London, England


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In Sweeney Todd, the title character sings, “There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit, / And the vermin of the world inhabit it, / And its morals aren’t worth what a pig could spit, / And it goes by the name of London.”  Now, I didn’t  meet everyone there, but I can say from personal experience that there are some wonderful people in London, not to mention the awe-inspiring places.  I spent a whirlwind two and a half days in London, exploring the city, visiting historical places, and taking in as many Harry Potter themed things as possible.

Our first stop was the Tower of London, where we arrived about an hour and a half

Tower of London

before closing time.  We knew we wouldn’t be able to see everything, but our main goal was to see the crown jewels, and everything else was a bonus.  The tower itself was majestic.  Despite visiting on Halloween and the number of beheadings that took place there, it wasn’t too eerie.  I found it to be a nice expanse of land, and I enjoyed exploring a place where so many people had lived, worked, and, well, died.  The crown jewels were extravagant, as expected, but also beautiful.  It was interesting to learn about all of the different parts of a coronation.  For example, the coronation spoon!  A spoon, of all things.  That is used to put the oil on the monarch during the ceremony.  And then ther was a punch bowl in which several babies could have bathed comfortably, which is used for the after party.  I’m fairly certain there is a more technical—and probably regal—name for it, but it is essentially an after party.  The crowns and scepters and swords were all there, too, and it is amazing to think about all of the lives those objects have changed.  In my lifetime, I will probably see them in use, so it’s really neat to have seen them (relatively) up close.  The whole idea of being a monarch—so much in the public eye and everything—is very, well, foreign to me, but I have to wonder if any of them casually visit the crown jewels and just think about things.

Lauren and I with Tower Bridge in the background

As the tower was getting ready to close, we went out front and met up with my friend Lauren, who is studying at Royal Holloway in Egham, just outside of London, for the semester (You can read about her adventures here:  We walked across Tower Bridge and along the river for a bit before finding dinnar at Covent Garden, which is already getting ready for the holidays—giant tree ornaments and everything.  After some more wandering around, Tina and I headed back to our hostel to get some rest, as we knew we had two full days ahead.

Our main goal for Thursday morning was to obtain tickets to a show for that evening.  We didn’t really care which one, but our initial plan was standby tickets for The Lion King.  That was revised after discovering the box office hours (opening later than we would have liked) and that Matthew Lewis, who is most often known as the actor who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter movies, was performing in a play called “Our Boys.”  We purchased our tickets at Leicaster Square, and I gave my 6-stamp reward card (with the two stamps from our tickets on it) to the woman in line behind us, for which I received a hug.  Just one of the many lovely people in London!

Our next stop was the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which wasn’t horribly exciting, but a good experience.  It’s not a thing to do if you don’t like crowds or are short on patience, as it is highly populated and a rather long process with lots of waiting around, but it was neat to see—and a good place to people watch.  We did see the Queen leave the palace in a car, so that was a bonus—so many bonuses in London!  By the time that whole process was finished, we were ready for lunch, which we found at SFC, kind of a British version of KFC.  I believe the S here stands for “Sutton,” but I’m not positive on that one.  Regardless, it was good and gave us the energy to tackle the afternoon.

We continued on to Westminster Abbey, location of royal coronations, weddings, and the

Ceiling of Westminster Abbey

final resting place for many.  I didn’t really have any expectations here, so it wasn’t hard to exceed them, but Westminster is the kind of place where you could be perfectly content to sit and look at the ceiling for a solid hour—never mind the rest of the place.  You weren’t supposed to take pictures, but I snuck a few anyway.  Doesn’t that ceiling look like lace?  After visiting the graves of all levels of royalty (again, do they have special hours where current royalty can come visit relatives without being surrounded by tourists?), we reached my favorite part, the Poet’s Corner.  Many, many British writers are buried

The Poet’s Corner

at Westminster—and for the “important” ones who aren’t, there is a memorial wall for them.  Chaucer was the first buried there to start the tradition, but T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll…Britain is such a rich literary country!  I wonder if J.K. Rowling’s plot there has already been reserved, or if they’ve stopped doing that…

Our show was at 7:45, so we headed back to the hostel to change after the Abbey, making a quick detour to the British Museum first.  We picked up dinner on the way back and arrived at the theatre exceedingly early in all of our excitement.  Matthew Lewis may have been the reason

With Matthew Lewis after his performance in “Our Boys”

we picked “Our Boys” over the other options the West End had to offer, but it was a really enjoyable show.  Actually a revival of a show written in 1993, “Our Boys” is set in the hospital room of four British soldiers in 1984.  Two other residents of the ward—other injured soldiers—visit regularly, which brings the number of amazing cast members up to six.  “Our Boys” is a heart-wrenching critique of the military at some moments, but also belly-achingly funny.  It’s about friendship, trust, and what it means to really “be in it together.”  Between the writing and the staging and the acting, it was well executed, which made for both an enjoyable and thought-provoking performance.  Afterwards, we were fortunate enough to meet the cast.  They were all gracious and appreciative and happy to sign my ticket for me, which I appreciated.

I don’t think the shock of that experience has quite

Platfrom 9 and 3/4

worn off even now, but our London adventure continued anyway.  Friday morning, we visited the Charles Dickens Museum.  It is currently under construction, so mostly what I saw was scaffolding, but I went anyway.  After that, it was King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations, both locations for the filming of Harry Potter.  221B Baker Street, the address of (the fictional) Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, was our next stop, followed by a lovely stroll through Regent’s Park.

After that, Tina and I split ways for a bit.  I took a very brief tour of the Science Museum before heading to the Globe while she spent more time there.  Despite being a reconstruction and not quite on the original site, standing in The Globe was one of my

Inside The Globe

favorite parts of the trip.  (Granted, I had quite a few favorite moments, but this was very special.)  I’ve learned a good deal about Shakespeare and his theatre over the years, but nothing compares to actually being in the space.  It was exactly like all of the pictures and models, but it was so much better.  Seeing the perspective, looking at the trapdoors for heaven and hell, and just being in that space alone was worth the trip to London.

Our final destination—in addition to all of the other experiences—put the trip over the

A poster describing which crew members posed for which portraits on display at Hogwarts

top.  Getting there was a little tricky—it involved a train and a shuttle bus—but the Harry Potter Studio Tour was everything I had imagined and more.  I particularly enjoyed the way they worked in information about the crew as you went through the exhibit.  The making of any movie—or play or musical, for that matter—is always about more than just the actors, and Warner Brothers did an especially nice job showing that to visitors.  Everything from props to special effects and hair/makeup was featured at some point, in addition to showing off actual sets and prop pieces.  I visited the Leaky Cauldron, saw the boys’ dormitory, took a stroll through the ministry, knocked on the door of Number 4, Privet Drive, and rode on a broomstick in front of a green screen.  And that’s just a handful of the things there are to do and see throughout the tour.

The last room of the tour

The end of the tour takes visitors around the model of Hogwarts, a huge and intricately detailed model used for all of the aerial shots of the castle (any time someone was flying around, panning in and out, etc.).   If it were possible to be more than impressed, I was.  The final stop of the tour was also one of my favorite rooms—one stacked floor to ceiling with wand boxes, a room that could have been Ollivander’s.  Instead of wand descriptions, though, the end of each wand box had the name of one person who worked on the films—over 4,000 in all.  It was an incredible monument to all of their hard work and acknowledged everyone.

London was extremely good to us.  It only rained during the day once, and that was while we were in Westminster Abbey.  Navigation was confusing only a

Helpful London streets

few times, and the streets kindly reminded me to look out for cars coming from the opposite direction than I am accustomed.  So many things about London were wonderful—if I ever get the chance, I’d love to go back!


Saarbrucken and Baking


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I would argue that the two best parts about being abroad are experiencing new places and getting to know new people, and I was fortunate enough to do both this past weekend.

On Friday, I realized that I had no plans whatsoever for Saturday, so I looked at my list of potential day trips and made plans for Saarbrucken, Germany.  When I say “make plans” here, I mean that I checked on bus times in order to set my alarm appropriately and briefly looked at the city’s website, taking note of a few points of interest.  I have found that less planning can often lead to a more enjoyable trip—less rushing, more discovery.  My list for Saarbrucken looked something like this:

  • Johannismarkt
  • Ludwigskirche
  • Saarbrucken Schloss
  • Castle wall
  • Alte Bruecke

There are several museums in Saarbrucken, but I wasn’t feeling a museum day, so I didn’t make note of those.

I elected to take the early bus, which meant I arrived in Saarbrucken at 8.30, right alongside the rain.  Hoping it would clear up before too long, I ducked inside the nearest store to browse around for a bit.  When the rain (it was a light rain, nothing too bad) persisted, I bought a streusel, pulled on my mittens, and headed out anyway.

A helpful street sign

Most stores weren’t open yet, but I found the market and a church, which was quite lovely.  Saarbrucken has these nice little signposts that allowed me to navigate the city without feeling like a complete tourist, which helped me, I think, to get to know the town better.  I found all of my premeditated destinations in addition to discovering others!  Every time I turned a corner or something new came into view, I found myself smiling; that is how quickly I came to love Saarbrucken.  It was cold, yes, but at some point the rain stopped and it began to snow!  They were tiny little flakes you could barely see, but it was definitely snow.  With Halloween not widely celebrated and Thanksgiving not celebrated at all, we are nearing Christmas season here in Europe—and it doesn’t feel as premature as it usually does in the States!

The churches were beautiful, the town hall stunning, and the snow wonderful, but my


favorite part was probably a garden I hadn’t originally planned on visiting.  One of the signposts told me about it, so I follwed a path and discovered a delightful garden/park in all of its Autumn glory.  Saarbrucken is not, from what I understand, a large tourist attraction, but I think it has been one of my favorites—maybe because it’s not a tourist town.

Saarbrucken Schloss









My Saarbrucken trip was a solo one, but the getting-to-know-people part came into play on Sunday, when I went over to bake with Carole.  Carole and Henri were my friend Sarah’s host parents when she participated in STEP last year, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet them a few times this semester.  Last Sunday, they invited us over for dinner with Kayla, who they had hosted temporarily at the beginning of the semester.  Henri’s English is pretty good, but Carole speaks about as much English as I do Luxembourgish, so she was very excited to learn that I speak German.  She also loves to cook and bake, and I’ve really been missing baking, so we made Sunday baking day.

I reported to their house at 8.00, and Carole greeted me with a hug and a mug of hot chocolate, which was just what I needed after my brisk walk to their house.  After chatting a bit, we got started, our first order of business being to finish making/canning the jelly she had begun the night before.  After we finished the jelly, we got started on the banana bread—I had brought a translation of my grandma’s recipe—before continuing on to a cake made with Eierliquor (egg liquor).  The act of baking itself was really nice and familiar, and talking with Carole was really great, too!

I’m fairly certain that Henri and Carole would host all of the Miami students if they could—they genuinely enjoy talking to us and showing off their country—and Henri is full of knowledge about Luxembourg’s history, which he loves to share.  They invited me to stay for lunch, at which point I learned that they had reserved the entire day for me!  We took the dogs for a walk in a park in Hesperange, a nearby town, and then watched Wikki, a movie about a young Viking boy apparently familiar to all Luxembourgish/German children.  The boy is very clever but not very strong, and his father is the opposite.  I feel like it may have been the inspiration for How to Train Your Dragon, but there weren’t any dragons in this one.

There are moments when I have to take a step back and give myself a reality check—that this is my life, and that these things really are happening to me.  After this weekend, I definitely had one of those moments.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


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I am hesitant to say that I loved Gone Girl because I did not love it in the all-encompassing way I love books like Anne of Green Gables or The History of Love.  With those books, I engage in a world where pain and suffering exist, yes, but they leave me with an overall pleasant thought, and optimism for life and human nature.  Like those books, though, Gone Girl is extremely well-written.  Gillian Flynn captures the voices of her characters and has a real knack for the pacing of a story.  I hesitate to place this book in the love category only because sometimes the truth can be unsettling.

Through the story of a missing woman and the investigation that follows her disappearance, Flynn dives right into the topic of how well we really know those around us—especially those we love—and ourselves.  As their lives change, Flynn’s characters force the reader to reflect on what it means to love, to think about the way we present ourselves to others, and to acknowledge the real influence we have on other people.

This is a book that left me thinking between readings (which was never very long—I always seemed to find a way to put off whatever else needed to be done in order to read), but I’m also still thinking about it, days after turning the final page (and after I’ve started another book, I might add).  I have no doubt that a second reading, when the time comes, will prove to be equally fascinating and thought-provoking, because Flynn has woven an intricate narrative—the kind of book you love reading again because you are able to pick up on all of the things you missed before (in this case, probably because you were reading too quickly, driven forward by the plot).

There are some books you don’t want to talk too much about for fear of ruining the story the author has stitched together—this is one of those books.  Even though Gone Girl isn’t quite in the love category, it’s definitely one that I would highly recommend.

Royal Wedding Weekend


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Talk about pressure for a good engagement photo!

This weekend, as many headlines declared, “Europe’s last bachelor heir” was wed–Luxembourg’s own Guillame!  Luxembourg’s royal head of state is the Grand Duke, and Guillame is next in line.  His wedding to Countess Stephane de Lannoy of Belgium was celebrated across the country, culminating in a fireork display and free rock concert in the city center Saturday night.

Festivities began on Friday, when the couple was wed in a civil ceremony in the city hall, which was followed by a banquet in the City Palace Friday evening.  We didn’t know about the banquet until we joined a crowd in front of the palace, curious to know what was going on, and found van-loads of royals arriving at the banquet!  Royalty from Sweden, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, England, and Belgium (of course) were all present, wearing crowns and everything.  I waved at them–and they waved back!

Inside the church, the day after the wedding

Saturday morning, we had plans to joint he people of Luxembourg in a public viewing of the church ceremony on a jumbotron in the city center.  I’ll spare you the details, but I woke up too sick to attend and ended up watching on the couch with my host sister, Sophie, serving as translator and caretaker.  (She made me a gallery’s worth of drawings–and my own paper crown!)  The wedding itself seemed really nice–even with the translations, I didn’t understand a whole lot, but the flowers (and the bride) were beautiful.  There was a bit of a melancholy over the ceremony because Stephanie’s mother died only two months ago, but the bride wore her (mother’s) engagement ring on her other hand, which was a nice tribute, and there was a moment of silence in honor of her.  Nothing, though, beat the way Guillame was looking at her during the ceremony–it was a beautiful ceremony.

Afterwards, the couple was driven over to the Palace where they had their first official kiss (not in the church) on the balcony in front of a full crowd of people (plus the television crews).  The couple stuck around for the fireworks that evening (which I was lucky enough to be able to see through my window) and then set off for their honeymoon, the location of which is supposedly a surprise even for Stephanie.

Sunday I woke up feeling much better and decided to go to the giant flea market near

The market

the city center.  Unrelated to the wedding, Sunday was “Manteltag,” the only Sunday when stores are actually open.  They do this towards the end of October each year because November first is All Saint’s Day and people like to get new clothes for the occasion.  It also marks the end of flea market season (aside from the Christmas markets, which are different), so I headed out to see what was going on.

While I was there, I discovered that the church was still decorated from the wedding–and now open to the public!  I walked around and saw everything up close, which was really neat, especially since I had previously visited (one of the very first places I went in Luxembourg), so it was interesting to see the differences.  Back at the market, I ran into my host mom, who had a booth there with her sister, and I manned her spot so that she could go take a peek at the cathedral.

That night, another host family had invited us over for dinner, but first Tina and I had to take advantage of the lack of rain and make a leaf pile.  After that, it was off to a delicious (and large) meal of pumpkin soup, pizza, pumpkin quiche, lasagna, chocolate & pumpkin cake, and cookies!  The Niederkorns are such gracious hosts–and I even got to practice my German!


Bonus!  Here’s the song composed specifically for the royal couple:

English Teacher’s Day 2012


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Luxembourg, the country, could fit inside of Germany one hundred and thirty-eight times with room to spare.  At two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, the smallest of the United States, a centralized education system makes sense, but I didn’t realize how few teachers were out there until today, when I had the unique opportunity to attend the fourth annual English Teacher’s Day, which was held in Luxembourg City.  Every English teacher in the country was invited to attend, and one hundred and thirty two of us showed up.  Granted, not everyone was able to attend, but that number, to my knowledge, is comparable to the English teachers held within one (large) district in the United States!  After getting over the initial shock of this realization, I went back to being excited about my Luxembourgish version of the NCTE National Convention (which I unfortunately will not be able to attend this year).

The day started off with a keynote speech from Charles Alderson, a professor at Lancaster University.  The title of his talk was “Language Testing and the use of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)” which, in the most paraphrased sense, was about the importance of knowing how to make tests and doing it right.  I haven’t actually seen the CEFR, but whenever the CEFR was mentioned, I mentally substituted “Common Core” because, as far as I can tell, they are both a set of standards.  The main difference, however, is that the CEFR is a tool for reflection, a descriptive document that is not in any way used for accountability, while the Common Core is clearly used for the latter.  Dr. Alderson talked quite a bit about validity and reliability and everything else that goes into making a good test, but the biggest thing I took away from him was the idea that “nobody writes a good test on their own,” that we all need to work with others and submit tests for peer review.

After a brief coffee break, we jumped into workshops, mine being “Content, Culture, and Critical Thinking in an Era of Global English,” presented by Lindsay Clandfield, one of the authors of a book with a similar title published by MacMillan.  He argued that you cannot teach a language without teaching the culture, and that the problem with teaching English is nobody knows which culture to teach.  What I liked about his presentation was that he asked teachers to really think about the culture represented in their lessons, something that I think applies to teachers across content areas.  We need to think about what types of culture we are portraying, and whose culture we are portraying.   For him, it was about appropriately representing culture and making the learning of the language more interesting and accessible for the student, but for me, it was about having a culturally inclusive classroom.  The ideas he set forth for accessing culture, though, were applicable across the board:  graphic novels, comics, short stories, prompts used from pictures, discussion starters from quotes…all great things that can be modified for a language arts classroom.

English Teacher’s Day was all about the breaks, which was good, I think, because it encouraged teachers to socialize and share their different experiences from each of the workshops (there were several offered during the workshop time slot).  After lunch, we had another keynote address, this one presented by Amos Paran of the University of London and titled “The Dilemmas of Teaching and Testing Literature in EFL.”  The central dilemma was one that I have been encountering with my cooperating teacher—do we assess for use of English or understanding of literature?  We’ve been able to compromise, but trying to assess for multiple things can be pretty tough.  Paran’s lecture was one of the most applicable to language arts, as he also described the dilemma of testing for “private appreciation vs. public knowledge,” with private appreciation being the student’s personal connections to the text and public knowledge being more closely aligned with an analysis—the ability to use academic language and talk about what is happening in the text.  In the end, the conclusion was really that we need to assess all aspects of literature with assessments that provides a variety of tasks, gives students choice, ensures that criteria are transparent, and minimizes the weighting of language.  He went through several different examples of ways to assess understanding, from book reviews for newspapers or writing a “missing” scene/document from the text to drawing a cover or choosing music for the book.

The last workshop was one that originally looked most promising, titled “Teaching Literature,” but turned out to be more of a brainstorm for what to teach rather than ideas for how to teach.  The presenters did go through a thematic unit about love vs. fanaticism, however, which was an interesting project, and I liked the idea they brought up of presenting students with texts and art that inspire each other.  One example was a painting titled “The Fall of Icarus” contrasted with the original mythology and then with the poem “Icarus by Mobile” by Gareth Owens.

The whole day was a valuable opportunity to learn more about teaching English as a foreign language, gain insight into the Luxembourgish education system, and engage with a professional development community.  Where EFL teachers walked away with ideas for teaching the English language, I walked away with a head full of new ideas for writing prompts (exercises that are meant for language use can be given higher expectations and used for creative writing prompts) and literature lessons, a new understanding of the Luxembourgish education system, and, as always, the excitement to continue teaching.

A visit to Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore (and Paris)


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In order to ensure a spot on the train from Luxembourg to Paris, tickets need to be reserved weeks in advance.  A month ago, we had no way of knowing that this past weekend was destined to be a rainy one.  There was a lot we didn’t know then, though—a month of living will do that to you—and despite the almost constant rain, we maneuvered our way through historically long lines (weaving around the puddles) and checked off all of the items at the top of our to-do list, effectively making the most of our twenty-seven hours in Paris.

As a tourist with very limited knowledge of the French language, I found Paris to be

Stormy view from the Eiffel Tower

surprisingly easy to navigate.  We bought two day passes for public transportation, which helped significantly in terms of making the most of our time—Paris is a pretty big place, and we had a lot to see!  Knowing that lines for the Eiffel tower can be hours long, we decided to go there first.  This is where the rain came in handy—we made it to the elevator up the tower within half an hour of jumping in line (okay, I didn’t actually check the time, but it was pretty quick)!  We stopped first at the second floor, where we needed to switch elevators in order to get to the top.  We took a lap around first, battling both wind and rain as we did so.  The weather definitely wasn’t ideal, but it provided shorter

Sunny view from the tower

lines and some pretty cool views of the storm over the city.  Waiting in line for the next elevator was, to be honest, downright miserable, but by the time we reached the top, the clouds were beginning to move on, and when we emerged from the elevator on the way down, the sun was shining and the city was transformed!

We treated ourselves to some

View from down the street, after the rain had stopped

crepes at the bottom before moseying our way along the river to one of the Metro stops: our next goal was to check in to our hostel.  This took a little longer than expected due to the actual hostel being in a different location than the reception, but we checked in, changed into dry socks, and then set out for Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore, which was my favorite part of the whole trip.  Some background information here would probably be helpful:

I first discovered Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore through Pinterest, at which point it was simply an image of an old armchair surrounded by bookshelves (naturally full of books).  After a little more research, I stumbled upon a memoir called Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.Having already decided that I wanted to visit, I checked it out of my local library and found a world of books, writing, and a constant stream of new people.  I learned about George Whitman, the founder of Shakespeare & Co. (which bears the same name as a previous bookstore in Paris, one frequented by Hemingway and other

Shakespeare & Co.

writers of the time, owned by Sylvia Beach, who published her friend James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would), a man for whom “it was more important to have a community of readers and writers than to just sell books” (Shakespeare & Co.: A Brief History of a Parisian Bookstore, edited by Krista Halverson and Jemma Birrell).  George not only lent people books, he allowed them to stay at his store, asking only that they write him a one-page autobiography, mind the desk for one hour (per day), and read a book each day.  “Give what you can, take what you need” was one of his mottos, the other being “Be Hospitable to Strangers Lest they be Angels in Disguise.”  Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Alan Stillitoe are some of the more famous past residents, but hundreds of people have stayed there over the years, and the shop still houses these

Inside Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore

writers in residence on the cots dispersed throughout the store.  George died in December of last year at the age of ninety-eight, but his daughter, Sylvia, runs the store today with the help of the writers in residence much like her father.

When I found Shakespeare & Co. this past weekend, it was dark and the Notre Dame was glowing across the river.  It had rained all day, but books were back out on the sidewalk and the store had a consistent stream of customers.  It was perfect.  I think I could have very happily spent the rest of my time here (a good two months) in that store, but our time allowed only for a relatively quick tour of the rooms (punctuated by the periodic sniffing of books) and a few purchases.  It was enough to fall in love with the place, though.  Even if I hadn’t known all I do about the store, I think that the physical space tells the story.  Books are quite literally everywhere: stacked on shelves up to the ceilings, above door frames, even along the stairs.  The community

Inside the store

aspect is obvious, too, in the bulletin board of news and events and the conversations you overhear—co-workers that double as roommates asking about plans or gossiping about someone’s romantic interests.

Knowing what I did about the store, though, I asked the cashier a few questions and discovered he no longer lives at the store, but did when he first arrived from Northern England four years ago.  It was a quick conversation and a quick visit, but enough for me to know that I want my classroom to be like that—maybe not one where we have overnight guests, but definitely one where we have a strong community of writers and readers.

Okay, back to the rest of Paris…the reason we had to leave is because we wanted to

Sparkly Eiffel Tower

make it back to the Eiffel tower before 10:00, when it was due to light up.  We made it, and “sparkle” is probably a more appropriate term for what happens the first five minutes of every hour after 10 each night.  No camera would be able to photograph that sight, and I’m glad we went, even if it had meant leaving Shakespeare & Co.

We made it back to the hostel without any trouble and planned for the next day’s adventures.  Since we needed to be on the train back to Luxembourg by 3 (it was the latest one we were able to get), Kayla and I went straight to the Louvre in the morning, getting there before it opened so that we were some of the first in the building while Tina explored the city for a bit.  Our Louvre experience was guided by the art I studied in Art History during my freshman year of

Outside the Louvre

college, but our first stop was the Mona Lisa—once again, we beat the crowds!  Despite my memory being a little fuzzy on the details of everything I learned about three years ago, it was really neat to see things I had studied on 3×5 notecards up close!

After the Louvre, we met up with Tina to visit the Notre Dame.  The line there wasn’t bad, but I felt awkward because they were celebrating Mass while hundreds of tourists filed around the outskirts of the church.  It was really pretty, but I think the pushy crowd made the experience a little less enjoyable than it might have been.  After Notre Dame, we grabbed food and headed for the Paris Opera House (location of Phantom of the Opera) before heading back to the train station.  We had no concept of how long it would take, so we got there in plenty of time.  Instead of waiting in the station, we went out to explore the surrounding neighborhood and stumbled upon the St. Lawrence church.  Maybe it was the lack of crowds, maybe it was the lack of expectations, or maybe it was something else, but that was one of my favorite churches in Europe so far (the one in Oslo is also up there).  It was smaller, but still grand, and a lovely way to end our rainy weekend in Paris.

My First Flop


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When I think about physical signs that indicate how well a lesson is going, it’s clear that I made mistakes today.  My first great flop!  I guess it was bound to happen, and I’m sure I will flop again, but I never anticipated feeling so awful about it all, like the students missed an opportunity to learn so much more than they did.

The 2M students are reading a collection of essays by Bill Bryson called Notes from a Big Country.  Bryson was born in Iowa, but moved to England in his twenties, and this collection comes from a series of columns he wrote upon returning to the States in the 1990s.  He’s pretty critical in most of them, but his writing also involves a good deal of humor, which is what Isabelle wanted me to focus on today, something she informed me of about two hours before the lesson was to begin.  Now, a lack of preparation was probably a factor—I needed to know about more than just satire, irony, and hyperbole for a fifty minute lesson—but I think my flop had more to do with a difference in expectations.  That and my sudden inability to spell “exaggeration.”

The students had read “Why No one Walks” for homework, a piece describing the relatively extreme pedantic nature of Americans, and one that employs a fair share of hyperbole, irony, and the other assorted terms I had only recently learned.  My plan was to ask the students what they thought about the piece, initiating a discussion that would last for a few minutes before asking them to pick specific lines they had found funny, at which point I would proceed to write the appropriate terms on the board.  My grand plan continued, then, to introducing additional types of humor—ones that weren’t used in “Why No one Walks,” but were in other essays in the collection.  I imagined writing words on the board and students helping me out with definitions, working together to find an appropriate definition that built upon their prior knowledge.  At this point, I would introduce their homework and, if we had extra time, we’d start on it together.

What happened was the initial “discussion” turned into a quick three-sentence summary of the essay by one student and the rest of the class nodding in agreement.  What happened was two or three students pitied me and contributed two or three “funny” lines, at which point I introduced the appropriate terms, attempted to spell “exaggeration” by starting off e-g-a and then forgetting the second “g” once I had the beginning nailed down.  What happened was me talking most of the class time, rambling on about different types of humor and not knowing how much of what I said was understood, and then reading out loud the entire essay they were assigned for homework before doing half of the work in class together because we had so much extra time.

What happened was my first big flop, but what I learned is that a student-centered classroom is not typical for these students.  I’ve observed classes before, and I’ve seen how Isabelle does most of the talking, calling on a random student to answer questions periodically, but I didn’t realize until today how prominent this model was for these students.  I’m not saying I didn’t flop—even taking this into consideration, I know that I rambled and repeated myself and failed to do the subject justice, never mind the fact that I read an entire essay out loud, going against pretty much everything Dr. Frager ever taught me—but I now know that I’m going to have to model any sort of discussion I want to have in the future and adjust my expectations so that I can provide the proper support.

After class ended, Isabelle’s comment was, “Well, you handled that topic much better than I would have.”  When I voiced my concerns about participation, she just said, “Well, this class isn’t one that talks a lot, but they do think a lot.”  Part of that was an attempt to comfort me, I think, but her statements also speak to the importance of knowing your students.  I’ll have to work on that—and my spelling skills, apparently.

Planning and Puddles


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Aside from slowly letting my muscles recover, this week was all about planning.  In an effort to make the most of my days off (while still allowing for the chance that I’ll be able to pick up more classes), I’ve been tentatively planning day trips for my Mondays and Thursdays.  Ironically, I spent today planning for those days, but I also put in some solid work on my TPA, the assessment that I need to complete, so I think I used my time pretty well.

Tuesdays are typically my busiest days, and this past week was no exception:  not only was that the day my supervisor came to visit, that night MUDEC hosted a dinner for the STEP students and their cooperating teachers.  It was really nice to meet everyone else’s cooperating teachers—and get a high-quality free meal out of the bargain as well!  My supervisor’s visit went pretty well, too.  She’s definitely a strong believer in positive reinforcement, although sometimes I wouldn’t mind a few pieces of constructive criticism as well.  It was pointed out to me this week, however, that your first year teaching, unless it’s actually in the same district, is rarely the same as your student teaching placement, regardless of location.  That was some comfort, especially since I sometimes worry that I’m in a protective bubble with highly motivated and well-disciplined students.

The rest of my week was spent observing classes, prepping my students for our guest

Inside the courtyard of the LCD, my school

speaker’s visit tomorrow (my housemate’s boyfriend is from Australia, and he’s visiting her this week, so he’ll be our guest speaker!), and doing my best to increase comprehension for To Kill a Mockingbird.   Isabelle and I did our first round of joint grading on Friday, which was pretty interesting  and went against pretty much everything I had ever learned in my assessment classes.  It was also a little difficult because while I was looking for good personal connections and a demonstrated use of understanding where poetic devices were concerned, I know Isabelle was also keeping an eye out for their use of English grammar, something that wouldn’t necessarily factor prominently in an assignment like this for me.  She may have had some sort of rubric in her head, but I found myself making one up as we went along, because otherwise it seemed like she was arbitrarily assigning points.  Okay, maybe not completely arbitrarily—she vocalized a few factors, like how much detail the student went into and how many grammatical mistakes were made, but I never really felt like there was a specific amount of points allotted for any one aspect.  Isabelle, is, however, department chair for a reason—she seems to get along really well with her students, they respect her for it, and she knows what she’s talking about in terms of language instruction.

The museum at night

This weekend was pretty calm—I went to a museum on Saturday called the Musee der drei Eicheln, or “museum of the three acorns,” which was about the fortress of Luxembourg and the various expansion projects.  They also had a really interesting temporary exhibit about Luxembourgish identity.  The exhibit mostly just reported the results of a survey, but the presentation was one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen.  Each room of this “house” represented a different aspect of identity:  the children’s room values, the bedroom sexuality, the bathroom body image, the living room nationality, and the kitchen language.  For example, the kitchen table had various questions from the survey written on it, things like “In which language do you watch TV?” and the answers were reported in percentages of cucumbers, cookies, and coffee rings—a different image for each question, but if, say, 56% of the people answered “French,” then the “French” cookie would be 56% there.  Then there was a spice rack holding the answer to “Which languages do you speak?” with different spices for the different languages, and the jars filled up according to the survey results.  They also had ongoing surveys for the visitors:  At the kitchen counter, there was a stack of plates underneath and then the question, “How many languages have you spoken today?” with the instructions to place a plate next to the appropriate number.  I proudly placed mine next to the 2, as I had spoken to the woman at the front desk in German.

On Sunday, Kayla, Natalie and I attempted to visit a German Oktoberfest in Wittlich, but despite my careful research, we were unsuccessful.  When the festival website had detailed only special busses coming from other cities, I falsely assumed that public transportation in Wittlich would get us there.  When we discovered my mistake, we headed back to Trier in order to find the Oktoberfest there, only to discover that it had already ended.  We ended up finding a restaurant with an Oktoberfest special and settled for that, despite the fact that it was far from our initial plans.

Host family adventures continued this week, bringing four new rabbits to the backyard (one still nameless).  This encouraged my host dad to have his first ever conversation with me!  I typically eat lunch with them if I am home, and after the meal today, Jordy asked if I wanted to meet the new rabbits, and I told him that would be great, as I had yet to meet them.  Slyly, my host dad added, “yes, you better meet them today, because we’ll be eating them tomorrow!”  I laughed, which seemed to encourage him, and we talked a bit about where the rabbits had come from, how they had gotten a deal the kids wouldn’t let them refuse, and now that had way more rabbits than they ever intended to have.  It was delightful, especially when, upon returning to the house later in the day, he greeted me cheerfully—In the past, he only said “Moien” if he’s in the same room, and sometimes not even then.

He was gone, however, when I came back from seeing the rabbits and found Chris

The infamous Chris, pictured here on his tractor

hiding underneath the table in the den where I had left my computer full of plans.  I said hello to him and then made my way around the table, back to the computer—and stepped in a puddle of his pee.  It appears that they are attempting to potty train him, as he has been sighted wearing underwear instead of the usual diaper, but so far these attempts have been rather unsuccessful.  I called for Sophie, who confirmed that it wasn’t water and fetched her mom, who gave me a wipe, apologized and sent Chris upstairs to get cleaned up.  I guess I should learn to expect the unexpected with a three-year-old in the house, but he does keep us entertained.

Teaching and Learning


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 The end of September brought not only my first half marathon but also this realization: a date that once seemed so far away had come—and is now gone!   October now greets me with sore muscles and the need to take twice as long going up and down the stairs, but that will ease with time.  I’ve learned quite a bit this past week—not only that I can run 13.1 miles, but the importance of modeling while teaching, how much I’ve missed pumpkin foods, and how to cut hair!

The poems my students brought in on Tuesday were absolutely fantastic—they used figurative language, played with the point of view, even used rhyme scheme!  In that class, we continued looking at poems this week—Thomas Hardy’s “The Man He Killed,” Robert Frost’s “Not to Keep,” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  I hit a stumbling block when some of the students volunteered to read the poems they had written out loud (I love how willing they are!) because I wasn’t sure how to encourage peer responses without leaving dead air where the writer might be left feeling inadequate.  This is definitely something I want to work on with them, but also something I need to model—I can’t expect them to know how if I don’t show them first!  Overall, though, that class has been absolutely wonderful.  Isabelle, my cooperating teacher, shared with me that one of the girls had been talking about me in Luxembourgish and shared that I was good at “making things straightforward and easy to understand,” which made me really happy.

The Premiere students are a little more difficult to work with, but I’m definitely learning things from them, too.  We jumped in to To Kill a Mockingbird this week, and I’m slowly realizing how much of a challenge this is for them.  In doing so, though, I’m also making it a challenge for myself—challenging myself to think like a lower-level reader and provide the support that they need.  I’d like to teach them some reading strategies along the way, but hoping that they won’t be too resistant.  They aren’t the most talkative class, and I have a feeling that they know I’m not too much older than them (for some students, only two years older), which doesn’t seem to be helping.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that I love, though, so I’m eager to share it with them, even if it does take a bit of extra effort in order to explain the cultural aspects of the story.

This week also brought two new classes for me to work with—a 6e class, which is the first year of English, and the English Theater option (elective) class.  The 6e students were fun to work with—we had them writing every day skits (ordering food, buying a bus ticket, etc.) and performing them for the class, and it was somewhat comforting to know that, for once, I knew more German than they knew English!  Then, of course, I realized that this was their fourth language and German was only my second, but it was still extremely helpful in helping them.  The Theater option class is run by an Englishman, and they work towards a production in the Spring.  I obviously won’t be around for that, but I’m just around to help out where I can.  Isabelle said that the Fulbright student from last year helped out with pronunciation exercises and things like that, so I’m expecting some of the same.

Outside of school, we met with our supervisor and the coordinator for field experiences (like student teaching) this week in order to answer questions about the TPA (our assessment) and just get together to talk about our placements.  This was actually the first of two dinners I had this week, the second being a department dinner with the rest of the English teachers, and it was really nice to get to know a few more people rather than just depending on Isabelle all the time.  As a result of the dinner, I observed someone else’s class on Friday!  They actually had a really interesting discussion about “true love” based on an article they had read which talked about how the very people who made marriage more about love—actors in Hollywood—are the ones who treat marriage more as a business agreement, something to get their names in the papers, etc.

The weekend brought my first ever hair-cutting experience, a pumpkin festival, and, of

course, the half marathon.  Kit, one of the other student teachers here, did not want to pay to get his hair cut (or deal with the language barriers), so he enlisted Kayla, Tina, and I to help him out.  We tag-teamed the whole ordeal and managed to get the job done without anything too horrendous happening (and the hair cut looks okay, too!).  We also visited the Chocolate House (chocolate on a spoon that you mix in to warm milk) and went to the pumpkin festival (Kurbiswochenende) near Mersch, which satisfied my cravings for pumpkin food (pumpkin bread, éclairs, soup, champaign…), even if it wasn’t quite as good as pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

After the race!

The half marathon itself went well, too!  The most I had run before was 11 miles at cross country practice in high school (and ten while training here), so I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go.  I was fortunate enough to befriend a man who was running about the same pace as me (he must have been in his sixties), because going at it alone was pretty rough at times.  We ended up running together for about nine of the 13 miles, and I even met his granddaughter after the race!  The race was called the “Route du Vin,” which I’m pretty sure translates to “path of wine” or something like that, because it runs all through the wine country along the Moselle River between Luxembourg and Germany (we also received a bottle of wine with our registration).  It was an out-and-back route, so on the way out, the vinyards were on my left and the river on my right, and then it was the opposite on the way back.  Aside from beautiful views, there were also people all along the route, cheering us on with glasses of wine in their hands.  Some people went all out, pulling out armchairs and settling in!  We had beautiful weather, though, and finishing felt really good!  The first thing they handed me after finishing (after my medal), was a cup of alcohol-free beer.  It didn’t make much sense to me, but I needed something, so I drank it!  In all honesty, though, I think the sugar helped, and I found some water and apples after that.

This week brings a visit from my supervisor, dinner at the Chateau with our cooperating teachers, and more adventures in student teaching!  I can’t wait.

Megan’s First Days of School (not like Harry Wong’s at all)


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The first few days of school are over, I have a few lessons under my belt, and I’m looking forward to our first full week!  Technically I don’t actually have a full week, but this will be the first week where school is in session all week long.  The reason I don’t have a full week is because teachers here operate more like college professors do in the States—classes meet two or three times a week, and teachers only report to the building when they have classes to teach.  My cooperating teacher is working on finding me a few more classes to work with in order to fill out my schedule a bit, but right now I have Mondays off, therefore not quite a full week of class.

Aside from the different scheduling, the biggest difference in terms of how the school day operates between Luxembourg schools and American schools is that Luxembourgish students are the ones that stay in the same room.  I mentioned before that students at the Lycee are working towards university.   For their last three years at the Lycee, they choose a sort of mini-major—a track that concentrates on something specific, like languages or multi-media or the sciences.  The students within this mini-major (they have assigned letters) in the same year then have all of their classes together for the next three years, so they get to know each other pretty well!  Teachers also tend to follow these students through, so jumping in to this community for a few months is a bit of a challenge.  There was absolutely no need to establish rules, or introduce people, or do any of those normal first days of school things.  I’ve already shown my cultural differences by telling students that I need to collect their papers “before you leave.”  I then had to explain to them that students are the ones who change rooms in the States rather than the teachers, and they all kind of looked at me a little funny.

Right now, I have three classes that I’m working with, and my host teacher has been really great in letting me jump right in!  Wednesday was my first official day, but we just planned in the morning and then had one class in the afternoon.  I helped plan the lesson (we read Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” because they read an editorial involving the Statue of Liberty the next day), but mostly just observed that first day.  On Friday, though, I taught two lessons!

My first lesson was with the Premiere class, so this is their last year before graduating.  We’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird with this class, so Isabelle (my cooperating teacher) and I decided it would be nice if we gave them some historical context for the book.  I put together a powerpoint with pictures to prompt discussion about segregation, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement, hoping to get some discussion out of them and at the same time get an idea of how much they already knew about the South and how much we were going to have to learn as we worked through the book.  One of the first things I had them do was to work with a partner and come up with five things they knew about the American South.  I wasn’t expecting them to know tons—maybe an event that took place there, or something about the food or the accent or anything, really.  What I learned is that one student knew about the existence of the Confederate flag (but not really what it was for) and everyone else’s knowledge was limited to the song “Sweet Home Alabama.”  We have a lot to learn!

My second lesson was with the 3e Class, so they have three years left before graduation, the age equivalent of an American high school junior.  Isabelle and I had decided that we want to work with them on poetry this semester, doing a poem each day in addition to the other literature we read, so we’re dedicating the first few lessons here to an introduction to poetry.  We started off with Shel Silverstein’s “Messy Room,” which they seemed to enjoy.  We were going for something that wasn’t too intimidating but still allowed us to talk about a few poetic devices, and it seemed to go over pretty well.  I learned that, for some of them, this was the first poem they’d ever read in English!

I’m really excited to work with both of these classes (I haven’t worked directly with the third class yet), especially if I’m able to give them some reading strategies and a chance to write creatively!  Because things here are so language-focused, I don’t think they really have a chance to just write for the sake of writing—it’s always to work on a language skill.  I know that they’ll be working on their English when they write for me, too, but I want to give them a chance to be creative with it!  Tuesday will bring in a batch of poems about rooms, and I can’t wait to read them!