A slow journey to France



Our journey

First school year in France

The end of the school year is always a big event for both children and parents.  For us the end of this school year is like reaching the end of a marathon.  By the time our daughter starts her Summer holidays she will have survived and flourished during her first year of French school.  She will be speaking French and correcting us (Mum you’re so embarrassing when you try to speak French is becoming a frequent refrain!) and we will have moved again from our rented apartment in Toulouse to our new home and business in the countryside.

What have we learned from our first experience of French school?  Firstly, none of us would have got this far without the amazing teachers and directrice of Ecole Benezet in Toulouse.  They have all been so supportive of our daughter and her fellow classmates in the ‘helping class’.  We will never be able to thank them enough for all of their efforts with both her and us.  They have encouraged the children from even the most challenged backgrounds to find their place at school.  We were told at our first parents evening that our children in the helping class ‘enrich’ the school with their different languages and cultures.  An attitude which stands out in the context of the ‘them and us’ view of immigration and difference which is so prevalent across our world at the moment.  I cannot explain how reassured I felt by those words; that our daughter was not seen as a burden to the school but an asset.  They obviously didn’t anticipate her giggles when they speak English with her!   We, in turn, have tried to support her as much as possible and have participated whenever we could in school events, undertaking training in how to be a parent assistant in the school swimming classes and baking many, many biscuits for fundraising events.

There has been another theme throughout the year which we have only recently understood, dance.  When we first arrived and met the teacher of the helping class she explained to us that there would be a dance show at the end of the year in which all of the children in her class would participate.  As a keen dance fan I was delighted but a bit perplexed as I hadn’t read anything about dance being a part of French school life.  Throughout the year since then our daughter has come home and when asked about her day explained that she was dancing in the hall or had met the choreographer for the dance show.  Neither of us made much of this as we assumed the dance show was a school event and the choreographer was one of the teachers we didn’t know.  We couldn’t have been more wrong.  It slowly dawned on us that there was more to this when our daughter explained that the choreographer was the nephew of one of the teachers in the school and was a professional dancer in New York.  Another time we learned that he had danced with the Merce Cunningham Company.  The calibre of the dance event became more and more apparent.  Once we learned that the performance would be held in the Jacobins, a thirteenth century monastery and church complex in the heart of the city which now opened its doors for artistic festivals we realised that this was bigger than the usual school show in the gym.  We were given a rehearsal timetable for the dance show which involved spending nearly two weeks rehearsing at the school and the Jacobins.  The children took packed lunches on some days in order to be able to stay all day for dress rehearsals.  We arranged for Granny and Grandpa to come over to see the big event and to babysit for us so that we could attend on both evenings. 

The show was absolutely wonderful, the pride we felt as we saw our shy daughter stride out confidently as part of the first group of dancers onto the performance space was immeasurable.  Every child had their part and worked together to produce a fluid piece of modern dance inspired by the works of Merce Cunningham.  The effort made by everyone involved to produce a piece of dance that required such a high level of concentration by the children was so impressive.  The cheers and applause at the end of the performance and the delighted but bashful smiles of the children were a joy to see.  At the end of the second performance we met the choreographer, Dylan Crossman, who fortunately speaks fluent English.  I was quite starstruck but managed to say how much we appreciated the opportunity for our daughter to learn about dance and how impressed I was that he and his uncle were working with the most challenged children in the school, for some of whom the experience of being applauded and congratulated was probably unknown until then.  My thanks were probably over the top but as a true star performer he took it in his stride.  I had remembered to thank the teachers as well but my vocabulary doesn’t extend much further than fantastique and incroyable.  By the end of the evening I had thanked nearly everyone present including other parents for producing such amazing children!

Our experience so far has only been of one school but I can say that that particular school has been the best that we could have hoped for.   Now on to the next one …

Our journey

More than a visit!

As I sat on the plane on the way to Toulouse with our daughter it felt like the beginning of the adventure.  We were going to see our new home, strange to think that we had seen it for not much more than a couple of hours. This was real!  This could soon be my new commute.  There was also trepidation, would my Del-boy French be good enough to get us around, steer us through the school registration system and get us fed. Could I navigate the tram and the Toulouse underground? I had always had Liz to do the talking when we have been in France before.

It also felt right. That unexplainable feeling that this was ok, this was us. There will be a lot of challenges and it will be hard, but it feels right. Sometimes you just have to go with that!

….. until you get a message from Ryanair cancelling your return flight!!!

Oh well it’s amazing what you can sort out with an ipad but it did take the shine off what should have been the first and for our daughter, most important, part of the adventure; finding a pancake in Toulouse.

Our first encounter with the Toulouse Mairie was the Elèves Allophones Nouvellement Arrivés (E.A.N.A) to assess our daughter’s French.  She has had some lessons with Alliance Francaise but will need more support (a lot less than me though!).  After our crepes, we set off on the underground to find the office.  My one-legged pigeon French seemed ok and our daughter was fab. The assessor had taught at Alliance Francaise, which gave them something to talk about. He loved her folder of French work and before we knew it, I was looking at a map and deciding between two schools that were near the apartment and had the additional French support. Seemed like I was making a huge decision on the hoof and how did I know if it is ‘good’ or not. That was probably me thinking that it’s like the English system, so we just went with it and the nearest one it was… our daughter was allocated to a school.

However we then discovered that we needed to go to another department to get our fische d’admission. So that was our second challenge, but that would be for the next day.

This was another challenge that did test my French, we were working well as a team….we found the right office and managed to get the right ticket and saw somebody in a few minutes. It seemed that I had all of the right paperwork to hand…. Except that one crucial document to register her for school; the insurance for the apartment! Which could have been a minor disaster as without it we could not register her. But thanks to the having all our documents on a cloud I could access the right document and email it to them… another lesson learnt; make sure you know what documentation is going to be needed and can access any other documents as you probably will need them as well!

I was quite chuffed with our success; we now had a school! Time for the Natural History museum and the park!

Park near apartment

The other great part of our trip was seeing the apartment again and going for a swim!.. yay!  She has picked her room and agreed to look after the fish. It was also good for me to see our new home, as to date we had only had a 20 minute look round. It is amazing how we make these kind of decisions.



River Garonne opposite the apartment

So her first trip went really well, a few ups and downs and a bit of French bureaucracy… there’ll be a lot more of both of those to come!

However it did make it real and now there is more excitement than fear, but I am sure that may change as well! I did feel very alive, we were doing something to change our lives, this is it, we are on our way and it feels like the right thing… however it turns out.