September 2, 2010

First day of school

Well, this was it. The first day of my second senior year. And god am I tired.

This morning school started at 10:10-- late compared to what I'm used to. Tomorrow it starts at 9:20, which is a little earlier, but that's ok. It's much better than waking up at 5 and having to be at school by 6:30.

Anyway, today my host mom Aude drove me and my host brothers to school, which was great-- I didn't have worry about taking the bus, which i'm still not quite used to.

As we got there, Aude walked me in, and introduced me to one of the directors of the school. After talking to me for a few minutes, the director pulled a girl aside and had her show me where to go. I followed her up four flights of stairs, and then into a room full of people-- probably 150 or so-- in my year, sixième. They were hugging each other, giving kisses on the cheeks (called bisous-it's a Belgian/European custom), standing in groups and speaking rapid French.

I was completely overwhelmed-- I didn't know where to start.

I followed the group of people into a hallway, where a teacher directed groups of students to each classroom. I ended up in classroom E, where I was introduced to my class--20 or so people.

I sat in the only chair that was open, and pulled out my pen. People looked around at me, and I did my best to look at ease, even though I had no idea what to do.

The teacher passed out some papers-- rules and notifications for parents/guardians, etc...-- and then she passed out planners. Everyone started writing in them, so I followed along. The teacher listed important dates, and I did my best to understand her. But I probably got ten percent of it, so I looked at my neighbor's planner. That helped a little bit.

Then it was break time. For ten minutes, people went downstairs and outside, talking, reconnecting after the summer, giving each other hugs and kisses. People started coming up to me.
"You're the American?" they said, in English.
"Oui," I said. "Ca va?" I was trying.
"Ahh, tu parles un peu francais?"
"Oui, un petit peu."

For the first few sentences, I could actually understand them. Then, they started to speak faster, and I got lost.
"Je ne comprend pas... Désole," I had to say. I don't understand. Sorry.

Ugh. Total immersion. It was tough.

After another 50 minutes of partial comprehension of a science teacher, there was an hour-long break for lunch. Some guys, who had started calling me Jack Smith (because it sounded like an American name), invited me to come along to the grocery store to get lunch. So I did, and did my best to understand them as we walked a quarter mile or so to the store. It was awkward-- they were nice, but my options for conversation were pretty limited by my language ability. I said "ca va" a lot. I've learned that it's a pretty good all-around saying. It can either be used as "it's OK," or "How's it going?"

After lunch, the entire sixième class went into a room like a lecture hall, and the head teacher (in charge of the entire class) gave a presentation about the project every sixieme student is required to complete. Or at least, I think that's what she was talking about. But I'm not completely sure.

And then after that, it was the end of school. I tracked down my host brothers, and we found my host mom, who took us back home.

I was fried. Completely fried. French all around me, a school completely unlike anything I'd ever experienced-- plus I had to try to make myself understood. It wore me out completely.

But here I am. I made it. I've got a whole school year to figure things out, so I'm going to try not to rush it. And also, after tomorrow, it's the weekend!! That helps too.

Now, one more email, dinner, and bed.


  1. great posts austin. I see one of your recent entries was posted on the afs blog site:

    keep up the good work. glad to hear your journey has started off so well!

  2. WOW! What a vivid picture you have painted of "total immersion". The good news, of course, is that each day will get easier. It's encouraging that some students are reaching out to you. Can you translate a few of your favorite jokes into French? They'll love you for it! Hang in there....Love, Mom

  3. Austin - I'm such a virtual slacker - I just discovered Jill's link to your blog and I've just finished reading all your entries. As always, you astonish me. You're a good writer and you tell your story so well that I was completely involved. I can't wait to read the next installment.

    I studied french in college and I was always better at reading it than speaking or comprehending it spoken. I can feel your pain. I dreaded the 'no english allowed' days in class. It didn't even help me when I was assigned to be the french professor's student aide. God love us, he suffered as much as I did. I think total immersion sounds horrible/terrific. A painfully successful learning tool. One day you'll stop in the middle of a conversation and realize you're using the language effortlessly. You'll start dreaming in french. Until then, bon chance.

    I'm very proud of you.
    PS If they have India pale ale (IPA) in Belgium, you'll probably like it better than pilsner, too. I just discovered a new beer called 'torpedo' IPA. wow. You would hate it, but i think it's swell

    ca va

  4. Thanks again, Austin, for your great interpretation of your daily grind process!
    Everyone, students and myself included, is really enjoying following your adventure.
    Bonne chance avec la vie quotidienne!
    Mme. Copeland

  5. Let me know how an English class goes haha, everyone knew you were going to have a great time, glad to see your fulfilling our expectations

  6. Hi Austin! Very cool blog, I hope you feel well at school, we are all very happy to meet you :) We are very excited to be this year with you, and hope we'll have some fun together!
    See you tomorrow,

  7. Thanks guys-- Glad you're enjoying it. Keep checking!