A piece of cake… or not?

Bonsoir à tous,

The past two weeks have been chargées: full of new challenges, new routines, and new adventures. Last weekend was La Fête du Travail (Labour Day), the first of the May bank holiday weekends. ‘Holiday’ might be misleading, however, as the weekend was arguably as busy as my week!

La Vie Parisienne
Relaxing Saturday night play at the theatre with my friend: “La Vie Parisienne… ou presque?”

The family was celebrating a special occasion on Saturday, so I looked after the little ones in the morning. I had also been given a list of instructions to pick up a pièce montée (tiered cake) from a local patisserie (cake shop) later on in the morning, and also unpack a food delivery afterwards.

Typically, however, this task was far from a simple ‘pop out to collect a cake’! I eventually tracked down the right patisserie, but only thanks to trusty Google Maps. As I handed over the details for the order, the shop assistant looked at me with concern, as if questioning my competence in safely transporting such an exquisite cake: “How far are you planning to go with that cake?” The assistant strongly recommended I take the bus back to the house, and warned me to take extreme care.

It wasn’t just the sales assistant who was concerned. On the bus, my hands were haphasardly gripping the huge cardboard box that was protecting the cake (and also obscuring my vision). Before I had time to look for a seat, the bus started to move again. Both my hands were still on the box, afraid of letting the cake fall, so I had zero hands grounding me to the bus handles. I started to wobble and lose balance, and so did the cake’s delicate decorations. In the end, both the cake and I arrived back in one piece (sorry for the pun), even though I was late for the food delivery. I must say this, though: I admire the couriers who manage to deliver goods from A to B everyday without disaster. The skill and responsability involved cannot be underestimated.

Montparnasse
56 étages… incroyable !

After the cake chaos, I went off to meet a friend who was visiting for the weekend. Our first stop was Tour Montparnasse (Montparnasse Tower), an attraction both of us had wanted to visit for some time. It involved stepping into a lift packed full of people (think Eiffel Tower minus the lift attendant) and zooming up 56 floors. The view from the terrace at the top of the tower was the perfect backdrop for our lunch: it was an incredible feeling to be looking at the world from such a height once again. I felt surprisingly calm rather than anxious, and having my friend at my side helped to put me at ease.

Vineyard
Exploring les vignes de Montmartre !

On Sunday morning, we explored some hidden gems of the arty 18th arrondissement (Montmartre). Our guide was excellent – she took us to less known corners, such as an English-inspired street with its own 10 Downing Street, the Place Dalida (a tribute to the singer Dalida complete with bronze sculpture), as well as small cabarets such as Au Lapin Agile (frequented by Picasso and Matisse).

Fete du Travail
I did find this lovely little bouquet to brighten up my room, though – it’s symbolic of bonheur (happiness) and traditional on Labour Day.

As I mentioned above, Monday was the Fête du Travail, also known as Labour Day. We had the day off work, although I did babysit in the morning and again in the evening. It was naive of me to hope shops would be open, and foolish to leave my food shopping until the end of the bank holiday weekend. Note to self: forward-planning still requires improvement, as the only shops open were florists…

On Tuesday, I joined the Marketing and Communication department. My first task was a creative one – to write my own article in French for the online newsletter – which I enjoyed doing. I was left to take my time on it, and apart from a few grammatical errors to correct, the result was very positive. Following that, my tasks have involved a lot of precise data-inputting, which is far from the creativity I crave to express. Before my arrival in Paris, I hoped it would be possible to attend a life drawing class one evening a week as I did in Germany. In reality it is just too much to fit this in – relaxing is really the best use of any free evening time.

When I do something wrong at work, it triggers physical symptoms of panic: a tightness within my chest, a sudden breathlessness, and then uncontrollable tears. The feeling subconsciously reminds me of being at school, and of the drama teacher who put me off the subject. It is absurd that here in France, I feel more like a child, rather than remembering I am an adult who taught whole English classes, and supported refugees of all ages in Germany.

To end on a positive note, though, just over a week ago, I had a wonderful evening with an English family distantly related to mine, who are also coincidentally living in Paris at the moment. Some of them had also spent years abroad and been aupairs, and I gained a lot from sharing our stories and experiences.

This past weekend (les elections), I went away with the family again, this time to Normandy. I will post my update on that very soon.

Bon courage (I need it too),

misspraxic

A Bretonne experience and Parisien chaos

Pont Aven 2
Wanders in Pont-Aven

Last weekend, I escaped Parisien chaos for the second time in two weeks: I spent the Easter weekend with the family in beautiful Bretagne, in an area close to the picturesque “artists’ town” of Pont-Aven, where Paul Gauguin and others were inspired to paint in the late 19th century.

Despite the early start on Friday, our taxi trip across Paris to the train station was exciting: the views across the river Seine and of the Tour Eiffel in the morning sun were stunning. Four hours later, after toddler tantrums, broken crayons, and shredded origami paper boats, we arrived at our destination.

Easter meal
Coquillages – I liked this typical dish more than I expected!

There were twenty of us staying at the grandparents’ house in the countryside, so this was a good opportunity to get to know some of the children’s extended family: aunts, uncles, and six of their cousins.

We had some lovely walks and meals together, and I was able to experience family traditions at Easter. On Easter Sunday, we enjoyed a delicious meal of Coquillages de Paques (seafood), followed by une chasse aux oeufs de Pâques (an Easter egg hunt) for the children.

Positions of responsibility are, however, continuing to test my judgement and reasoning skills. Keeping tabs on five young children at the same time was a challenge, as it required me to think quickly, but act calmly: two children were working on their den in the garden, and two others wanted to tie all the bikes together with rope. Meanwhile, the remaining and youngest toddler was mid-tantrum, and wanted to get off the trampoline. I had to pick him up carefully, whilst getting down from the trampoline safely myself. Putting on the socks and shoes he had just removed, at the same time as tying my own laces, required more dexterity than I have. I am always the first to fear an accident, and I am convinced that it is not just dyspraxics who find these sorts of situations difficult at times.

BaladeI had two hours to myself on Sunday afternoon, in which I visited the Musée de Beaux Arts in the centre of Pont-Aven, as well as some boutiques. I really enjoyed my time in this museum – many Gauguin and Monet paintings were on display, as well as other local and lesser known artists’ work.

On Monday morning, we set off on our return journey to Paris. By the time we had pulled into the station mid-afternoon, the tune of trois petits chats, trois petits chats, trois petits chats, chats, chats was successfully stuck in my head. As soon as our large group had stepped off the train, one cheeky toddler grinned at me, and suddenly dropped my hand. Predictably, he started to run off down the platform… Strangers and signs everywhere, my instincts told me the only option was to run after him. Of course I panicked, but I did find him in the end.

At work last week, I managed by myself at the reception desk! Although the multi-tasking moments were inevitably stressful, I found that it actually helped to have space at times – it meant I was able to develop my own coping strategies without interference. I have the feeling, however, that colleagues were more lenient about any mistakes made last week in the absence of the other réceptionniste

This week, I have had recurring encounters with the temperamental scanning machine. There are lots of different folders, into which hundreds of scanned documents must be tranferred. If I pick the wrong folder, or mix up the order of the documents even slightly, colleagues are understandably not well impressed, and I have to start from scratch. All it really takes for such a mistake is for me to get distracted – the phone rings, for example, and when I return to the scanner five minutes later, I am in a complete pickle.Pont Aven

On top of the scanning struggles this week, I have been taking clients to the wrong meeting rooms by mistake, receiving some pretty perplexed looks. Yesterday, someone asked me to renew the bill stamp, and I ended up getting ink everywhere in the process. On the same day, I noted down a phone message incorrectly – as a consequence, the colleague was not able to call back their client. In my haste to fulfill coffee orders, coffee was spilled, and I jammed the coffee machine.

These are all just little issues, which fortunately do not matter in life, but knowing this does not stop me feeling breathless – alongside the panic, frustration continues to build.

But, guess what? Yesterday someone else pressed the emergency button and set off the security alarm! It isn’t just me. Justice.

Next week, a new intern is arriving. I will continue to be on reception in the afternoons, but it has been confirmed that I will be moving to the Marketing and Communications department in the mornings! I am looking forward to the change – even though I doubt there will be any less multi-tasking involved.

A tout,

-misspraxic

Mademoiselle Catastrophe

Like it sounds, the French word catastrophe describes someone prone to calamity and disaster. Someone like me, maybe. Though I don’t quite ressemble Mr. Hargreaves’ creation.

Grace image
The monsieur at the ticket office may have been having a dyspraxic moment too… He miscounted my change, handing me 35 euros instead of five. This made my day, so merci à vous !

This week it was my birthday. I still remember how I felt during my first ever visit to Paris, a day-trip during a school exchange which coincided with my 15th birthday. On that day, I was ecstatic to taste my first tarte aux pommes sitting on a bench in the sunny Champs de Mars garden, and can only describe my memories as magical.

Six years later, just by myself sans teachers or friends, after work I decided to do something I have previously felt unable to do – ascend the 1063ft height of la Tour Eiffel in a lift packed full of tourists. I was surprised to feel so calm in a situation that used to cause me extreme unease. I was in awe of the beauty below me, and of the good fortune that had somehow brought me to this place on two of my birthdays. On the left is a picture of a very appropriate birthday present from my parents. I unwrapped it whilst up the tower, to the amusement of some tourists.

At work on the morning of my birthday, I was touched to find a selection of sweets, cookies, and even a German chocolate bar on my desk. On that note, I have been enjoying regular conversations with the native German assistant I mentioned before. Our exchanges are training my brain to switch between languages more fluently: I need English to greet a colleague from London, then French to answer the phone a minute later, and then German to distribute the post.

This sort of fast processing does not tend to come naturally, though, as many of you will understand. I had my worst disaster yet on Thursday afternoon, alone on reception since the receptionist’s departure for the Easter holiday. It was all happening at once – within five minutes the courier arrived, followed by two clients to greet (and they wanted coffee), then the phone started ringing, and I was halfway through writing an email, not to mention a translation. The colleague who was expecting the clients was visiting from the London office, so she didn’t have a fixed phone number. I set off to try and find her in person, abandoning the desk. She had to be somewhere in the office. I was rushing about like a headless chicken, and even opening the doors proved to be a challenge. They had been locked securely following complaints. I pushed and pulled with all my strength, and in my haste pressed a big red button next to the door. Only seconds afterwards did I see that this was a button solely for “cas d’urgence” / emergencies! I had triggered the emergency security system; alarms sounded and a concerned security guard on the voiceover was asking me what on earth was going on. “Tout va bien, tout va bien, j’ai fait une erreure, désolée désolée désolée.” Though the words didn’t flow fast enough. Since then, I have implemented an anti-catastrophe technique: I am slowing my pace right down. 

The family was away on holiday this week, which gave me extra time to sort out some bank-related complications, as well as topping up my SIM card. I also enjoyed spending time with some friends from university, school, and my time in Germany. On Saturday I took the train down to Nevers, a town situated along the Loire and famous for its ceramics. I plan to go on more day trips in the future to give me a rest from the often draining atmosphere and fast pace of life in central Paris. Fresh air helps my mental state.

I will be spending the Easter weekend in Brétagne (Brittany, region in the north-west of France) with the family, and I am already looking forward to it.

A tout à l’heure et bonne semaine,

misspraxic AKA Mademoiselle Catastrophe

 

 

A circus of sorts: the dyspraxic dance to juggle tricky tasks

A circus?“, you ask? “Has misspraxic given up on her internship in real estate and joined the Moulin Rouge instead?

Champs Elysees

Not yet, although I do feel like I am performing some sort of circus act. The amount of intensive tasks as a stagiaire réceptionniste (receptionist intern) is pushing my capacity to multi-task to the absolute limit. Imagine a trapeze artist who has to perform complex acrobatic sequences whilst singing, juggling, dodging rings of fire, and then add a large and daunting audience to that. I don’t think I would cope in the circus, and have a lot of respect for those who do!

I am still struggling to operate the office phones efficiently. I have to flick the switches in my brain instantly between all the different steps of the process: noting down all the caller’s details / putting them on hold / scanning through a long document of colleagues’ phone numbers to find the right one / transfering the call. I very often press Transfer when I mean to press Retake, and more often than not I don’t hear all the details completely. There is a pressure to race against time, so that the caller is not left hanging on hold for too long.

Eiffel tower
A wander up to the top of the Arc de Triomph one evening.

Today, for example, I received an urgent call from a landlady who couldn’t access something – it had something to do with a car park. I didn’t catch the name of the property even after asking her to please repeat. I keep screwing up my eyes so tight to try to understand, but I feel incredibly exasperated when I simply don’t.  I feel responsable after making even a small mistake, or bétises as they are called here, and this exacberates the tight pain I feel in my chest, as though the phone cord is tying me up in knots.

During lunch hours and afternoons I man the reception desk alone. It is easy to feel out of depth and for panic to set in. I do think, however, that it is just a case of getting to know the business and colleagues better, because I have been here for less than two weeks after all. In theory, the more often I practise handling tricky phone situations, the calmer I should feel.

I completed my first full translation piece the other day. Unfortunately, I had to multi-task; focusing on the translation at the same time as manning the desk / looking up to say bonjour to anyone walking past / scanning important documents / welcoming the occasional client / making coffees / looking up unfamiliar property vocabulary. Meeting the deadline for the translation was a challenge because it was difficult to juggle all these distractions. People kept coming along to chase me up about it, and I felt increasingly inadequate!

drawing
Seven children to babysit? TIP: always carry emergency sketchbook!

Looking after the children in the evenings is a completely different kind of task. I still have to concentrate, but I can be more natural, more myself. At the weekend I accompanied the family to the Bois du Bologne (Paris’ largest park) and the weather was lovely. Whilst people were playing sport, I played with the children in the playarea. I have to say that I don’t have much babysitting experience, so keeping tabs on seven children was a new one for me. I am finding it very fun, though – swerving through town on a scooter with the eldest son (luckily I didn’t end up in hospital!), creating elaborate stories to tell the little ones, and doing drawings with all the children.

The challenging side of being an au-pair is definitely the tasks which require good fine/gross motor skills and balance. Many people with dyspraxia tend to struggle with self-care tasks. I am looking after two very young children who need help with such tasks: getting in and out of the bath, drying themselves off, getting dressed, eating, brushing teeth etc… It is taking me time to learn the best way to hoist them out of the bath. I know I will get there in the end, though, and I am very glad to be with them.

Bisous et à bientôt !

-misspraxic

 

 

 

 

Arrivée à Paris: settling into new routines

Bonsoir à tous,

I arrived safely in Paris last weekend, and have now been here a week. I took the Eurostar, and was full of nervous excitement for the duration of the journey. I kept opening and closing bags, zipping and unzipping pockets, constantly checking that nothing vital had been lost or forgotten. Fellow dyspraxics can probably relate, and after the phone-toilet-lampost-hill scenario now a month ago, I wasn’t taking any chances.

Montmartre 2
A studio at the Musée de Montmartre – my first visit to the artists’ quarter!

Last year, during the planning stage of my year abroad, I had almost ruled out the possibility of spending the French half of the year in Paris as I feared my struggles would deem me inadequate for an internship in such a fast-moving place. I changed my mind through listening to the advice of those around me – “you can do it, you’ll love it”, they said. I believed them, because privately I loved the idea of living in the Ville des Lumieres and being in close proximity to renowned musées d’art and cafés around every corner. Most of all, though, I anticipated a completely new challenge, which would contrast to my experiences at the school in Germany.

On my first day as an intern at the real estate advisory company, I was greeted with a flood of information. Within minutes I was introduced to the receptionnist with whom I would share the front reception desk, handed my guide sheets, and given a series of forms to return to Ressources Humaines (Human Resources). I also needed to send my photo to someone ASAP. I didn’t catch the name.

Before my first hour had ended, the other receptionnist had given me a tour of the office and its various departments. I was introduced to about a hundred new people, and my first worrying thought was this: how on earth am I going to remember a hundred new names and faces? I retained one name, which I suppose was was un bon effort, and certainly better than none at all.

When the brain’s capacity is reached, by means of defence mechanism we often just stop taking in any more information. But of course this wasn’t an ideal time for my brain to play this trick on me. I needed to clear space for yet more information – how to operate the phones and transfer calls, how the scanner and photocopying machines work, how to sort through post (actually using the letter opener efficiently was my biggest challenge). Following this, a challenge arrived in the form of something many of you probably do without a second thought: making coffees. I wish I could say the same; that I too were able to make coffees without thinking.

The truth is that I struggle to make coffees even with intense, focused thinking. I need to repeat the instructions several times and regularly in order that I retain them. As I don’t like the drink at all anyway, there hasn’t been much of an opportunity for me to master this particular skill. It might seem like a silly thing to be proud of, but I do feel satisfied to have managed to make several coffees today by myself, and to have carried them to the clients sans spillage. Touchwood. I better not have jinxed it!

The phone lines are extremely quiet, so I find myself being pulled further into the desk, as close as physically possible to the phone box, to try to understand what is being requested. I screw my eyes up tight in order to help me concentrate, but often this results in panic, especially after saying pardon, je n’ai pas compris (sorry, I don’t follow) three times. It certainly will be interesting to see how I cope alone when the receptionnist goes on holiday in two weeks time…! I might need a lot of luck.

My colleagues in the office are all very friendly and smile warmly each time they pass by the reception desk, which helps to put me at ease when I do make mistakes. I have even met a German lady and have to deliver the post to her each morning – exchanging even a few words with her helps to bring back the contact to the German language and people, which I already miss.

To continue on a positive note, I have surprisingly not got lost (yet)! I managed to take the Métro to and from the office without too much confusion – the more often I take the journey, the easier it should become… in theory! I worried I would accidentally travel in the opposite direction, as I have done many times on the London Underground, and again on the Heidelberg trams in August. Looking out for specific road names or objects in certain fixed places – i.e memorable shop fronts – helps me figure out my approximate location, especially when my friend Google is unavailable.

The family whose children I am looking after are absolutely lovely, and I am enjoying being around little ones again – their energy never fails to put a smile on my face. I will give you an update on this, as well as some other aspects of my life in Paris in my next post.

Bon weekend alors !

misspraxic

 

PS – Today I was sent to the nearest boulangerie to buy croissants and pains au chocolat for some clients. The scene in which fashion magazine assistant Andrea (Anne Hathaway) is sent to fetch coffees, skirts, and a number of other items ASAP in the film The Devil Wears Prada sprang to mind. I have felt a bit like Andrea this week!

 

 

The blind leading the blind: my trip home

Hi everyone,

I have been back in the UK for about two weeks.

I flew from Dusseldorf into a provincial airport, and took a train back home from there. On the train, I happened to be sitting next to a delightfully warm elderly woman called Doris*, who was longing for some company – “nobody would talk to me on the way up”, she reflected glumly.

On this day, I felt very fortunate to have Doris’ company too, rather than being entirely left to my thoughts during the journey. Fellow dyspraxics might share my tendency to overthink. My mind was processing on overdrive: experiences from Germany still whirring around. I think it takes me longer than most people to process one experience before I can move onto another. Doris filled my mind with names, dates, and details, and oddly enough, that’s what I needed on that day.

My temporary neighbour was taking a cross-country expedition from her home in Leeds to Plymouth to visit family. Or was it Penzance? Or was it actually that she lived in Plymouth, and had just visited Leeds? She was losing memory and struggling with the fact. Dyspraxic waves often leave me feeling unsettled and ungrounded, so I could relate to this woman’s unease to a certain extent – she kept misplacing her phone, and later her train tickets, in a very large handbag, and this distressed her. “Oh come on, Doris!” she cursed herself. I tried to calm her, as I would myself. So in this sense, perhaps it was a “blind leading the blind” scenario. Doris kept generously offering me parts of her picnic – ‘spare’ Twix bars, fruit salads, bottled water… As our onlookers smirked, I was aware of the lack of connection between others in the coach. Although of course, back in Germany, there was 90% of the time an unspoken expectation of distance and silence on the trains. Might this be a cultural difference?

Dog on BeachBeing reunited with family and dogs was a relief and a comfort, as was the familiarity of my bedroom, after seven months in Germany.

In less than a week I will take the train to Paris to start my second placement – I will be an administrative assistant intern at a real estate company. This will definitely be a jump from my comfort zone, and to make the approaching experience even more of a challenge, I will be an aupair in my spare time, looking after four French children. Despite people reassuring me not to worry about it, I feel anxious about what is to come. It feels like an onerous responsibility to be looking after someone else’s children, so it is probably understandable to fear I will accidentally do something wrong.

Background noise and an already slower auditory processing speed than most can affect my concentration, so it will be interesting to see how I manage the pressures of a French-speaking office environment. On the upside, I know I can be very creative, and have an eye for detail, so I can only hope these qualities will be in my favour in the months to come.

I will update you all at some point after I have settled in.

cliffs
Getting some fresh sea air up on the cliffs

 

A bientôt mes lecteurs,

misspraxic

 

*I changed the name of my fellow passsenger to maintain confidentiality.

Karneval and final reflections on a German experience: Halt Pohl!

In the last few lessons with Class 5, Lena* has been asking me the same questions: “When do you leave?”, “Will you be here for my birthday?”, “Will you come to Karneval with us? Are you dressing up?” “Maybe…“, I reply. “But you’re a teacher!” they chant.

It was a coincidence that Hana* from Class 6 sat next to me on the bus home from school the other day. She was asking similar questions: “But why do you have to leave? Will you come back and see us? Do you have Whatsapp? Can I have your Whatsapp?”

karneval-at-school
Karneval performance by years 5 and 6 on Altweiber-Donnerstag – “Old women’s day”

For those who are unfamiliar with the tradition, the carnival period started last Thursday (the week before Lent). The children had Thursday afternoon until the following Wednesday off school. Because the end of my placement coincided with carnival, my last day was on Thursday, known as Altweiber-Donnerstag, and it was full of mixed feelings. I prepared an Abschieds-Frühstuck (goodbye breakfast) – fresh bread rolls, Cheddar cheese (I’d managed to find some in Aldi the week before!) plus some Marmite – for the teachers of staffroom 5 to try. Although I wasn’t able to say goodbye to everyone due to the busy carnival season and others’ prior commitments, my last day was very happy. The children performed an impressive series of dances and songs in their many colourful carnival costumes, and the carnival party felt a party celebrating the end of my assistantship. It marked the fact I had seen the experience through to the end, despite the challenges and knocks along the way.

 

venn-karnevalkonzert
“Jecke Friedach”: The Prinzenpaar / prince and princess on stage

Following this, on Friday evening my choir was singing at the local carnival night at a Gasthof (pub) in my village. After watching the dance troupes, brass bands, and stand-up comedian (whose jokes I am sure were brilliant if you were fluent in both dialect and humour) all take to the stage, it was soon our turn to perform. We sung my favourite song in the local dialect (Kölsch) – here’s an excerpt if you’re interested… can anyone understand it!? Luckily one of the choir members volunteered to be my Kölsch Translator!

Et jitt kei Wood

Bear in mind we swapped Köln (Cologne) with Gladbach (Mönchengladbach). I felt so happy to be muddling through the words together on the stage with my friends. I knew this would be my last time singing with the choir for a least a few years, so I enjoyed simply being with them in that moment. The evening ended up being the most fun I had had in a long time.

kolle-alaaf-2
Kölle Alaaf! (The “Schlachtruf” or call for Cologne.)

I was invited by my lovely teacher friend to spend Saturday evening in Cologne with her and some friends. I have to say I was not prepared for the throng of people flooding the streets: in every direction there were unicorns and pirates. Before I knew it, I found myself trapped in a tight crowd of people chanting carnival songs, many of them already inebriated. kolle-alaaf

Unfortunately, I challenged myself too much here – the situation set me into panic because the crowds and noise level were overwhelming. Finding my way back to the central station via side streets was not without its stress, so I would recommend staying in a group at all times, or choosing quieter times and locations to experience carnival if you know crowds are not your favourite thing. Following that experience, I decided to keep out of the way of the chaos in Cologne on Rosenmontag (traditionally the highlight of the carnival period).

 

 

karneval-prinzenpaar
The Prinzenpaar – the carnival prince and princess, which reminded me of my childhood experience of being a princess at carnival.

Veilchendienstag (Shrove Tuesday) was the last carnival day, and incidentally my final day in Germany too. Before meeting up with a few friends to say farewell, I took a walk through the city centre, where a carnival parade was starting at exactly 13.11. I waited in the old market square, wondering if I were in the right place. I got talking to a lady who was anticipating the procession too, and she insisted that I follow her to the best viewing spot. Here, we picked up sweets as each carnival float went by, chanting “Halt Pohl!” – interestingly the words used as a call vary in each town and even district, making this a regional and local tradition.

eulen
Eulen – owls hitting the streets of Moenchengladbach

My unique German experience ended on a high with Karneval. In a nutshell, from my time in Germany I will certainly miss the children, the staff, the strangers, the friends, the neighbours, the volunteers, the choir… the conversations, the bridge between generations, and the intercultural connection. In short, the solidarity, despite political goings-on. It was a privilege to have been able to get to know the young people and their stories from war-torn countries, but the downside of this was having to absorb and process their trauma, which still haunts me. The smiles and warmth of their final embraces, however, will stay with me forever.

gladbach-umarmt-die-welt
“Gladbach umarmt die Welt” – Gladbach hugs the world. I was touched by the international gesture of a small community festival.

I will write again in the next few days to tell you about my journey back home, and my preparations for moving to Paris – it’s happening in just under two weeks!

As I have finished the first part of my year abroad (I still find that hard to believe as I write this), I want to say a big thank you to those who have been reading the blog and given their support.

Halt Pohl and love,

misspraxic

From one direction to another: falling at the last hurdle?

Hallo Leute,

monschau-2
Monschau / Montjoie – a charming town near the Belgian border

Last week was my penultimate week in Germany. It was full of reflection, and even a few wonderful new experiences. About a week ago I made a trip to the Roman town of Xanten, despite the cold weather I enjoyed exploring the archeological park’s ruins. I even found my way back to the Bahnhof (station) with five minutes to spare, and conveniently bought some Pommes (chips) just before the train pulled away. On Saturday, I visited the beautiful resort town of Monschau, somewhere I have been hoping to visit for months. To me, it felt like the town was stuck in time – it was incredibly peaceful, especially looking down at the medieval streets from the woods above. I took my sketchbook, and just appreciated having the time by myself. The only background noise to my thoughts was the rhythm of the streams, and the occasional bird tweeting sweetly.

I didn’t get seriously lost on either trip, despite having to change buses/trains multiple times. I can only hope I take this newly-developed confidence with public transport with me to France…

At school I had some good lessons, even if there was another oral exam thrown in. I also spent some time getting to know a few of my international friends even better. It did feel like I was more or less going in the right direction, gradually coming to a largely positive end.

But – and I suppose there is always a but just when I feel like I am improving, little things start to go wrong. I struggle to ignore them and what they might represent. After months of not relying on lists and not having to writing dates down in my diary, I completely mixed up times to see a friend, so that she ended up missing out on something we were going to do together.

In my apartment I had a problem with the sink being blocked (although the positive to this was learning the German word for “plunger”…) The next day, the spout of the taps decided to jump into my face, spurting out a flood of water onto the kitchen floor. On Sunday, during the tech set-up for the carnival concert, I got in a mess with all the microphone wires – there were too many people to maneuver around. I ended up in the front row of singers, not by choice. I kept stumbling on the song lyrics (most of which were in the Cologne dialect, Kölsch) and for this reason felt even more conscious of the camera focusing on me. I then left my water bottle in the church despite someone reminding me to take it.

At this point things started to feel like dominoes, culminating in the next thing to go wrong: I managed to lose my phone whilst on a hill. The phone screen was already cracked after I walked into a lampost earlier on, and considering I had dropped the phone in a toilet two weeks prior to this (!), I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised for my luck to have run out this time.

We searched the area again (my friend kindly helped and has better eyes than I do), but didn’t have any luck. What followed the realisation that I had definitely lost my phone was a launch into panic. The reception staff were very helpful, especially when I phoned them the following day. At first they were quick to want to finish the call, telling me there was nothing more they could do to help in the search. I got in a muddle with my German numbers, was put on hold several times, and could sense the language barrier was frustrating the assistant – this was all increasing my anxiety. I was about to give up, but with some final perseverance, I eventually persuaded one woman to walk out into the place in which I had lost the phone, so that I could attempt to contact the phone via Google’s Manage Your Device function. The lady chuckled as I enquired in a British way, “I would be so grateful if that were possible, although I appreciate what I am asking.” and then thanked her excessively. After all that, the phone wasn’t found, and whilst I still feel guilty about the woman’s wasted lunch break, at least I tried. I would advise backing up all your photos and contacts to a computer or online drive, because I have now lost all of mine.

Sometimes it feels like I am taking many steps forwards, then a sudden jump backwards and a fall through a hole (like in Snakes & Ladders). And that always threatens to get the better of my mood. Since Sunday I have also managed to break yet another glass. That brings my total up to four broken glasses since September. It might seem like such a small thing to happen, that could really happen to everyone, but nevertheless it is a reminder of what I continue to struggle against, and that is very upsetting.

I am, however, looking forward to Karneval (carnival) this weekend, which happens just before I go home. My last day at the school coincides with the school’s own carnival celebrations – all the children and even teachers will dress up. I have never been very good at costumes, but I intend to make a small effort this time! I will write another post before I leave, and tell you about the carnival-themed choir concerts in which I am also involved.

I am equally looking forward to having a rest at home for two or so weeks, before I start the process all over again, and move to France. I will be doing an internship with a company in Paris, and I am already expecting great changes – in language, lifestyle, landscape, cultural subtleties, and new people.

Bis bald for one final Germany post,

misspraxic

Cross-cultural encounters

Hallo Leute,

It’s difficult to process that I only have two and a half weeks left in Germany. I don’t know how I feel about it. Mixed, I suppose. Six months ago, I felt lonely upon arrival, and the absence of both Tesco’s Mature Cheddar and smiley bus drivers honestly threw me. Whilst I do look forward to being reunited with friends and family, I have the feeling that I really will be leaving something behind here in the “Pott” – the connections I have made.

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Nog een mal naar Nederland…

I recently enjoyed another trip to the Netherlands to visit a friend – the friend with whom I went to Maastricht and Roermond during my first visit to the country. This time, I enjoyed visiting Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to see some of the Dutch Masters’ paintings (such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh), and had a nice surprise to be handed a free sketchbook to use to my heart’s content in the museum. We also visited Anne Frank’s house which was an emotional experience, but an important one I would recommend if you have the chance.

I did find the Amsterdam streets very chaotic, and the atmosphere overwhelming. Having to dodge all the bicycles like being in a fast-paced computer game was not my forté, needless to say. The following day we visited Nijmegen – what a contrast. The beautiful frozen ponds, banks covered in snow, and only swans and ducks in sight made it feel extremely tranquil.

Since starting as a Language Assistant at my German school in September, I have met a whole range of children – including those with learning difficulties and disabilities, and those from migration backgrounds – as well as teaching staff. I have talked with Referendaren (trainee teachers), Maths teachers(!), special needs support assistants, integration assistants, and observed Fachkonferenzen (department meetings), end of term class celebrations, and even got teachers into playing board games in the staffroom.

Outside of the school hours, I have been spending some of my free afternoons each week visiting one of the places where refugees are accommodated locally in MG. I am helping with a Homework/Language Support group, Games and Crafts workshop, and go to the Meet & Greet Integration café to get to know refugees and other volunteers. All this happens at the accommodation centre, and the experience has opened my eyes to many of the struggles faced by migrants: trauma and communication difficulties are among the most major. Many of the refugees I have met do not have a good level of German, but despite this they are very ready to learn. I have had to find new ways of communicating – like using signs and drawings – as I learn how crucial language can be in human interaction; in life. I taught one man the words for ‘family’ and ‘friends’, and he repeated the words. He tried to express that he had none in Germany. What I admired was how he kept smiling at me – he had hope for the future and a certain determination to keep learning the language. The progress made in the Language Support group is moving me, and it’s shown me what each of us could do on a local level to show compassion and solidarity in an uncertain world.

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Haus der Geschichte – visit to the history museum in Bonn with my classmates. The last room was all about the present: posing questions about Europe’s future.

I have also got to know some very kind and like-minded international students through taking just a couple of seminars a week at Dusseldorf University. The ~30 hours of German grammar and ~60 hours of German language classes I have had is more than double the amount of input I would receive at my home university in one year! The courses have sadly now come to an end. In the past week I have taken two exams, and although they luckily don’t count at all for me (I just did them for fun 😉 ) the challenge was good for me on a personal level.

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Beethoven: born in Bonn

Talking to fellow students on the life-drawing course before Christmas, learning about the lives of the choir members, and being invited to meals with friends from the Dutch language course has opened up a warmth I perhaps didn’t feel upon my arrival in September.

The most valuable part of my experience in Germany from July to February has been integrating myself into German life and language, whilst seeing the process work both ways – helping to integrate others too, and giving something back, even if it’s a small piece.

 

I want to leave you with some photos from Amsterdam and Nijmegen – I hope I can return to the Netherlands before I leave this part of the continent.

I will also eventually tell you what I am doing in France (in just over a month’s time)!

Schönes Wochenende,

misspraxic

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Das Neue Jahr 2017 – better late than never?

Hallo zusammen!

I think it’s a bit late for me to wish you all a “Frohes Neues Jahr” now, as I write this post four weeks into 2017. It’s nearly February! Nevertheless, I hope everyone enjoyed the festive period. I enjoyed going home a lot, as I was able to see my family as well as a few friends I hadn’t seen in months. Father Christmas gave me some wonderful new socks to replace all the “odd” pairs of socks I’ve acquired… My landlady in Germany also gave me a book all about the local area, in English as well as German, so I was able to tell my family all about Nordrhein-Westfalen and Moenchengladbach. My holiday was relatively calm, and luckily I can’t remember there being any Dyspraxic Disasters.

Ambiguity at the airport


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The journey back wasn’t entirely stresslos

Having said that, the night before my flight back to Germany, the WiFi typically decided to crash. I had forgotten to print out my boarding pass a few days in advance, and on the morning of my flight, we rushed to my grandparents’ house. At first my computer wouldn’t connect to the WiFi, but with perseverance we found a solution. I did panic, however – imagining the Worst Case Scenario as usual, that I would have to pay a fine for checking-in at the airport, or even worse, that they wouldn’t let me onto the plane.

At the airport, the Flight Departures screen had been fixed on “Please Wait – more information soon” for at least ten minutes, before the message “Flight to Duesseldorf – cancelled” flashed up on the screen. “What on earth am I going to go if I can’t get back in time for school tomorrow?“, I was thinking. But then, a minute later, the gate number appeared. “Boarding at Gate 33“. I was not the only one to be in a stressed state of confusion – was the plane running to time or not? I bumped into a woman whose destination was also Duesseldorf, and I asked her if she knew what was going on.

I asked in English; she replied to me in German. The woman’s tone of voice indicated that she was as uncertain as I was. [She later explained that she was originally from Poland, and worked in Duesseldorf as a nurse. She had just paid her annual visit to her daughter and family in England, and did not remember much at all from her schoolgirl days of English lessons.] The airport staff were milling around – one minute telling us the flight had been cancelled, and the next telling us it was delayed! I relayed all the English information back to my fellow passenger in German, and was happy to be able to put her at ease through my knowledge of both languages. So there was a positive to the saga! 🙂 You never know when you might be able to help someone in a small way.

Chaotic days in the life of an English oral examiner…


So, making it back in one piece (even up the five flights of stairs to my apartment with my 20K suitcase and laptop bags) was an achievement. Following that, my first week back at the school was full of more chaos, as my Year 10 classes were preparing for their approaching oral exams in English. I have been taking on a few extra hours each week to assist with oral simulations/mocks, to give the children (especially in the Grundkurs) the best chances of passing their Schulabschluss (school-leaving certificate).

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked if I would examine the oral exams, and mark the pupils by giving them grades. Me!? A proper examiner? I didn’t feel adequately trained or prepared to be in the position of labelling sixteen year olds with numbers that would undoubtedly affect their future. It was hard to say no to the request – I’m sure many of you can relate – but I am glad I stuck to my gut and made a compromise

Last Monday and Tuesday were the most chaotic days I have ever spent at school – more so than my first week. I was at school all day to sit in on the oral exams, with two examining teachers. My compromise was that I wouldn’t give grades, but would note down my opinion on the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of the candidates. Even so, it was a challenge for my mind to process everything quickly enough, and there wasn’t time for any proper break between each exam. I also had to go on many marathons to the photocopying machine (I must confess we aren’t best friends) as the examiners realised last-minute that we were lacking some important exam sheets. I simply couldn’t remember the four digit pin code for the photocopying machine, despite having been asked to copy documents fairly regularly. I’m heavy-handed especially under pressure, and managed to press a button I shouldn’t have pressed, resulting in the whole system crashing…

It wasn’t easy, but there were some positives too. Having taken several oral exams before (French and German GCSE, A-Level, then two years of University exams), I was able to relate to the pupils’ anxiety just before they had to enter the preparation room. I hope I was able to show some compassion and put them at ease slightly. It was also motivating to see certain pupils – who were perhaps more reserved in class, like myself at school – really put everything into the exam, and get the grades they deserved. I did, however, struggle at times when preparing my feedback for some of the less confident candidates. It comes naturally to me to want to be sensitive and understanding to their needs, which is a character trait I have learned is not present in everyone at all times. It also makes objective grading very difficult – whilst I recognise the importance of evaluation and monitoring progress, I am not exactly pro-grading.

At least we know what misspraxic certainly won’t be doing in the future…

I will follow this post with another one very soon, as I have more to say about the following things:

  • meeting up with my friend in the Netherlands for the second time
  • starting to volunteer in my last weeks in Germany
  • an update on my next year abroad placement in France, which I am in the process of organising

Watch this space! I promise to not leave it so long to write next time – as I’m sure you know by now, it’s dyspraxic trait…

misspraxic