Someone Call Netflix! (Movies Lesson Plan)

I’m sharing something a bit different today. I don’t usually talk too much about work here, other than a couple of blogs about what my job as a lectrice actually is and what I learnt from last semester. However, I’m just finishing what has been my favourite week of teaching since I arrived here and it has me so excited that I knew I wanted to share about it.

This week I decided I wanted to talk about movies with my classes. I really enjoy having control over my curriculum and the fact that I get to choose topics that I find interesting to talk about in class. It also means I can choose topics that my students are interested in as well. A few weeks ago, I gave out a feedback form to all my classes so I could get an insight into their thoughts about last semester. One of the questions I asked was about what kind of things they would enjoy talking about this semester and one of the most common responses was movies!

At this point, I have a pretty standard format that can serve as my go to or the basis for a lesson on almost any topic. It usually involves some warm up discussion questions, a vocab activity, a comprehension video and some more discussion questions. I also have a set of more interesting formats like speed dating or mini debates and some games and workshops that I can switch in and out to mix things up. However, when it came to this topic I had a stroke of inspiration. At the end of last week I told all my students that they had to pick an English language film that they know quite well to prepare for homework. They would have to be comfortable explaining the plot, the characters, the setting and the genre in English to someone that hasn’t seen their film. In class I split the class into groups and assigned one person each of these components and tasked them with mixing them together to create an entirely new film! So one person’s plot, someone else’s characters and so on.

I was a bit worried about how it would go because it is so different from what I usually do. I suspected it would either go amazingly well or fail dismally but from the very first class that I did it with, it was a hit! I gave the groups 20-30 minutes to work on their movie storylines and then had them present to the rest of the class. Even though I had assigned them all a certain component to use from their film, I didn’t want them to stick to it strictly, rather let their creative juices flow! And the results were amazing. I’m going to share some of my favourites that were created through the week.

WARNING – What is to come may contain some spoilers for the films that were involved so proceed with caution! Some of the films also deal with heavy themes such as mental health and mentions of eating disorders.

First up is Zombie Melody, a creation that combines the characters from All The Bright Things, about teenagers that are struggling with the death of a sibling and depression respectively, the plot of World War Z, where a family tries to escape a zombie apocalypse, and the setting and genre of La La Land, a musical set in Hollywood. This was the product of my first lesson of the week with a group of L3 girls. I loved how diverse the films they had chosen were and they did fantastically at melding them all together. In their film Violet, who is dealing with the loss of her sister, has managed to avoid becoming infected by whatever is turning people into zombies all across Hollywood. However Finch, a boy from Violet’s high school, has not been so lucky. Music was very important to Finch and when he accidentally overhears Violet singing it brings him out of his zombie state. There is no cure but it seems the zombies can be managed through music. I thought the students had touched on an interesting allegory for mental health in the zombies and also in the way that music was used as a treatment. I was also partial to the idea of a large scale ensemble number that involved tap dancing zombies.

The masterplan for Zombie Melody

The next movie is one of my favourites because it really feels like its own original idea, like it has drawn influence from the original movies that were chosen rather than being a literal mish mash of them all. Ghost stars the characters of The Spirit of Christmas, a retelling of the classic A Christmas Carol, the plot of Freedom Writers, a story that unites students across the boundaries of race through their education, and the setting and genre of John Wick, an action-thriller about a hitman who is forced out of retirement. The world is split into two segregated sides, the humans and the ghosts who are ostracised from general society. Even though it is against the law, some humans have taken it upon themselves to ‘deal with’ ghosts, making them disappear. Our protagonist Ebenezar is a miserable man who finds no joy in his life. He is enticed by the ghosts, the outsiders of society, and one day befriends three ghosts he sees making magic. He is eventually killed by a group of humans for what they see as his betrayal of humanity but comes back as a ghost to fight against them to desegregate society. While the assigned elements of the original films are easy enough to find, they have been woven together in such an inventive way that Ghost feels entirely its own story.

Edward Vengeance is a story that combines the characters of Edward Scissorhands, a humanoid with scissors for hands who is taken in by a kind family, the plot of Faster, about a man seeking revenge on the people who put him in prison, and the setting and genre of 1917, a war film set in northern France in, you guessed it, 1917. Around the outbreak of WWI, Edward Scissorhands is roped into a plan to rob a bank by Kim, the woman he is in love with, and her boyfriend Jim. In the process Kim is killed and Edward is arrested after Jim rats them out to the police. Edward is sent to prison for ten years for a crime that was barely his. On his release he sets out to kill Jim and the police that arrested him as vengeance for Kim’s death. This was the brainchild of a group of L2s and I was surprised by how well they moulded the characters and relationships from Edward Scissorhands to fit with the plot of a wildly different film. I can also really imagine it with the intensity of a film like 1917.

An honourable mention for Clue-less – a retelling of Clueless if the high school girls were hitmen

Another fabrication that holds its own is Thin Dreams. It uses the characters and setting of La La Land, about a struggling actress and jazz pianist who fall in love, and the plot and genre of To The Bone, a film about a girl being treated for anorexia. Mia is an aspiring actress in Hollywood suffering from anorexia who is struggling to get any jobs because she is so extremely thin. She is admitted to an in-patient treatment facility and it is here that she meets Sebastian, a ballet dancer who also suffers from anorexia. They fall in love but things aren’t easy for them. After Mia leaves rehab, alone but in recovery, she writes a one woman show about her life and her struggles. While it isn’t very successful, it does catch the eye of a producer who wants to cast her in an upcoming production. The two L3 girls who came up with this went as far as to plan some of the specific songs that would be sung, including one between Mia and her sister before she goes to rehab, trying to make her see that she needs help, one about how toxic Hollywood is and a back and forth between Mia and Sebastian in rehab called ‘Dreams Are For Losers’.

Last up is Crime and Prejudice, a flawless fusion of the characters from Forrest Gump, the story of a kind but slow-witted man as he influences a number of historic events across the latter half of the 20th century, the plot of Gone Girl, a psychological thriller about a man framed for the disappearance of his wife, and the setting and genre of Pride and Prejudice, a romantic drama set in early 1800s England. Lady Jenny and Sir Forrest are married but Sir Forrest’s frequent absence due to him being a cricket champion, a war hero and owning a fishing business among other ventures is putting a strain on their marriage. As it is the 1800s, Lady Jenny cannot divorce her husband so she plans to stage her death on their 5th anniversary. When she disappears, Sir Forrest is distraught and starts running all across England looking for her. Unbeknownst to Sir Forrest, Lady Jenny framed him for her disappearance so her father has the army looking for him. Lady Jenny takes refuge with Lord Bullington I, an old friend who is Sir Forrest’s rival. Lord Bullington has always had feelings for Lady Jenny and wants her to be with him. After she refuses, Lord Bullington turns sinister and will not let Lady Jenny leave. Eventually she is able to free herself by killing him with his own sword. Sir Forrest finds her there, covered in blood. Jenny has a long monologue where she tells Forrest about the pressure he was putting on their marriage which he accepts before kissing her in the rain. He loves her so much that he forgives her for framing him for her disappearance. Lady Jenny is able to convince the army that Sir Forrest wasn’t actually at fault and the blame lies solely with Lord Bullington who conveniently cannot dispute this. They start a family and live happily ever after.

And there we have my top picks! Which one would you most like to watch? We are in talks with Netflix about optioning a number of these titles so keep an eye out for some new releases soon. I was pleasantly surprised by just how invested some of my students got and definitely want to include more creative tasks in future lessons. I also now have a very long list of new films to watch! I hope you enjoyed this insight into what my work involves and if you have, maybe I’ll start sharing a little more about my life as a lectrice.

A Refreshing Trip to Rouen

I’m a couple of weeks into the new semester now and it’s been a busy start! I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this blog for a while and am only just getting round to it now. After unexpectedly spending most of my Christmas holidays in Mulhouse, I felt like I really needed a few days away. I took the chance to go and see my friend Anna in Rouen who is also working as a lectrice. Rouen sits on the River Seine to the west of Paris, about an hour away by train, in the region of Normandy. Rouen was an important city during the Middle Ages and was the city where Joan of Arc was tried and burned alive in the 15th century. I didn’t know any of this, or much else about this city, before I arrived but I saw and learnt a lot while there. 

I had an early start on Monday 10th because my train was at 7.40am. Or it was supposed to be… Who doesn’t want to start their trip with an hour and a half delay in the station? When it eventually left, my train got diverted through Dijon and I finally arrived in Paris for my transfer. After navigating the metro to change from Gare de Lyon to Paris Saint Lazare I literally raced through the station and jumped onto a train to Rouen with a minute to spare, only an hour after my original connection was supposed to be. Delay aside, it was a pretty easy journey. 

Anna met me at the station and we walked over to her little studio apartment which was only five minutes away. After a quick lunch we headed out to wander around the city a little. Normandy is well known for being very misty and grey and lived up to that but its personality still managed to shine through even if the sun couldn’t. It has a lot of buildings that look similar to those in Alsace, half timbered and brightly coloured, but it also has a lot of Gothic architecture. It’s known as the city of cathedrals and churches because there are so many. You turn every corner and come across another one. The Notre-Dame Cathedral (not the one you’re thinking of) is one of Rouen’s main attractions and actually reminded me a lot of the cathedral in Strasbourg at first. It definitely has a much more Gothic style though. Claude Monet has a famous series of paintings of the cathedral at different times of day, some of which you can see at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It has three towers, all built in different styles, one of which is called Le Tour de Beurre (The Butter Tower). This is because people who donated to its construction at the end of the 15th century were given special permission to consume butter and dairy during Lent. (Side note – Normandy is apparently well known for its butter as well as cider.)

La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen

We walked around more and I started to get the feel of the place. I saw the church Saint Maclou as well as the Gros Horloge, a 14th century astronomical clock tucked away down a cobblestoned shopping street. To me, one of the most endearing aspects of Rouen were all these narrow, cobbled streets that are filled with shops, cafes, restaurants, boutiques and plenty of places to get lost in. I would be quite happy wandering around them for hours. The last spot of note that I saw on this whistlestop tour of the city centre was the Saint Joan of Arc Church. In comparison with Rouen’s multitude of Gothic churches and cathedrals, this church is actually surprisingly modern. It was built in the 80s in the Place de Vieux-Marché, the very spot where it is said that Joan of Arc was burned alive. The curve of the roof is even supposed to evoke the flames of the pyre. 

My second day in Rouen was actually Anna’s birthday and we were treated to a rare day of blue skies and sunshine. I was happy to have the chance to see it in the sunshine after it had lived up to its misty reputation the day before. We started our day with brunch at this very cute cafe and then went on a stroll along the river.

A discovery on the banks of the Seine

The plan for the evening was to celebrate Anna’s birthday with a few of her friends and have raclette for dinner! You might know raclette as the dish where half of a wheel of cheese is heated until it starts to melt, at which point the cheese is scraped off and onto the common sides of potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and an assortment of dried meat. However, there are also raclette grills that are much easier to use at home. They consist of a round grill surface with a space underneath to put little trays with individual slices of raclette cheese. This is the set up we had, with some potatoes, saucisse, grilled courgette and a wee side salad as accompaniments.

The latter half of the evening was consumed by the French version of Cards Against Humanity (even more extreme than the English version which if you’ve ever played, you know is saying something!) and then a trip to an Irish pub called Kallaghan’s. I was surprised to find Tennents available! It wasn’t the draft beer but a bottled, whisky oak aged version which I wasn’t a big fan of but it was still a novelty to see it.

On my last full day, Anna had to invigilate an exam in the morning so I met her at the university after she had finished. It was interesting comparing my role as a lectrice with what Anna does. Technically we have the same job but whereas I only teach Oral English classes, Anna teaches more of a variety of classes, including comprehension and translation. There’s also at least 5 lecteurs and lectrices in her department compared to just me at UHA! The University of Rouen is actually just outside of the city, at the top of a hill. If it hadn’t been misty again we would have had some great views of the city as we walked back into town.

Something I enjoyed a lot about Rouen was its bookshops (which will suprise no one who knows me). Over the course of my few days in Rouen I picked up several new books. There were a lot more bookshops than in Mulhouse and they all had significantly bigger English language sections as well as there being a specific English language bookshop. I have been working through the books that I managed to fit in my suitcase when I first moved over here plus a few that I’ve picked up in the interim but I was happy to be able to replenish my stock. Call them Christmas presents to myself!

Overall, it was a lovely few days. It only really sank in as I was heading back to Mulhouse (thankfully without a delay in sight) but I think I really needed those few days away. The end of the year had a lot of ups and downs and while I really enjoyed my Christmas spent in Mulhouse, not going home meant that I hadn’t left Mulhouse for more than a day trip since I went to Spain and Andorra at the end of October. I hadn’t had as much of a reset as the Christmas holidays and the start of the new year usually bring. Even just the few days away to the other side of France did a lot to clear my head and refresh my energy and I came back ready to start the new semester with more enthusiasm!

Thanks for having me Anna!

French People All Wear Berets (and other lies) – Part 2

Je suis revenue pour partie deux! I’m back with part two of breaking down French stereotypes. I got so many submissions when I asked my friends and family last time that I knew I had to do a second round. Do you agree or disagree with these? And if you have any more stereotypes in mind, let me know and maybe we’ll see a part three!

French people are always rude.

I’m starting with a stereotype that is particularly pervasive. There is this idea that French people, and in particular Parisians, can be rude or snobby or are always complaining. I haven’t found this to be the case at all. In general the French aren’t overly expressive or effervescent as it can come across to them as being insincere. The North and the South are known to be a little more friendly and from my experience at least, I can say the same about people in Alsace. I’ll also add that basic manners are very important. If you approach a waiter or cashier with a hello or a good afternoon instead of diving straight in you’ll be treated with more kindness. I also really like that everyone says hello when you pass by on the street or when you come into a shop or a cafe, regardless of whether you know them or not.

The favoured eau de parfum is… smelly.

I can’t say that I’ve heard of this stereotype before but it came up in my preparation. In reality, about 60% of French people shower every day apparently. This might sound low to you, or maybe not, but it’s actually the English that are the dirtiest Europeans with only 20% showering on a daily basis! I honestly don’t know where this stereotype has come from (maybe it’s related to their love of smelly cheese?) but I’m here to deny it.

Tensions across the channel are high.

Next up is that the French are less than fond of the British. On an individual scale there are no hard feelings but on a macro scale, the French are almost as anti-Brexit as (at least) 48% of the UK. If I had a vote for each of the jibes I’ve heard about Brexit since I got here then we would still be in the EU. Saying that, the French seem to be very aware of the fact that Scotland did not vote for Brexit. I’ve been told a number of times that they’re just waiting for us to make a break for it and rejoin them. On verra…

Hey hey! Ho ho! Strikes are all the French people know!

France has a long history of strikes and protests and is seen by many as the world champion when it comes to industrial action. It’s part of the reason that France has such good workers protection and has been the seat of cultural upheaval over the years. There have been regular protests since I’ve been here. Every Saturday there is strike action that disrupts the transport network in Mulhouse and spreads through centre ville. As far as I know they are against the passe sanitaire, the vaccine passport that has been in effect since the summer. While I can’t say that I totally agree with their cause, I admire how respected the right to protest is and how ingrained it is in the French culture. I also happened across a climate justice march in Strasbourg in October and there have been large scale protests against violence against women and recent social policy reforms across France since I arrived.

The climate justice march in Strasbourg

Oh la la and sacre bleu are things that you will actually hear said.

One submission for stereotypical things that French people say was actually hon hon hon. I have nothing to say about that one but there are some actual phrases that they are well known for saying. Oh la la is one that I have actually heard fairly regularly but I can’t say that sacre bleu is as common as you might think. However, when it comes to noises of agreement, disagreement, pleasure, displeasure, disgust and more the French have it down to a science. A nonchalant shrug and a ‘bah oui’ tossed over your shoulder goes a long way.

Besides wine and cheese, which I have already covered in Part One, frogs legs and snails are the most stereotypical of all French cuisine. I haven’t seen frogs legs a single time since I moved here and still have never tried them and I’ve only seen snails once since I got here, at the Christmas markets. I will say that I have seen foie gras a lot around here. I had never tried it before until I was out for a meal with some colleagues after helping with a James Joyce conference and it was served as part of the starter. Foie gras is a very controversial dish as it is made from the liver of ducks and geese that have been force fed (in France they legally have to be force fed to count as foie gras). I did like it but it’s not something that I would reach for on my own.

The starter that featured foie gras along with two other types of duck

French people are lazy.

I wouldn’t say the French are lazy at all but their attitude towards work is definitely very different. A lot of it seems to come from the fact that they don’t live to work, preferring instead to prioritise their life outside of work as much as possible. Work is not their be all and end all. To give an example, I didn’t receive a single email over the Christmas holidays (I was guilty of sending one, but just one!). They take work life balance very seriously, whether that’s holidays or lunch breaks. However, saying all that, one of the first things I was warned about when it comes to French students is that they’re very good at doing just enough work to get them a passing grade. Work smarter not harder I guess?

You won’t catch them without a cigarette.

Picture this – a stick thin woman dressed all in black floating through the streets of Paris, cigarette in hand. It’s another go to image of the French I think, second only to the man in the striped t-shirt with a baguette under his arm. It is true – France has one of the highest rates of smoking in the EU at 25%. What surprises me the most is the number of young people that smoke. It’s very common to see groups of young people outside schools or walking through town with a cigarette in hand.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like… Covid?

Joyeux Noël à tout le monde! Merry Christmas everyone. I hope that whatever your situation was over Christmas, you were able to enjoy yourself and make the best out of another year of less than ideal circumstances. I have had a tumultuous few weeks to say the least and the run up to Christmas was less than festive. As you might have guessed from the title, I got covid a few weeks ago. What a great Christmas present for me! I’m going to take you through my experience and how it led to another non-traditional Christmas for me.

A Christmas photo 5000 miles apart while I was in Honduras!

I started to feel sniffly on Tuesday 14th December but was only experiencing some sneezing through the morning while I was at work. I was only teaching in the morning so I was at home in the afternoon as I started to feel a little worse. I started coughing a little and had some minor body aches as well. As I didn’t really have the traditional covid symptoms, I didn’t think it was anything to worry about. That was until I heard from one of my water polo teammates who I had seen on Friday that he had tested positive. I was due to be going home the following Monday so I thought I’d better get a test just to be sure that I didn’t have it too (oh the irony!).

I headed down to a nearby clinic where you are able to get PCR tests for free with results in 24-48 hours. When I got home, I took myself off into my room and stayed there for the rest of the evening, wearing a mask and gelling my hands copiously when I needed to leave my room to go to the bathroom for example. Overnight I started to feel much worse. My body aches were unbearable, mostly in my lower back, hips and the tops of my legs and I’m pretty sure I had a fever as I ran between hot and cold all night. I stayed in my room until my test results came through in the early afternoon – at this point it wasn’t surprising that it was positive.

Positive vibes only

Even though the result wasn’t surprising, I was absolutely gutted. I had been really looking forward to going home and spending some time with my family and friends and this was a big old spanner in the works. In France, the current regulations call for a 10 day isolation from the start of your symptoms which would take me until Christmas Eve. I immediately jumped into crisis aversion mode, with help from my dad, and changed my flight to the 24th. I also updated my flatmates of the result so that they were able to go and get tested. Thankfully they all tested negative so they didn’t have to isolate, I just needed to keep my distance from them.

And thus began ten days of not very much at all. The days went so slowly but looking back the monotony makes it a blur so that I can’t believe it was really that long. Thankfully after that first night where I had a fever and was in a lot of pain, I didn’t have too tough a time. The aches continued for a few days on a lesser scale, I was blocked up for the majority of my isolation and the fatigue was real but nothing worse. I can only say thank god I was vaccinated because it could have been so much worse. I was hoping to get my booster soon but that will have to be held off for a few months now so if you haven’t already, please go and get boosted for me while I can’t!

Thankfully the physical effects of getting covid weren’t that bad for me but there were also the mental and emotional effects. These hit me a little harder for sure. First of all, there was the crushing disappointment. Homesickness is something that only really ever affects me when I’m ill and this was so much worse than usual because I was supposed to be going home and that was now delayed. I also felt really guilty for exposing my flatmates and some of my colleagues and students, even though I had done everything I was supposed to. I know that’s not rational and I was told that many times by other people but it took a while for it to stick. What was also a really disorientating feeling was that I was a walking danger. Anytime I needed to leave my room, I would text my flatmates to let them know and wear a mask but I still didn’t like the feeling that just by breathing I was putting them at risk. Thankfully everyone else made it through my isolation without picking anything up. 

The first walk of freedom

As I mentioned above, one of the first things I did when I got my positive result was to change my flight from the 20th to the 24th which would be my first day out of isolation. However, things changed again. After speaking to the French version of track and trace I found out that any test I take for the next two or three months will not necessarily be accurate. That made things much more complicated considering that I already needed to take a test before leaving France and upon my arrival in the UK. The following day I woke up to news from the French government that a test would now be required before leaving the UK for France and after arriving. With four tests now needed, it was more than likely that at least one of them would come back as a false positive and either stop me from getting home or more worryingly, stop me from getting back to France. Travellers from the UK to France also needed an essential reason to be travelling. While I should have been fine seeing as I live and work in France and have the necessary proof to show that, as well as an EU passport, I was worried about any more changes coming into force. With the way Omicron has cases surging, both in France and in the UK it seemed likely that more restrictions would come. 

With all that being taken into consideration, plus the fact that at least for the moment all teaching next semester will still be in person, it felt like too much of a risk, if it was even possible at all, for me to try and fly home. It was a difficult decision to have to make but in the end it was also pretty easy. There were too many things up in the air and it was the most sensible and safest course of action.

This years Christmas photo

So there I was, having Noël instead of Christmas this year. After I got over the initial disappointment, I wasn’t too fazed by the thought of being away from home for Christmas. I’ve done it a couple of times now while living abroad, both where Christmas was celebrated and where it wasn’t. As my sister pointed out, I will now have been away for three out of the last six Christmases. I think I would have found this year much harder than previous years away, not just because I was really looking forward to going home but because I was actually expecting to. It helped that I wasn’t going to be completely alone. As I mentioned in a previous blog, my flatmate from Montreal, Andy, was supposed to be coming to Scotland for Christmas but me catching covid ruined his plans as well. After ten days confined to my room, I was also ready to appreciate the little things again, like getting outside or watching Netflix in the living room rather than my bedroom.

So what did I actually get up to? I started with a big Christmas Eve walk with Andy on my first day of freedom followed by an equally big Christmas shop. The day of, I started with the Morrison’s traditional chocolate breakfast, just with fresh croissants from the bakery on the corner of my street. We had a festive viewing of Shrek (I think we can all agree it’s at the very least a Christmas-adjacent film) and then I had some video calls with my family. Amy and Kirsty (mostly Kirsty) even convinced me to film a TikTok with them over Facetime! We spent the afternoon cooking a mushroom wellington that we ate with sides of potatoes, brussel sprouts and green beans, stuffing and gravy. Not a bad spread in my opinion! Since then I’ve been relaxing, done a bit of shopping, watched a lot of TV, gone for some nice walks and generally lost track of what day it is. Exactly how the week between Christmas and New Year should be spent!

One Semester Older, One Semester Wiser

With another semester of teaching under my belt, I think it’s safe to say that the cobwebs have been well and truly shaken off. I haven’t even taught swimming in more than 18 months but it has been at least four years since I actually taught English. There are some differences this time around but there’s a lot that I’ve been able to transfer over from my past experience. Saying that, there’s still been a lot to learn, or at least a lot that I’ve been reminded of, during these twelve weeks of classes.

Variety is the spice of life.

As tempting as it is to plan a lesson that can be used with all three year groups, it’s not worth it. I teach all three years of the English licence (or undergraduate degree) and I try to have a common theme or topic through all of them. However I’ve learnt that the time I save by having the same lesson plan for each year group, just with modifications for level, isn’t worth the boredom I feel after a day or week repeating essentially the same content with everyone. There’s only so many times I can repeat something and stay sane and 14 times is way past that. Even with different year groups, the way my timetable worked out this semester meant I often had the several classes of the same year group in a row.

An example of a lesson where I managed to avoid this was the week I talked about the Olympic Games. That was my overall theme for the week but I had different sub-topics with each year group. With my L1s, we talked about the new sports that were added to the Olympics this year (surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate if anyone was wondering). With L2 we discussed the idea of having E-sports at the Olympics. This was actually super interesting as a lot of my students are into gaming so there were some strong opinions here! I gave L3 a little bit more of a challenge with the topic of the inequalities associated with and caused by the Olympics. The strategy is a little more work for me but has a much bigger payoff, for myself and for my students.

Fake it till you make it can be applied to the classroom.

This is one of my general life philosophies that can be applied to many situations. Lacking self-confidence? Fake it till you make it. Imposter syndrome? Fake it till you make it. Not in the mood to teach? Fake it till you make it. This semester has been a little up and down for me on a personal level which has meant that I don’t always wake up with the best mindset to stand in front of a class. There have been days when I have been so tired that I don’t have the energy to motivate the class, I’ve been on the verge of tears on my way in to work or woke up on the wrong side of the bed but when I step in front of the class I can shrug it all off and pretend everything is ok. And sometimes that has the knock on effect of actually improving my mood.

Topics I am interested in are easier to teach.

This one might seem obvious but it’s good to remember. With all the repitition I mentioned above, it’s so much easier when it’s a topic that I’m actually interested in or passionate about. Some of my favourite topics so far this semester have included a discussion on gender roles and gender norms as well as talking about Scottish history to coincide with St Andrews Day. This goes for the students as well. I asked them all at the start of the semester for some topics that they would be interested in because at the end of the day they are more likely to participate in a lesson that actually interests them.

Everyone has good days and bad days.

Everyone is allowed an off day or an off week – teachers and students alike. Sometimes a student will be having a bad day and not want to talk or just won’t be in the mood and that’s ok. You don’t always know what’s going on outside the classroom. I have gotten to know my students though so I can usually tell when it’s a one off or when it’s becoming a pattern. There’s also sometime a topic or a lesson format that doesn’t suit someone or just doesn’t work as well in general. It’s been a learning process for me over the course of the semester to get used to teaching at this level and some things have been a hit and some things have been a miss. I’m sure there will be more of that as I go on but I’m grateful for what I’ve learned so far.

You can’t make a lesson perfect – don’t try.

There are too many variables at play for everything to go perfectly ever single time. In the same vein, you can’t spend all week trying to recreate that one time the lesson went exactly as you wanted. You have to be able to go with the flow and give the students a bit of space to guide the discussions the way they want to. There are certains formats where the discussion comes a lot more from the students and I let them steer me through the topic at hand. This means that no two classes are the same and these are the ones that I enjoy the most.

Speak, speak, speak is priority number one.

I get to decide what I teach and how, including assessments. I knew straight off the bat that I wanted to encourage my students to speak as much as possible so this semester, and in the future, participation makes up 50% of their overall grade. (I also didn’t want them to be able to pass my class if they didn’t turn up – you have to attend the class in order to participate). A couple of weeks in I had a small issue with some classes slipping in to French a bit too much. I perfectly understand French conversation as they come in or go out, the odd exchange here or there and particularily when asking how to say a word in English but beyond that everything should be in English. What’s the point in an oral English class otherwise? I communicated with my classes that it didn’t matter how much they participated in class, if it wasn’t in English then it wouldn’t count towards their final grade. I even told them that I didn’t care if they weren’t talking about the assigned topic, as long as they were speaking in English. We got back on track after that.

Now it’s the holidays I’m going to take some well deserved rest until the end of the year. I don’t start teaching again until the 17th January so my plan is to spend some time at the start of the new year preparing some lessons in advance and getting ahead of things. I’ve learnt a lot this semester and I’m ready to take it into next semester and make my teaching better. I already have lots of ideas and I’m excited to get back into it!

A Lot Can Happen in Three Months

Do you remember the 21st night of September? (If you didn’t sing that in your head we can’t be friends.) Well, that’s the last time I posted an general update about my time here. There’s been lots of big things happening recently, my trips to Paris, Spain and Andorra as well as my three month anniversary in France, which have occupied my most recent blog posts. These were great to experience and fun to write about but there’s also been lots of exciting things happening in the day to day as well. I think this update is well overdue!

Now that I’ve been here for more than three months, I’m really getting to know Mulhouse. It’s a small city which means that there’s enough variety to keep things interesting but not so much that it feels overwhelming. This includes lots of nice cafes, interesting restaurants and exciting bars. I’ve made a bit of headway in visiting them but still have a list of places to keep working my way through. I have already found a couple of places that have become favourites of mine but I’m not going to go into much more detail about them for now. I want to write a blog introducing you to all the spots I like around Mulhouse – I’m saying it here so that it actually happens! With the recent news that I’m going to be here for two years in total, it’s nice to feel like I’m getting to know my new home more but also that there’s still lots more to discover. Something I haven’t done much of yet is exploring the little villages around Mulhouse which I would like to do in the future.

A while ago, back in October, I met up with a group of language assitants working around Mulhouse (some of whom are now my neighbours!). Most of them are working in schools rather than the university but it was nice to be able to share our teething problems and insider tips, much of which are the same. We went for dinner at a restaurant called Volfoni and then went ice skating! It was actually really fun because on a Saturday night the skate session is just for young people with the vibes of a nightclub – boîte de nuit on ice! It was mostly teenagers absolutely showing us up as we tottered round the rink but I didn’t fall so that’s something!

Just after I got back from my trip to Spain and Andorra, more specifically the day I got back, it was Halloween and my new neighbours were having a party. I went as a very loose interpretation of Fred from the Scooby Doo crew, part of what was supposed to be a group costume but in the end only Shaggy could make it. In France, the day after Halloween (which isn’t really a big celebration here) is Toussaint or All Saints’ Day. Similar to Día de los Muertos in Latin America, it’s a day for remembering and celebrating the dead. It’s also a public holiday which meant a day off work!

Fred, Mia Wallace and Shaggy

A fun discovery in November was a natural wine salon that happened at Motoco. Motoco is a very cool venue in itself. It’s an old textile factory that has been transformed into an events space and also lots of workspaces for artists. The name comes from the phrase MOre TO COme. My fellow lectrice friend Àine invited me to Le Salon Brutes, a natural wine fair that had more than 70 wine producers. Many were from Alsace, but there were also representatives from other regions in France as well as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Neither of us are that knowledgable about wine so we wondered around trying to decide which wines to sample. Sometimes we were drawn to a stand because it looked popular, other times because it wasn’t so we could actually get in, sometimes it was for the artwork on the wine bottles. Highlights for me were a white from Domaine Goepp, an Alsatian wine producer, called La p’tite Bulle and a red (shocking because I don’t really like red wine) from Les Vins Pirouettes called Litron Rouge. They also had some food vendors so we got a tarte flambée and I tried my first oysters! I can’t say I was a fan but Àine did assure me that they were just bad oysters. It was a different way to spend a Saturday afternoon and very fun!

The wine selection from Domaine Goepp

Continuing with the theme of new foods, I’ve continued my mission of trying more Alsatian foods. First up are Moricettes. Imagine a little sandwich made out of pretzel dough and that’s a Moricette. There is a chain of sandwich shops in Alsace calles Poulaillon and it was the owner of this chain that first created the Moricette, right here in Mulhouse. I even heard that it was named after his wife! You can put whatever sandwich filling you want in it and it’s very tasty. I’ve also been able to try a few more dishes with my water polo team who sometimes go out for dinner after training on a Friday night. We head to the rugby clubhouse which is just behind the pool and crash the club dinner where they are often serving up an Alsatian specialty. I’ve been able to try choucroute and spaetzle there. Choucroute is a dish that combines sauerkraut with various sausages, other meat and sometimes potatoes. No complaints from me! Spaetzle are a thick egg pasta, more similar to gnocchi in my opinion than actual pasta. I tried it served with gravy and an assortment of meat. Both are very hearty dishes which I’m learning is very typical of Alsatian food. Last up is a bit of Alsatian-British fusion from when I went round to my friend Àine’s house for lunch a while ago. She lives with her boyfriend and his sister who are half French and half British so the plan was to make toad in the hole but with a mix of Alsatian sausages. Despite a slight gravy mishap, overall it was a success!

I also took a day trip to Basel which was my first time in Switzerland! I’m not going to go into it to much here as I’m planning a blog on all the day trips you can take from Mulhouse (more promises!). I’ve already written about going to Strasbourg but there’s also Colmar, a smaller town halfway between here and Strasbourg. I’m just waiting until I’ve been to Freiburg, the closest city in Germany. For now I’ll just say that even though I’d heard that Basel was really expensive, I thought it wasn’t too bad. We found some cool, hidden spots and just generally wandered around the old town. It’s a nice city, especially around the river, but I think I prefer some of the other places nearby that I’ve been.

Basel, Switzerland

Obviously we are now fully in the festive period and there’s nowhere better to spend it than in Alsace. Christmas markets abound and I’ve managed to visit several of them. First up in Mulhouse, the Christmas markets are spread out through Place de la Réunion, around the back of the cathedral and down a couple of side streets. I’ve obviously never seen them before but to me at least it seems like they’ve done a good job of keeping it spaced out so that even on opening night which was the most crowded I’ve seen it, it was still not overwhleming. Some of the sellers include Alsatian alcohol, sweet treats like biscuits, nougat and candy, wooden toys, artisan tea, jewellery and lots more. I also ventured out to the markets in Colmar and Strasbourg which are both much bigger than Mulhouse. I liked the Colmar one a lot, there were a few different areas to walk around in, but the Strasbourg ones were somehow both overwhelming and underwhelming. Strasbourg is known as the Christmas capital so I knew it was a must see but I actually didn’t like it as much. To be fair, we did go on a pretty miserable day weather-wise but that was a conscious decision to try and avoid the crowds. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Strasbourg was absolutely packed which made it harder to enjoy the markets themselves.

Strasbourg – Capitale de Noël

And of course, you can’t talk about a Christmas market without talking about the food and drink. The star of the show on the drinks side is the vin chaud, also known as glühwein or mulled wine. I’ve seen all the familiar flavours of cinnamon and orange but also some specialities like cherry or raspberry. Something I’ve never seen before though is mulled white wine or mulled rosé, both of which were on offer as well as spiced apple or orange juice and hot beer. I tried the hot white wine which was actually very tasty but steered well away from the hot beer on advice from those who had been brave enough already.

Food-wise, the stalls were filled with all the things you would expect and plenty of Alsatian snacks as well. Obviously this includes tarte flambée (or flammekueche) alongside choucroute and spaetzle. There are also bretzels, essentially a pretzel, sometimes topped with cheese, lardons or other things. Also available are open baguette sandwiches, raclette and tartiflette. For those with a sweet tooth, there are crepes and waffles with an abundance of toppings and churros which are adorably called batonnets de Noël. Personally my food highlight was a crêpe in Colmar with Nutella and praline, the perfect combination of sweet and crunchy!

The markets at Place de la Réunion

And there we go, three months packed in to one blog post. I’ll try not to get too caught up and leave it another three months before the next one. My blog posts haven’t been that regular of late but I have lots of ideas and a bit more time now that it’s the holidays so expect a few more from me in the coming weeks!

3 Months in Mulhouse

It feels like a long time since I wrote the predecessor to this blog post, about having been in Mulhouse for one month, but at the same time the three month milestone has really crept up on me (watch me say this every time I write an anniversary blog). Nevertheless I’m back with some reflections on the last two months and some thoughts for the next few. It’s been a while since I did a general update about what I’ve been getting up to so that will follow soon with more information on any fun things I mention here.

Starting off, as ever, with my achievements. I feel like I’ve got a lot to be proud of recently. First of all, my French has continued to improve. I do still speak a lot of English, what with refusing to speak to my students in any other language and the fact that many of my friends speak English, but I have still noticed a marked improvement in my French level. I feel that I am able to go beyond the pure basics of being able to communicate, where the aim is to get your meaning across as simply as possible with no added frills, and can now actually express myself properly, with as many frills as I want. There is obviously more improvement to come but everything feels a little more natural. In my one month post I spoke about how it usually takes a month of immersion for me to feel comfortable and up to three to feel fully at ease. At that point I was definitely comfortable enough doing everything in French and I’m happy to say that I’ve now graduated to ‘at ease’. What I think of as my language reflexes – the ability to pull out what I need in a certain situation without really having to think about it – are at a point that I’m very happy with. There’s barely any conscious translation from English to French going on in my mind before I open my mouth to speak. These are all signs I have seen before that I’m improving in the way I want to and that is very encouraging.

With one and a half weeks to go, I’m also almost done with my first semester of teaching at UHA! Getting through a whole semester is something that I’m congratulating myself on, especially because so far I’ve not had any issues (touch wood that this continues). I’ve enjoyed this semester a lot, getting to know my students and getting into the rhythm of teaching again. My students have had some great discussions on topics ranging from the Olympic Games and gender norms to COP26 and most recently Scottish history in honour of St Andrews Day. I’ve also had to do some assessments this semester that have included presentations which we just finished last week. Now starts the mega job of grading everything from this semester!

In other exciting work-related news, I also got an (unofficial) offer to extend my contract! I will now be based in Mulhouse and working as a lectrice through the 2022-23 academic year! Most lecteur or lectrice contracts are for a year with the option of renewing it for an additional year. I very quickly decided after arriving in Mulhouse that I wanted to stay on for a second year, if they would have me. I like the city and the wider area, I enjoy the work and I get on well with my students and colleagues. Also, since I left school over five years ago(!!!), the only time I have stayed anywhere longer than a year was during my first two years of university in Edinburgh. Seeing as I’m not sure what will come after this, it seemed like a good time to stay somewhere for a little longer.

A major adjustment in recent months has definitely been the arrival of winter! It’s much colder here than when I arrived. I obviously knew this was coming and prepared by arranging for my sister to send me the essentials that didn’t fit in my suitcase the first time round – hats, gloves, scarves and most importantly, my dressing gown!

Now that I’ve gotten a bit of time under my belt, I’ve had a few adjustments when it comes to finances. Obviously when you move somewhere there’s a lot of initial set up costs that I was dealing with in my first month. Now I’m in more of a routine and figuring out how far I can stretch my salary which is the equivalent of earning the French minimum wage for the hours I work. Thankfully my rent is much cheaper here than it was in Edinburgh but I’m finding that things like groceries are very expensive. This means that my salary isn’t going quite as far as I’d like. It’s plenty to live on but I’m a natural saver and that has been a little more difficult since I’ve been here. Saying that, I’ve also been pretty lenient about spending money on things like eating out. I’ve also been on a lot of day trips and obviously had my big trip to Spain and Andorra as well. The run up to Christmas is a difficult time to be frugal but there’s hope for the new year. I also should be starting an extra job soon, running some conversation workshops for a private technology school. I was supposed to start a few weeks ago but was held up by the wait for my social security number (merci French bureaucracy!). I finally got that this week so I’m ready to go any time now, though it will most likely be after the holidays.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that my high point of the last few months was my trip to Spain and Andorra. I’ve already written about them both at length so all I’ll say here is that it felt so good to be travelling again. It felt like a little piece of normality which is very much appreciated now that COVID cases are surging in Europe and things are starting to feel a little more unpredictable again.

Another thing I’ve been really enjoying is the start of the festive season. Usually I struggle to feel in the Christmas mood until the last minute. The past few years there’s always been university exams that have to be dealt with before I can even think about Christmas. That, or I was in China where Christmas is just another day. This year however, I’m taking full advantage of the fact that I’m the one giving the exams. My Christmas tree has been up for a week and I’ve been listening to Christmas songs for at least two. With the opening of the Christmas market here last week, I’m in full Christmas spirit, as is everyone else.

Usually I’m lucky enough not to have to many low points to write about in these posts. Unfortunately I can’t say the same this time around. For starters, I had a few days where I felt absolutely horrible. It came on really suddenly, I started to get the sniffles one evening and the next day I barely got out of bed because my sinuses were so blocked and sore. Miraculously, I woke up the day after with an almost completely clear head! Thankfully the day that I was laid up in bed coincided with a day off for Armistice Day so I didn’t even have to miss any work. One of the only times I get homesick is when I’m ill but in this case it was over too quickly for me to really think about it.

I’ve also been dealing with some other more personal things that I’m not going to go into much detail about but that has made being away from home and my friends and family very difficult. I’m so thankful for the people who have been supporting me through it. They know who they are. I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate it – this isn’t just a highlight reel and and I want to acknowledge when things get difficult.

Anyway, moving forward to more positive thoughts, there are still a few things I’m looking forward to. One of course is going home for Christmas. I’m looking forward to spending time with family, eating lots of good food, taking my dog for walks and not getting out of my pyjamas until it’s time to put on fresh ones. I’m also taking one of my flatmates home with me so that he’s not abandoned in Mulhouse by himself. He’s from Montreal so it’s a bit far to go back for what is a relatively short holiday.

I also have my friend Lucy, who I visited in Valencia, coming to visit me in a week or so. She’s just coming for a weekend so I’m looking forward to giving her the whistlestop tour of Mulhouse. And once those 30 minutes are up, I’m looking forward to escaping to Strasbourg or elsewhere with her! Just kidding, I’m actually very much looking forward to showing off my favourite parts of Mulhouse to my first visitor.

And now on to some goals for the coming three months. In a practical sense I want to spend a little bit of time over the holidays preparing some lessons for the start of next semester. I already have so many ideas that I didn’t get to this semester and now I know what works well with my classes so I can really get the best out of them. To be honest, I haven’t really thought much beyond the Christmas holidays so that’s the only goal I have for right now other than to take some time to rest over the break and look after myself. With the new year coming though that’s a great opportunity to think about some more long term goals so maybe you’ll hear something else from me soon.

12 Hours in Paris

Mulhouse’s position near the borders with Germany and Switzerland, as well as the richness of the surrounding area makes it perfectly situated for day trips. I’ve already taken advantage of this by going to Strasbourg and Colmar (blog coming soon!) for a day each but my next day trip was a bit further afield, to the City of Lights – Paris!

A few weeks ago, the head of my department at the university asked me if I would be interested in a space that had become available on a day trip to Paris that she was running for the students on the English research masters. It was the day before I left for Spain, at the start of my week off, but that only made me hesitate for a second. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

The view from the Pompidou Centre

The plan was to head to Paris and see two art exhibitions but to fit everything in we needed to leave early. I’m talking 5.30 in the morning early. We took a train to Strasbourg which is about an hour away and had enough time to grab a coffee and a pastry in the station before our train to Paris. We were in first class which was very comfortable and I think everyone slept most of the hour and a half of the TVG (high speed train) ride there.

The head of department, Jen, used to live in Paris for 15 years so all day she was able to navigate through the back roads and cut down little streets. For example on our way to the Centre Pompidou for our first art exhibition we passed by Victor Hugo’s house on the Place des Vosges (ironically the Vosges are a mountain range in Alsace, visible from Mulhouse). We had a bit of time to kill so we took the long way to the Pompidou Centre past part of the old city walls. We also walked past Hôtel de Ville where you can just see the roof of Notre-Dame (and all the scaffolding) peeking out from across the river.

Victor Hugo’s house on the corner of Place des Vosges
Hôtel de Ville featuring some Paris 2024 prep

Our first exhibition was the work of the American artist Georgia O’Keefe. I didn’t really know what to expect from her having never heard of her before but I was presently surprised. She is known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, landscapes around her chosen home of New Mexico and the skyscrapers of New York. She was known during the 20th century as the ‘mother of American modernism’. As I said to my sister afterwards, I don’t know much about art but I can appreciate and enjoy a pretty picture. That’s definitely a massive oversimplification of anybody’s art, especially Georgia O’Keefe’s but it’s the best I’ve got for you. One thing I was impressed with was the variety in her paintings. There were nudes, there were the massive close ups of flowers, very minimalist designs, landscapes, bright colours and dark monochrome.

I enjoyed the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition a lot but honestly the best part of the Pompidou Centre was the view across Paris. To get to the top floor, you go up escalators on the outside of the building and you get the most amazing panorama (photo above), from Sacre Coeur looking over the city on the right and the Eiffel Tower peeking out on the left.

Me and Àine, one of the masters students who is also an English lectrice for another department!

Our next exhibit was at the Palais de Tokyo over by the Eiffel Tower. We had to get the metro but we walked over a couple of stops to get to a less complicated station, passing by Les Halles which is a big marketplace with some interesting architecture that makes it look almost like a stingray. After we got off the metro we passed by the Flame of Liberty which is a memorial for Princess Diana as it’s on the bridge over the tunnel where she died.

We were at the Palais de Tokyo for the Anne Imhof ‘Natures Mortes’ exhibit. It was… interesting is probably the nicest way I can put it. It was one of these more spatial, abstract, experiential exhibits and I just didn’t get it. I don’t really know how to explain it but there definitely weren’t any pretty pictures in this one. At this point everyone was very tired and I think we were all confused and frustrated by the fact we were confused. Maybe the artist’s intention was to make us think and question what we were seeing and if that was the case, mission accomplished.

It was back to Gare de l’Est for our return journey next. It was pretty much the inverse of the morning journey, a brief stop in Strasbourg again but with a Burger King instead of a pastry this time. I got back to my flat at about 11pm, so all in all not that late but after doing more than 23,000 steps I was exhausted!

Home time!

French People All Wear Berets (and other lies)

There are certain images that come to mind when you think of France and the French. I’m sure one of the first is someone carrying a baguette and a string of onions, wearing a beret and a stripey top, riding a bicycle in front of the Eiffel Tower. I always try to approach a new place without expectations or preconceived ideas but with France it is a bit more difficult because there are already so many cultural references in the British psyche. In my time in France, I have encountered some well known stereotypes but have also noticed others that are completely untrue, as stereotypes often are. I put a call out to family and friends to hear their ideas about France and the French and either confirm or debunk them. I’ve got plenty more up my sleeve than those included here so expect a part two at some point!

The uniform is a beret and a stripey top.

I’ve already mentioned this iconic image that I’m sure you can easily picture. While the only beret I have seen here was worn by my flatmate from Montreal on his way to a Matrix-themed party, the common stereotype that the French are very stylish is one I would agree with. Even when the occasional student comes to my classes in loungewear, the outfit is still put together very well. In general though, the style a little more elevated. I don’t really have a dress code as a teacher so I dress pretty casually. I often feel like I blend in with the students while walking around campus, and not even the well dressed ones!

Your National 5 level French will be met with disdain.

I feel like a lot of the stereotypes that us Brits have about France and it’s people actually come from Parisians. It is quite common in Paris that when you attempt to speak a little French, as a gesture of good will more than anything, you will be met with an eye roll and a reply in English. I have found the opposite to be true, at least in Mulhouse. Everyone has been very pleased and impressed (myself included) with my level of French. Every time I’ve had to use French to navigate a part of the moving process, I’ve actually been met with patience and understanding.

Baguettes are love, baguettes are life.

A classic, iconic staple of French cuisine, matched only by croissants, is the simple baguette. It is every bit as loved and appreciated as it seems. My most French moments so far have been stopping by the boulangerie on the corner of my street for a deliciously light €1 baguette that is still warm no matter what time of day I buy it.

French women don’t shave.

I think this is an oversimplification but body hair does seem to be more embraced here. Particularly after overhearing a conversation between some colleagues in my office, it seems that removing body hair, especially for women, is not as much of a cultural given as it might be in the UK. My personal opinion on body hair is do what you want with it but especially if you choose to remove it, reflect on whether that is a conscious decision. Often the decision is one driven by patriarchal standards of beauty that are so ingrained into our culture that it takes a lot of work to unlearn these expectations. Regardless of whether this stereotype is really true or not, I like that it is a more open conversation.

They’re all alcoholics but in a classy way.

I would like to preface this one by saying these were not my choice of words, blame my family and friends who I asked for these stereotypes. And I’m going to refute this idea anyway. I’m not saying the French don’t like a drink, they do. But the way that alcohol is consumed is a world away from the binge drinking culture of the UK. Alcohol is something to be enjoyed, savoured, appreciated, not poured down your throat with the aim of getting as drunk as possible. It’s not uncommon to enjoy a glass of wine with lunch and half pints are actually the favoured size for beer which slows down the enjoyment to a more leisurely pace. The attitude here seems to be more along the lines of little and often rather than at home where it’s a lot… and also often.

Cheese and wine are their own food groups.

100% can confirm and there are no complaints from me. I am a cheese lover, of all kinds, so this was one of the things I was most looking forward to about moving here and I have not been disappointed. My heart belongs to a sharp Scottish cheddar but I have been enjoying picking up fairly cheap blocks of French cheeses like Comte (my favourite) while doing my weekly shop. The most popular cheese around Mulhouse is called Munster, named after the nearby town that it comes from. It is notoriously stinky, both cooked and uncooked, but I’m a fan! Due to Mulhouse’s proximity to Germany, I think it’s a bit more of a toss up in popularity between wine and beer here but wine is definitely still very popular.

France’s middle name is bureaucracy.

You’ll have to fill in this form, send off photocopies of every official document you’ve ever received and then wait 4 weeks for a response to this. I think that says all you need to know.

A Day in Strasbourg

A week ago I set foot outside Mulhouse for the first time since I arrived here more than a month ago. A quick note before we dive in, my mum pointed out that it might be a good idea to establish how you actually pronounce Mulhouse. If you are anything like me, your first instinct is to say it Mull-house but in actual fact you’ve got to lean in to that French accent more. It is actually pronounced Muh-lose, as in to lose your keys. I’m sorry if this shatters everything you thought you knew but it was time you knew the truth.

Anyway, back to the point. I spent the day in Strasbourg with another recent graduate from Edinburgh who is working as a lectrice as well but in Metz. Strasbourg is about an hour on the train from Mulhouse and just over an hour from Metz where Aislinn lives. Funnily enough, Aislinn and I never crossed paths at university but we’ve been in touch a fair amount since we got these jobs. We decided it was about time we met in real life and Strasbourg was the perfect place for that.

Strasbourg is the largest city in the Grand Est region of France, located right on the border with Germany. It is the official seat of the the European Parliament and along with Brussels, Luxembourg and Frankfurt is one of the de facto capitals of the European Union. The city is known for its gothic cathedral and its traditional black and white timber-framed buildings. There’s lots to do in Strasbourg, you can visit the European Parliament, take a boat down the river, climb to the top of the cathedral or visit one of the many museums and parks. Not that we did any of that…

We arrived mid-morning to glorious sunshine. As soon as we started walking from the train station towards the centre of town, without a particular plan in mind, I immediately understood why everyone loves Strasbourg. Ever since I’ve arrived I’ve been told that I have to see it, that Mulhouse is the ugly duckling of the pair. Now, I’m a big fan of Mulhouse and its understated charm but Strasbourg is like Mulhouse on steroids. It’s absolutely GORGEOUS.

The centre of Strasbourg is based around the Grand-Île, a neighbourhood surrounded by the River Ill. It is full of nice little streets lined with cafes, restaurants, bars, boulangeries, patisseries and more. It was a nice area to get a feel for the city. Aislinn and I spent some time just wandering the streets, getting our first glimpse of the cathedral, looping down to the river and scoping out a nice spot to sit for a drink. We settled for one of the cafes on the square facing the cathedral, probably a massive tourist trap but worth it this once for that view. We eventually left when we started to get hungry and went on a mission to find some food. Mission successful and with stomachs full of some amazing aubergine parmigiana pizza we carried on our wandering around the city.

Before I came to France I was able to meet up with a girl from Glasgow who was going to Strasbourg to work as an English assistant with the British Council. Aislinn and I met up with Lyndsey and another girl doing British Council, Libby, during the afternoon. Our original plan was to go out of the city centre to Parc de l’Orangerie but this was foiled by disruptions to the trams caused by protests. It’s a bit of a stereotype but the French do like to strike and protest a lot. Currently there are a lot of protests happening every week against the passe sanitaire, the system that requires you to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test in order to use certain public facilities or go to restaurants and bars. Instead we set off to an area of Strasbourg known as Pétite France to find another park but instead stopped for some ice cream. We sat there chatting for a while before Aislinn and I had to catch out trains home.

All in all it was a really lovely day. It was nice to meet some new people who didn’t feel like strangers, Strasbourg is a really lovely city and even though we didn’t do any of the touristy things, it was nice to get to know the city. Strasbourg is known for its Christmas markets so I’m looking forward to those but I’ll definitely be back before then!