Il faut laisser aller le monde comme il va.
(trans.: We must adapt ourselves to the world as it comes to us).
True. We take things as we find them..
different or awkward they may be. But that is the joy in adapting to a different place, a new rhythm ….. a fresh outlook on life and living.
I read so much and learned only a few about the challenges and opportunities
the girls encountered when, plucked from their familiar surroundings, they have had to swim with the tide and go with the flow. But it is not so much about academic excellence. This was not the purpose of transplanting ourselves away from comfortable
and predictable conditions. The ability to learn the language, understand the culture and be sensitized and appreciative of a life distinct and less familiar but no less worthy of living is the heart of this exercise. And now that the semester
is coming close to the end, I like to think we have somewhat succeeded.
We began with tears and panic. The first week was challenging. Nothing was familiar, nothing was easy. First daughter came home one day in tears
saying she failed her test and she couldn’t understand the lecture nor comprehend the writings on the blackboard and test paper. Second daughter clings for moments longer that normal when she’s dropped off at school in the mornings.
I repeatedly said not to worry about tests and grades. Just adapt, make friends, be respectful of the teachers and behave properly at all times. I knew that their curriculum is so different that their US catholic school will not be able to evaluate
and use their French records. Their school records over the years were good enough to guarantee re-entrée.
Slowly they began to adapt and to like their surroundings and their schooling. First daughter started to
make friends with one of them helping to translate her class notes. Another walking with her around the village. Her teachers were patient with her and some going out of their way to accommodate her language needs. And even with some disturbing
instances, like one of her “evil” classmates pushing her down in the gym, she controlled her emotion and maintained her dignity. She did not even smirk when the PE teacher summoned her classmate and noted down the bad behavior in the classmate’s
cahier (in France, teachers note down these issues and do not accept the cahier or notebook back without parental signature. This behavior evaluation – the vie scolaire -- is part of their grading process and is included in the overall academic
First daughter is amazed with some of the conduct she has witnessed: one of her friends being suspended for a week for PDA (public display of affections) with her boyfriend, another classmate in fistfight with another girl
over a boy, a schoolmate expelled because she fought with the principal’s daughter while another schoolmate was suspended for his repeated cussing to the teachers. So despite occasional teasing for her being American or Chinese, she does not let
herself be provoked. She knows the consequences and, for her, they are costly.
On one occasion, on a school trip for 3 days in Toulouse, three girls were caught at 11:00 pm in one of the boys’ rooms. The parents were
promptly called and ordered to pick them up (a total of four driving hours – two each way) and take them home. “Mom,” she said, “if it was me you would have killed me on the way back.” I responded, jokingly. “Not
really. I would have tortured you first.” I assured her that I trusted her enough not to jeopardize an excursion that she had eagerly anticipated all semester.
While first daughter was deep in immersion with her
school life, second daughter was very slowly adapting. Most of the pace is due to her shyness and her hesitancy to speak out loud. The latter is not unique in France as she is noted for doing the same in the U.S. But her school is relatively
intimate; the class size not overwhelming. She has her own private French language tutor. A good looking young man enthusiastic about his protégé and her potential. Her class teacher is kind and her classmates gentle.
In church one Palm Sunday, the children were rounded up by Pere Bernard for a brief sermon and then directed someplace for some bible activity. Second daughter’s classmate found her and stood by her side the entire time to be guide
and guardian. The classmate spoke to me later and told me that even if second daughter does not speak, “Elle comprend beaucoup.” Sometimes in the mornings when I would take her to school, I would meet another of her classmate walking
and I would ask Jasmine to walk with her. Jasmine would then walk side by side with her and softly speak to her in French. Recently, in a class concert, I accompanied her to the venue and once we arrived she was surrounded by her classmates.
I walked inside thinking that she would follow me but found that she was running around playing with her friends. Funny that, for a moment, I missed the “clinging.”
The school life does not only revolved around
academics but also activities and meals. First daughter sometimes complains that they eat later than other classes so the food is not so warm. Second daughter anticipates the weekly menu and gives a running discourse on every item of the four course
menu she’s had at lunch when she gets home. They enjoy both simple and Michelin star meals. It is a joy to be able to observe their fascination and appreciation for cuisine. I never regret the expenditure. There is no waste.
More importantly, physical activities are “de rigueur” here. Extracurricular activities are required as part of their education. First daughter has had school marathons, one of which second daughter’s school
participated as well. Both had the walking/running exercise through the vineyards between the villages. First daughter was pleased that her sister did not come in last. Second daughter was annoyed that her sister did not give her the “proud
sibling” attention that she anticipated.
The ecole or primary school also schedules day long excursions in addition to the three week daily swimming beginning mid-June. In one event, a bike ride through the vineyards
was scheduled and the teacher sent a note inquiring for parent volunteers. I sent the note back with a response that we could not participate since we did not have a bike. She cornered me the next day and said “c’est obligatoire, madam.”
And she told me that she will ask the children if there were extra bikes that we can borrow. Fortunately for us, our German neighbors arrived for spring break and generously provided the bike on loan. Second daughter was thrilled not just
for the bike but for the participation in the school excursion. She said it was one of the most enjoyable school experiences of her life.
Amidst all these curricular and extra-curricular activities, there are vacation days
galore. I mean holidays that would make schoolchildren all over the U.S. salivate with envy. The school year has four major 2-week vacation periods. The first in the fall is called Toussaint which occurs in the last two weeks of October for
our region. The second is the Christmas holiday, standard across most Western countries. The third holiday period is called vacance d’hiver (winter vacation) and usually occurs in late February/early March. And finally, the Pacque vacance
or vacance de printemps which usually falls in late April or early May.
Both the Christmas holiday and winter holiday periods facilitate the prosperity of regions dependent on winter activities such as skiing. This allows
equity with other parts of France that promote beach and/or warm weather related tourism. There are also various religious and national holidays that, if scheduled early or late in the week, includes “sandwiched days.” So long
weekends are not unusual at all. Call it the la vie est belle but, truly, the French observe and appreciate these breaks. There is no such thing as “staycation” as one can find them in various places visiting family, friends or simply
playing tourists in both new and familiar destinations.
As for us, we benefited from these vacation breaks. We found ourselves in Nice for the Winter Carnival, Granada in balmy weather, and Lourdes, Espelette, and Biarritz
for the vacance de printemps. On a long weekend, with incredibly cheap train fares, we took a brief but satisfying excursion to Lyon. And there are more places to see, things to do, people to meet. We find it difficult to accept that time
passes by so swiftly.
But it does. The school year is coming to an end. We are already nostalgic for the time gone by and the experiences enjoyed. But we are hopeful, maybe even a bit confident, that there are more
to come. Stay.Tuned.