The “rentrée” and my “départ”

Chantilly

Dramatic clouds at Chantilly

I started writing this post in mid-August, when both life at the office and life in Paris were considerably quieter. What people say is true: the city tends to empty out each August as a large proportion of parisiens go on holiday, leaving mostly tourists. The métro was generally quieter because of that, but it remained as busy as ever during rush hours. A year on from my summer school in Heidelberg, one thing has certainly not changed: I still find myself losing balance, slipping, and stepping on peoples’ toes. It makes it harder to “laugh along with myself” in Paris, though, because there are rarely smiles of amusement when this happens.

Louis Vuitton

Finally got around to visiting the excellent exhbition at Fondation Louis Vuitton: ‘l’Art africain

I mentioned in my last post that the family was going on holiday for most of the month of August. In their absence, I attempted to water their garden. Supposedly, this should be a manageable task that doesn’t take too long. The reality for me, and I imagine for many others who struggle with their coordination and spatial awareness, was the opposite. The greatest challenge was not tripping up in the hoops of the hose pipe as I moved from one area of the garden to another. I can only hope the family remained blissfully unaware of the stalks that snapped as a result of my awkward maneuvers around the garden… On a few occasions, water wouldn’t stop spraying out everywhere from the hose pipe. It took many attempts at fiddling with the setting and turning the lever backwards and forwards before I managed to stop the fast flow of water, by which time it was not just the poor patio that was covered in dispersed soil, but also my legs… thank goodness no neighbours were about at the time to witness the drowning.

Galerie Chantilly

Château de Chantilly – galérie des peintures

I made the most of my final month in Paris, by exploring most of the remaining musées and parcs on my to-do list. I was fortunate to have a few visits from friends and family during the final six weeks of my placement, which made it a lot easier to focus on office work during the week. I saw an incredible cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge, and experienced some great classical and jazz concerts indoors as well as at the Parc Floral. I have increased my tolerance to loud music – oddly enough, it hardly bothers me now (depending on the quality of course!). I enjoyed a few wonderful days with one of my German friends who came to visit – the photos above are courtesy of her talent! We had a great day in Chantilly together, visiting the château pictured above. A few days later, I travelled out of Paris by train again, to catch up with one of my French friends in the town of Auxerre. Back in Paris, I also fitted in some final visits to art museums before the end of my placement. My favourite museums within central Paris include the following: Musée Marmottan, Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée national Eugène Delacroix, Musée d’Orsay, and Musée Rodin. Go and visit their exhibitions if you get the chance! Needless to say, of everything I know I will miss, I will miss Paris’ vibrant arts’ scene the most.

arc de triomphe

It is now the beginning of September, widely known as “la rentrée” to parisiens, who have been reluctantly returning to work – and school – following the quiet month of August. The métro is no longer so calm. The office is no longer empty. There is once again a sense of colleagues buzzing around the office, after two weeks of less activity. The rushing-around starts all over again, and fortunately, it is now that I leave – just in time! My départ from the hectic world of Paris was not dramatic at all – my year abroad ended quietly, in contrast to some very loud moments along the way.

I feel a mix of relief and pride as I claim my seat on the Eurostar train back to London. I saw my final placement through to the end, an achievement which at times felt doubtful. I have proven to myself that I can often accomplish a lot more than what I initially consider to be possible. With the right support along the way, a year abroad can absolutely be realistic for a student with specific learning difficulties.

I intend to continue my blog in time, with advice on some of the practical challenges I have not been able to detail in my posts, and more reflections on what I have learned this year. I will also update you on how my final year at university goes! Misspraxic adventures, although not abroad for the time being, will definitely continue.

Thank you to anyone who has read my posts this year. Thanks to your support, I have achieved my biggest challenge yet. I will now be taking a break from scanning machines for the foreseeable future!

Love,

misspraxic

 

 

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A weekend in Normandie for La Fête Nationale

Granville 4Bonjour tout le monde !

In my last blog post, I said I would be going to Normandy with the family for the long weekend to celebrate the la Fête nationale.

We set off by car shortly after I got back from work, and I have to admit, as I am sure you can imagine, I was running about like a headless chicken sorting everything out. The journey took about three hours, and involved more broken crayons, a lot of maquillage (children’s make-up), and more arguments about music choice. The little ones won, and were over the moon to hear the classic Magic in the Air on repeat and full-volume. The music filled the car with life. The toddlers’ dancemoves increased my morale, if not everyone else’s too. The songs the children have introduced me to will stay with me when I leave Paris, as they provide a sort of soundtrack to my time in France.

We were welcomed with kindess and generosity by the grandparents at their house in the countryside, not too far from the port town, Granville, marked on the map below:

Map Granville

For this long weekend, we were a smaller group than usual – just the two youngest children, plus two of their cousins, were staying in Normandy with us. This meant that dinner and bedtime routines were a lot more manageable than the previous two weekends I have spent away with the family. I also had company and help, in the form of the aupair who will take over from me when I leave, and the cousins’ nanny.

As always, though, I felt a great responsibility to keep an eye on the four under-fives racing around the garden on their bikes, and to run over whenever there was the slightest accident or crash.

On the Saturday, the two other nannies and I enjoyed a day in Granville together – we visited the old city including the cathedral, went for a walk along the coastal path, and visited the Musée d’art moderne Richard Anacréon for a Courbet exhibition…

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I enjoyed the long apéritifs before dinner, listening to the grandfather’s stories (which reminded me a little of my own grandpa’s story-telling, from which I have learned a lot). We had some lovely meals altogether, in which I go to know the other side of the family. We sampled some delicious seafood typical for the Normandy region, including snails, langoustines, and crab. The taste made up for my allergic reaction to the shellfish!

On the evening of the 14th of July, the fête nationale was celebrated across France. Months ago, I was expecting to be in Paris for this day, but instead I ended up having a very different experience: I stayed up to watch fireworks from the top floor in the house, which although was undoubtedly not as magical as the real deal, was still special. I watched the processions taking place in Paris live on the grandparents’ television, with the whole family.

Granville 3Back in Paris, the réceptionniste has just returned after two weeks’ holiday. Although I had the company of the other stagiaire réceptionniste for the first week, which was a great help, I was by myself for the second week. Sorting through and stamping the post, a task that would normally take up to two hours on a normal day, took me five hours on the Monday. I got there in the end, though, more efficiently than the last time I was alone. The German assistant was, as always, happy to help me when I had questions. I admit that I did panic that same afternoon, having to multitask by myself: colleagues’ demands, phonecalls, packages arriving, messages to leave, clients to be welcomed… After leaving the desk to run an errand, I had misplaced the key to the reception desk drawer. Inside the drawer was my bag, including my phone. The spare key was also locked inside the drawer, and I had to stay at the office until I had calmed down enough to begin rationally looking for the key.

I am convinced that this sort of juggling, the phenomena I described in a previous post, would overwhelm anyone. It really can be a struggle to remain calm, efficient, and logical. The colleagues who stopped at the reception desk to tell me that I have been doing well and that they will miss me when I leave, or the postman who smiles and mouths “bon courage” (good luck/keep going motivation) reassure me that they maybe do understand, to some extent, this struggle.

The family has just left for their holiday, and whilst they are away, I have been tasked with watering the garden… Wish me luck!

I aim to write another post next week, as I prepare to leave Paris in exactly one month’s time. How time flies!?

Merci à tous de suivre mon blog ! (Thanks again for your support in following my blog).

Bisous,

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return of “La Petite Anglaise”

Hello again tout le monde !

I planned my favourite sort of trip for the beginning of June (une visite surprise !): I went home for the weekend to surprise my family.

The Eurostar train from Paris to London was delayed, so I missed my connecting train, and arrived home somewhat later than I originally planned. In my haste to grab my tickets from the self-service machine in the two minutes before the train was due to depart from Paddington Station, I left my return ticket in the machine. It was a classic misspraxic mistake, and I was very lucky to have both tickets reimbursed by the kind and understanding station staff. Such treatment would not have been the case in Germany or France, where rules and regulations tend to override when it comes to transport, in my experience.

Next time, I will try even harder not to rush around, because it is not worth the trouble in a big, busy station. I would also recommend booking a connecting train with a departure time of at least two hours after your first train is due to arrive! That way, you can sit back with a book instead of anxiously sprinting down escalators. You can also arrange to pick up your tickets in advance of the journey, or pay extra to have your tickets posted directly to you. If you’re like me, it might be worth it!

Home 2

Surprise visit home: wandering through an orchard by the sea

Despite the unfortunate timing, my visit home was a great success. A couple of  weekends later, I returned to London again, but this time I didn’t go home. I went to a conference on something I care a lot about – the future of languages and cultural relations in the UK post-Brexit.

I can understand why some might be skeptical about the idea of interrupting a placement abroad with a visit back home, and all that entails (planning ahead, travel complications etc.). For me, though, the occasional return to the UK during my year abroad has been very worthwhile. It has sunk in just how much I have learned and achieved within a short period of time. My mind was overflowing with colloquial French expressions, even in the middle of the British countryside. I realised how immersed I had been in the language and culture, which in turn boosted my morale on my return to Paris. Dyspraxics are often known for having a particular attention to detail – this applies to me, as I am aware of being more sensitive and critical to cultural differences, for example reflecting more on the behaviours of people around me…

Party

Big corporate summer party with clients and colleagues – there was even a red carpet, would you believe!?

Back in Paris, I have developed a nickname in the office – I am known, particularly to the other réceptionniste, as la petite anglaise (the little English girl)! The name amuses me, as I am actually plus grande (taller) than many of my colleagues. The past few weeks have honestly been testing and tiring, following more débâcles with the scanning machine and its frequent bourrages, as well as disappointed and disgruntled colleagues following my inadequate phone messages or manner. There are some days when I feel like I will never be good enough at the job due to the nature of it: I need to stop blaming myself for saying or doing the ‘wrong’ things, as some of the tasks or knowledge expected of me is not reasonable. Dyspraxic or not, if you are in a similar situation to me, I hope it helps to know that you are not alone in struggling with a stage (internship) in a high-pressured office environment.

During a year abroad or during any stay in an unfamiliar place, it is likely you will feel isolated or stressed or both. Each week I try to make sure I go out to a new place, or let myself enjoy strolling around a new art gallery, or going to a café for lunch. It makes up for long and often tedious hours at a computer. Recently, my free time in the city has been completely enriched with art, music, and culture! Let me tell you more…

Last weekend, I enjoyed a visit to Emile Zola’s house in Médon, a small rural village to the west of Paris. Although the house, museum, and château that inspired Cézanne were unfortunately closed, I enjoyed chatting to the local people in the village, and relaxing on the bank of the Seine. I suggest checking the website thoroughly for practical information before getting carried away at the prospect of visiting a new place (which, in my case, is easily done)!

 

A couple of weekends ago, I took the children to a public farm at Saint-Cloud, where we got to watch the animals being fed. Afterwards, we had a lovely picnic in the Parc de Saint-Cloud (outside of Paris in the banlieues – suburbs). All was going well until the little ones decided to take the older ones’ lead to climb trees in the farm’s garden! I didn’t have enough eyes to follow all the children’s fast movements, and was afraid of someone falling. I had to step in – that led to more tantrums, and my glasses fell to the ground, but thankfully none of the children got hurt, and my glasses survived to tell the tale.

Ferme

A Sunday afternoon in Saint-Cloud

 

I also enjoyed la Fête de la Musique on June 21st there were all kinds of concerts and performances all evening in Paris, as well as in other towns in France, and in other countries. A concert called Komm, Bach attracted me – it was probably the German title, or the prospect of harmonies involving an Organist, a soprano singer and an African Djembe drummer. On the night of the festival, I made my way to a church in the 8th arrondissement – an area I don’t know very well. It was an absolutely incredible concert, and without a doubt one of the best I have experienced during my year abroad. A few days later, I had another great evening at the La Défense Jazz Festival with a friend, and got to know one of her Germans friends too – it was fun to all chat in German together, and it was a welcome change from French.

Have a look at the photos from la Fête de la Musique, as well as other events and exhibitions I have recently experienced:

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For the long bank holiday weekend next week, I am going to Normandy with the family to celebrate la Fête nationale also known as Bastille Day on 14th July. I will let you know how that goes!

Bonne semaine et à plus,

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

 

 

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.

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.

15268-amsterdam-locator-map

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

 

 

 

Preparing for Christmas Pt 1: Nicholaustag and the Weihnachtsmann

Hallo zusamen,

I’m still safe and well, but I’ve been slow updating my blog because of all the different things I have been doing, and like usual, I start writing but don’t get very far. I never forget, though, and I have a lot to tell you.

I know I am not alone in struggling to maintain motivation at times, with the heavy knowledge that the world is in chaos in most places you look. But, my small personal achievements this term are keeping me going to the Christmas holiday, which is now in sight.

 

Festive preparations at school


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In the past two weeks, my school has been getting into the festive spirit. December 6th was Nicholaustag, and the Weihnachtsmann made an appearance. I felt priviledged to creep into one Year Five class (the youngest children) to watch him read out a special letter. Each teacher prepared a thoughtful letter evaluating how well the children had settled into school, and some goals to improve upon as a class for next term.

The Weihnachtsmann’s sack contained a chocolate Santa for each child – the excitable, surprised looks on the children’s faces took me back in time to the Christmas excitement I felt as a child.

It was also very kind of the Schuleitung to place a “Weckmann” (see above) on every Lehrerzimmer table, also to mark Nicholaustag.

 

Christmas party (Weihnachtsfeier) with the choir


In the advent period, and in the lead up to Christmas, I have enjoyed learning lots of German Christmas songs with the choir. I was even invited to their Christmas “Weichnachtsfeier” – surprise Christmas party! We were all given a vague address of the meeting-point for the evening, which was where two roads met. As always, I left more time than I needed to arrive at the mysterious festive gathering, and my friend Google Maps was there to help, but I couldn’t see anyone else I knew.

I waited and waited, feeling anxious by this point, thinking I’d made a Dyspraxic Mistake and misunderstood something. But before long familiar faces appeared. A table was brought out onto the pavement, and a dancing, singing Father Christmas placed there too. Someone poured out the Glühwein, and we began to sing Christmas songs together as we were waiting for everyone else to arrive.

They led us into a mysterious place… through a garage (lots of beautiful old cars, mind), converted into a vintage, American-themed diner. I was mesmerised by where they had brought us. Look:

 

I think everyone enjoyed the evening – great music and company. Towards the end of the night, the Weihnachtsmann said a few closing words. What I was least expecting, though, was that he would ask “and who is new in the choir this year…?” and for everyone to point at me! I had to go up to the front, and was hugged by Father Christmas. I was both touched and in shock, to the extent that I couldn’t find the words to answer his so-called easy question “tell us a random fact about you?”

Taking a trip over the border, en nederlands spreken!


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The day after the choir party was yet more eventful. I had spontaneously arranged to meet an old friend in Venlo, the city just over the German-Netherlands border, but was not expecting to be travelling much further. I was wrong! My friend was much more familiar with the perplexing train and ticketing system (thank goodness – the “Inchecken” and “Uitchecken” rules were complicated). My heart was racing when my friend suggested we catch a train to Roermond, and then on to Maastricht. I was amazed by how much we managed to fit into just a few hours – I usually give myself the whole day to explore one town or city. I also only resorted to English when we got to the art museum. My two months of learning Dutch was enough to make my understood in shops, cafés, and asking directions in the street. So that’s proof it is possible to learn a foreign language in a foreign language! That said, now that the Dutch semester has come to an end at the Volkshochschule, I have decided not to re-register, as I would rather learn Dutch in English, and start a course in England.

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Time to reflect: progress getting from A to B with dyspraxia


My confidence navigating and using public transport has improved since August (albeit with an arguably unhealthy reliance on my friend Google). You can probably tell that from just reading my first blog post in Heidelberg. I also managed to get to Munich and back just over a week ago without a problem – I want to say more about that in my next post.

When I remember that I struggled to cross roads just a few years ago, I feel like I have made progress in this area, and want to share it with you. I don’t want to speak too soon, as I know travelling will never be completely stress-free for me, but this term particularly I have successfully planned trips to visit friends in different cities. That’s involved processing often confusing bus/train timetables in German, getting used to new U/S-Bahn and ticketing systems, often changing between platforms rather than direct journeys, and most importantly keeping calm when things don’t go completely as I plan.

I have tried to make an extra big effort with my time-organisation to keep in with the important Punktlichkeit culture (though not always taken so seriously at my school, so maybe I can relax a little!) As someone who was constantly rushing around like a headless chicken to get onto the school bus in the mornings, it baffles me that I have rarely been late (for anything important at least!) in Germany. My coping strategy is setting multiple alarms, and I have also got used to planning in “late time” of about half an hour, so I always arrive early in the event of a train delay or something.

The next part of this blog (detailing what I got up to in Munich, as well as the last days of school before Christmas) will be coming up really soon, so keep following.

Bis gleich,

misspraxic