Tuesday, January 24, 2012


While I was home for Christmas, I had several people tell me how wonderful it was to keep up with my blog while I was gone.  But everyone kept asking, "What about your job??"

Well, I don't necessarily like what I'm doing here, so I don't like to talk about it.  But it's still a part of my experience, so here it goes:

My contract says that I am to work in the circonscription de Morne-Rouge, at the school in Morne-Vert.  I am contracted to work a maximum of 12 hours per week.  I am supposed to be an English assistant, an aide to the teacher while they teach the students English.  I can help with pronunciation, work with small groups, work alongside the teacher, etc.

That's what I signed up for.  However, my experience hasn't necessarily gone exactly how I anticipated.

My third day in Martinique, my tutrice (and main contact person) asked me to accompany her at a conference in Morne-Rouge.  Little did I know, it was a district-wide conference with about 200 teachers, and it wasn't until after I got there that I was informed that I would be making a speech to present myself.  Excuse me?  Sure, let me just jump right up there to the microphone and babble about myself in French in front of a few hundred strangers.  No problem.  But that's what I had to do.

Before I even had an idea of what anything would be like in Martinique, my tutrice asked me if I would be willing to include another school in my schedule.  Not knowing what it entailed, I agreed.  After my wonderful speech at the conference, another teacher asked to have her school added to my schedule.  Having three schools wouldn't be an issue, but most of the time, these schools would be reasonably close to each other.  For me, not so.  The Morne-Rouge circonscription covers almost the entire northern half of the island.

I chose to live in Schoelcher, in the center of the island, understanding that I would have to drive myself to Morne-Vert.  To go to Ajoupa-Bouillon, a teacher actually picks me up in Bellefontaine, which is about a 25 minute drive.  Then she drives me up to Ajoupa (about another 45 minutes to an hour north).  I ended up asking to drop my third school, Prêcheur, because I had to drive about 45 minutes north and then have a teacher pick me up and drive me the last 15 minutes.  It took too much gas, and it seemed like a waste of time.

So now, I only work three days a week: Tuesday and Friday mornings from 8-12 at Morne-Vert and all day Thursday at Ajoupa-Bouillon.  In the States, when you work from 8-12, that would normally count as a 4 hour day, but they don't count my hours that way.  You only calculate the actual time you're with students, so it only counts as 3 hours.  Then, even though I'm in Ajoupa from 8-4, it only counts as roughly 5 hours.  I usually leave my house at 6:20 am and don't get home until after 6pm... but again, that doesn't matter.  It makes for a very long day.

If traveling a long way was the only issue, I wouldn't complain much.  But I've had a lot of issues with my tutrice, the teachers, and the classes I teach.

  • My tutrice.  Although she can be very friendly and fun, my tutrice is a little crazy.  She can be a little flaky and demanding.  I cannot count the number of hours I've spent at home looking up things online for her, finding certain songs or pictures to help her with her lessons.  She asks me for favors often, which of course don't count in my hours.  At the beginning, she also asked me to go to several random meetings that never even concerned me.  She always seems to cause me so much stress.  However, my biggest issue now is that she has started to just not show up at school.  Which leads me to my next point:
  • The teachers.  Apparently, no one seems to think I need to know when teachers are going to be absent.  Technically, I am not supposed to be a substitute.  I should not have to take over the class if the teacher is not there.  My tutrice actually comes in to teach two of my classes in Morne-Vert, yet whenever she is absent, she makes me teach for her.  Since the beginning of January, she has already been absent 4 times... out of 7 days.  One day, she also "forgot" to tell me that one of the classes wasn't even going to be in school.  After a night of very little sleep, it would have been nice to know that I didn't need to be in school until 9 instead of 8...
  • The classes.  Again, I'm not supposed to take classes on my own.  Yet, my tutrice decided that I should.  So at Morne-Vert, twice a week, I take 12 students from CE1 (7 year olds) into an empty classroom by myself.  For the first few months, no other teacher was even in the classroom with me.  The kids are horribly misbehaved and almost every day I wanted to just walk out on them and cry.  I expressed my concerns with the teachers and directrice (principal), but the only thing that changed is that now once a week, the directrice comes in the classroom and observes.  She doesn't even speak English, so the only thing she can help with is discipline.  And I am still alone with the kids once a week, so I'm still struggling with the teachers to try to figure out a different solution.  

Overall, I've been extremely frustrated by my work situation.  It could be so much fun to teach little kids, but it just comes with so much stress.  Did I mention that there is no set curriculum that I'm supposed to follow?  And that everything is completely unorganized?  Oh, and that I am not qualified to teach these children, I am a teaching assistant.

And so, this is why I don't like to talk about my job.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Halfway Gone, Halfway There

First things first: I have to say a huge congratulations to my cousin (technically, cousin's husband) for writing a children's book!  Check it out...You can find it on Amazon.  Pretty darn cool if you ask me.
Nigel the narwhal is a fun-loving whale who spends his time frolicking in the sea with his friends, until one day a horn starts growing below his nose! His friends begin to shy away from him and Nigel has feelings of confusion. Seeking the advice of his parents, Nigel learns to embrace his uniqueness. Nigel and his friends learn that it is their differences that make each of them so special.

So... back to la Martinique...

View from Pointe Borgnesse 

I'm reaching the halfway point in my journey in Martinique.

The first half has been different than I expected, but it has been extremely fulfilling in many ways.  I have been able to experience so many things that I would have never been able to do had I not come here.  There were times during the first month that I was seriously debating on going home; now, I couldn't be happier that I stayed.

Although I feel like I've accomplished so much during my first 3 1/2 months here, there are still so many things that I have yet to do... I'm in Martinique where new experiences practically throw themselves at me.  So my new goal is to make sure I do something new and exciting at least once a week.  I have so many things to cross off my bucket list before I leave this island, so I better get crackin'.

It's also reaching the point where I need to start thinking about what to do after Martinique.  This isn't it.  My journey doesn't end after this.  I just need to decide which way I want the wind to take me... Or rather, which way I want to choose to fly.

I've known for a while that I don't want to follow the traditional life path of graduating, finding a job, getting married, buying a house, having kids, etc.  I'm not knocking the traditional path, if that's what makes you happy.  But I know those things aren't what will make me happy.  And I refuse to live a life that I don't love.

I've reached the first step: I know what I don't want to do.  Now, I need to start figuring out what I do want to do.  I need to start focusing on my passions and find a way to make those passions into a lifestyle (preferably one where I don't need to ever ask my parents for money again...)

So in my last few months in Martinique, I'm looking for inspiration, and maybe a little guidance.  In the meantime, I'm not going to take a single moment for granted.  I plan on taking full advantage of every second of time I have left on this island.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Champagne Flowing

It's official: I am a quarter of a century old.  

Last weekend was my 25th birthday, and I must admit that it was by far the best birthday of my life.  And it's all thanks to my wonderful friends in Martinique!

Saturday morning a group of us woke up and drove over to Le Robert on the Atlantic coast to go kayaking.  We went on a lovely little trip to a small îlet around the bend to explore some old ruins and search for iguanas.  Apparently Martinique used to have iguanas and parrots, but some genius brought over mongooses, and they ate all the iguana and parrot eggs.  So now iguanas are very rare, other than on this tiny island off the coast.  Parrots, on the other hand, are nonexistent here.  

Parked to explore the island

Team Awesome

The one and only iguana we spotted

Close up

Crazy tree with crazy roots

This tree literally devoured a house.  If you look close you can see bricks through the roots.

They used coral with bricks to build the walls

Chicken sleeping in a tree.  Totally normal

After exploring iguana island, we kayaked to the point where there is a small beach.  I ran into my tutrice, who invited us to have a drink on her floating bar (literally a floatie with holders for your rum and cups).  After our little happy hour drink, we made the 45 minute trek back to enjoy a nice planteur to celebrate our mad kayaking skills.

Floating bar

The girls enjoying our free drink

Celebrating with a planteurs

After kayaking, my dear friends had a lovely evening planned for me.  Everything was a surprise; I was only told to dress up and be ready by 7.  A few people came over to have a couple glasses of champagne before they took me to meet some others at the casino.  No, not for gambling.  Unbeknownst to me, there is a really nice restaurant upstairs that has a buffet and open bar.  Open bar on my birthday = perfect idea.

Bottoms up!

Birthday Girl (in a hat that we stole from a table downstairs.. Don't worry, we took it back)

After a lovely dinner and several drinks, I was taken to the dock at a nearby beach, where they surprised me with a birthday cake and more champagne.  

Lighting the candles

Mmm cake

To top off an amazing evening, we decided to end the night at the bar next to the beach.  Hey, it was my birthday, so why not try to get some free drinks?  And that we did.  While the guys sat at the bar and kept to themselves, all of us girls decided to mingle.  We ended up meeting a few groups of guys who all bought us drinks, but we spent most of the night with two men who were two of the highest rated jockeys in France and their agent.  They bought bottle after bottle of expensive champagne.  As soon as our glasses were empty, they were immediately refilled.  Literally, champagne flowing.  

Way too excited for champagne!  

Boater, Joelle, agent, jockey

All in all, I have to say that this was the most amazing birthday I could have asked for.  I thought that turning 25 would be a difficult age for me, but I couldn't be happier.  I actually don't feel old at all... After all, age is only a number.  

Without a doubt, I know that 2012 will be one of the best years ever.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas in the Mitten

Well, I finally had my real Christmas.  I had snow.  I had eggnog.  I had my family.  And it was all absolutely wonderful.

Christmas tree, with a few presents

That's the American spirit 

Eggnog (with rum, of course)

Holiday beer

Keeping warm

Walking in the snow!

My favorite people in the whole wide world

Sibling love

I spent almost 2 weeks at home, and as vacations always do, it went by too fast.  But it really put things into perspective.  I'm grateful that I was able to spend the holidays with my family and friends, but it also helped me realize how truly lucky I am to have the opportunity to be living in a foreign country for seven months.  And that seven months really does go by much too quickly...

Unfortunately, it's getting to that point where I need to start thinking about what I'm going to do with my life after Martinique.