroom setting to encourage students to use their English in real, practical ways. Bring as much realia as you can.

You should probably either bring a bunch of information about Disney World, or a bunch of things that show how it's not important to you. Because I bet that'll be one of your students' main impressions of Florida.

For general quality of life, I'd suggest a Kindle or other e-reader (or tablet loaded with an e-reader app) jam-packed with good English books. You won't be there that long, but you'll still want to stop thinking in French once in a while. More generally, try to bring US 'media' that you can't get in France: movies, music, etc. When you're feeling homesick, these kinds of things can be really helpful.
posted by jiawen at 11:33 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) for general quality of life

.. is pretty good, but accommodation can be a bit of a crapshoot because (at least on the scheme I was on) typically the school organises it initially. When I taught in France my initial accommodation was a boarding house for postal workers that was near the school, and they got very upset when I made any noise after 9pm. Meanwhile they rumbled about at 5am to start their rounds. The place had no means of cooking any food and no canteen so I lasted two months and then moved out.

Others did better and worse - some were given very cheap rooms on campus. Some were also put up in hostel-type places. Some outside the city were set up in shared houses with their German or Spanish equivalents and tended to do better.

Overall, the pay was pretty decent for a student budget. I taught twelve hours a week and was paid a living wage that allowed me to rent a cheap room somewhere, buy decent food and go out and have fun.

Those of us in the city had a grand time but tended to spend more time with other anglophones. Those outside the city were more immersed but also a bit more isolated.

The attitude of the school also made a big difference. In my school I was treated like a peer, even though I plainly wasn't. The teachers were friendly and welcoming, although with the exception of my designated mentor I didn't socialise with them outside school. A good friend got a less friendly school and was used like a dogsbody in that his twelve hours were all basically relief lessons at the beginning and end of each day. A second friend - a woman - was allocated a school in quite a rough suburb of town and regularly got verbal sexual harassment from her students. She returned the favour by teaching them English with a thick Birmingham (UK) accent.

In terms of your apartment worries: if the school isn't setting this up for you I'd definitely ask their help. Ideally, you want somewhere shared/sublet so you don't have to go through all the rigmarole of setting yourself up for utilities and having to navigate all the paperwork for signing a lease.

2) as teaching materials for my high schoolers.

Again, it depends on your school to some extent. As a rule, my experience was that French kids are taught to learn by rote a bit more and mine, at least, responded poorly to invitations to express an opinion or engage in discussion. When I moved into an apartment one of my roommates was a university professor and his running bugbear was coaching his students to make the transition from lycée to university and develop opinions of their own.

My school was not a great school academically and specifically most of the kids had little interest in learning languages. A mate got the top school in town and taught super bright, highly motivated kids who were all destined for top universities and engaged a lot. It depends.

At high school age, these kids often know about the English language really only from what they learn in text books and what they see in the media - English language movies and shows on TV are often dubbed so, unlike in the Nordic countries, so kids don't have a close feel for the rhythms and colloquialisms of language. Like all language text books, the ones they use in France tend to be dry and full of the kind of phrases nobody seems to use in real life.

Bring stuff that helps show them what kids their age are doing so they understand the culture from an insider's perspective - your USP. I'd bring good examples of different aspects of language - be it regional differences, slang and formal, newspaper speak, social media speak, tabloid speak, newsreader speak, irony etc etc. You could, for example, do sessions on cultural tropes - what are accepted cultural themes in the US but perhaps alien to them - the stereotypes and tribes of a typical high school movie or sitcom, or American humour, for example.

You don't need that much material - I'd guess you aren't going to be spending a lot of time with each class overall so you'll reuse a lot of what your bring and a small amount of material will stretch a long way because of the pace of learning you'll go at.


I'd look at the Business School for tips. They have a useful guide to life in Amiens, there is a student portal including a whole section on accommodation for which you might? be applicable.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:55 AM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Apartments: leboncoin did it for me! Check out also (particulier a particulier), which in Paris is a madhouse but in Amiens is probably workable, and, which works much like leboncoin. Skip craigslist! Craisglist is full of over-priced vacation rentals and Western Union scams. If you are on social networks with local presence (e.g. couchsurfing or facebook groups) check their local forums.
posted by whatzit at 4:07 AM on August 16, 2013

Best answer: Another big real estate (rentals included) site in France is

In order to ensure your healthcare costs will be as low as possible, you should ask about which médecin généraliste is recommended (both medically and as their availability goes; in France you can generally find good ones who are able to take you on the same day or the next), and then declare that doctor as your médecin traitant. If you don't do this, you'll pay a supplement, especially if you need specialist treatment. Whereas if you declare a médecin traitant, even if they're not the one you see, with your mutuelle you'll be covered for 95-100% of medical costs (except perhaps dental, but that's less important for a short stay).

Seconding bring photos of your home and family. Include shots of your schools if you can. French schools don't have mascots or school sports, but they see "school spirit" in American TV shows and are fascinated by it.

Also seconding that primary and secondary schooling in France is more rote than in the States; even speaking to adults I'll get complex questions about grammar, and yet they can't really use it, which is unfortunate. If the students don't have an immediate use for conversational English, it's hard to convince them how helpful just speaking it can be. (It took months for colleagues working with English-speaking airlines to recognize that their conversation hours with me were really helping out; until then they had grumbled a bit that I wasn't explaining the direct translations of subjunctive clauses and some such. Then it started clicking for them, that they were able to think on their feet in English without worrying about grammar! Yay!)

You won't need to worry about quality of life. It's pretty good here.
posted by fraula at 4:10 AM on August 16, 2013

As to quality of life -- I offer general advice for extended foreign travel/stays: Consider your clothes packing needs well and bring warm weather items as well as cold weather items. It may be tricky to negotiate the purchase of things like undergarments, shoes, jeans, and bathing suits if you are a non-French sized person. Shopping is fun but it is more enjoyable when shopping is shopping for the sake of pleasure and not necessity.

Similarly, I would travel with a small quantity of any medication you might need but may be difficult to find -- like allergy medicine or sudafed. I leave a little bit of advil cold & sinus in my travel bag as it is my cure for cold/flu. French pharmacies are great but their drugs are different and it is much more reasonable to find a remedy when you've already gotten some symptom relief.
posted by countrymod at 7:11 AM on August 16, 2013

Best answer: I was both a Rotary exchange student in a high school in France and took lessons from the English assistant, and later was a teaching assistant myself.

As a student, I don't remember too much about what we did. It seemed random, not connected to what we were studying in regular English class, and a bit of a waste of time. Lessons I remember as being fun and/or useful: The assistant brought some horoscopes from magazines. We read them, and decided whether they described us or not.

As a teacher, I had some lessons that were flops and some that went incredibly well. My teachers recognized that I was capable of handling a classroom on my own and let me do whatever I wanted. Some teachers will stay in the room with you, or even give you a lesson plan to follow.

The very best lesson I did was about money. I just happened, miraculously, to have some US bills in the common lower denominations and 2 sets of change that was equivalent to 2 dollars each, in various coins. This was a stroke of luck.

First I came up with a bunch of idiomatic phrases about money (bang for your buck; another day, another dollar; penny for your thoughts) and we talked about what they meant and tried to find equivalents in French. Then I passed around the bills, telling the students to smell them, crinkle them, look at the symbols. Of course we had to talk about the "In God We Trust" bit for a while.

Then I divided the class into two teams and gave them each a set of the coins. I stood at the front of the room and hollered "Thirty-four cents!" "A buck seventy-five!" The first team to bring me the appropriate change won a point. I had those blasé French teenagers tripping over themselves to play.

Another lesson was about baseball. I came up with some grammatical questions we had talked about over the past few months. Simple questions were singles, harder doubles, even harder triples and the most difficult were worth home runs. The "pitcher" asked the question to the "batter." The batter had one chance to answer. If correct, the batter would advance the number of bases. If incorrect, the batter would receive one strike and the opposing team "outfield" had the chance to answer for an out. Three strikes, you're out, just like in the game. I even made up construction paper baseballs, bat and pitcher's glove.

Another lesson took some preparation. I traced a National Geographic map of the United States onto heavy construction paper and cut out the states. Then I came in to the classroom, asked the kids "Do you like puzzles? Here you go." without any more explanation. It was up to them to figure out what the puzzles was, and to start putting it together. In this way they got to manipulate the states, figure out that the big square ones went on the left and the little ones on the right, and learn a bit more about US geography. It generally took the whole hour.

When my parents visited I had them bring Dear Abby columns from the newspaper. Actual clippings made it more authentic. The kids divided up into pairs, read a column, and then told the rest of the class what the problem was, the answer, and the advice they would have given.

Lessons that were middling: playing some music and discussing the lyrics. Eh. The regular English teachers lapped this up, though.

A lesson that could have gone better with more preparation was to create a minefield of objects on the floor, blindfold one kid, and have the other kids talk the blindfolded one through the minefield. What I could have done better on this was to discuss the vocabulary they might need beforehand (big step, little step, a little to the right, etc).

A tip that I picked up from my own language teachers was the idea of a warm-up. We'd spend the first third of class simply talking about the day, in English, and every kid had to say something. Breaks the ice.

My real goal in each lesson was to get the kids up and out of their regular seats. French high school students will naturally be very passive and extremely shy about speaking English. I figured that if I could get them physically out of the usual environment, then I could try to get them mentally out of their comfortable environment. I stood on tables, Dead Poets Society-style, whispered, shouted, did everything to remind them that this was not a regular English class, this was different. I'd like to say it worked.
posted by Liesl at 7:41 AM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah: DO NOT speak to them in French or tell them you know anything but the very basics. They will never speak to you in English again.
posted by Liesl at 7:47 AM on August 16, 2013

Response by poster: Wow guys, a lot of great answers here! Thanks especially for the teaching materials and lesson plan tips, you've given me a lot to work with.
posted by Devika at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2013

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