I arrived in Le Mans on a TGV (think National Rail) train yesterday after making my way to Paris via Eurostar. Fortunately, it didn't take too long. What wasn't helpful though was after that journey, which included lugging around my suitcases in a daze-inducing heat (about 30 degrees), when I got to my foyer, the receptionists asked me where I was teaching and started laughing. Yes, although I had been placed in a town called Mamers, I opted to live in Le Mans, deciding to make an hour-and-a-half-long commute to work. Why? Mamers has a population of 5000, has one high street, bad transport links and just about nothing going on. More on that later though. You can see more detail on the map.
So there may already be a couple of questions: firstly what is a foyer? Right, well a foyer is similar to a student accommodation and they ask you to pay a certain amount, which includes electricity and water bills. It doesn't include gas bills because most students in France will stay at such places during the week and use canteens and so student accommodations will either have one hotplate or, in most cases, none at all. Fortunately, the canteens are quite reasonably priced although I would prefer to be able to cook. And have a fridge. The room I've been given isn't too bad either. It may be a little on the small side, especially when it comes to finding places to put clothes, but then again don't you always find that your room is too small? Anyway, I've added a couple of picture taken from my window.
And why am I not living in a flat? France has a rather odd system of doing things in that in order to open a bank account, you need an attestation de logement/residence which gives proof of your address yet generally to rent a flat you need to have a French bank account. That reason aside, I thought it would also be a bit easier to have somewhere to stay where I didn't have to worry about other bills and focus on settling in. Now I'm here though, it's time to start finding somewhere to live - and I have to do it all pretty fast.
What now? Well today I managed to sort out a few things. I opened my bank account with Credit Agricole, I tried to get a contract so that I could use my iPhone in France (which I couldn't do because I don't yet have a French card or cheque book) and managed to sort out a few other bits of paperwork. On Monday I have to go to Mamers for the first time and I'll have to go in on Tuesday too, although it'll be mainly just meeting the other teachers and filling in yet more paperwork. It's certainly one thing I've had to get used to from January of my second year; the amount of paperwork that has to be filled in and sent back, by specific dates, seems to be limitless. I also called my responsable today, my contact person at the school, and she let me know that a lot of the teachers at the school live in Le Mans so I might be (and I really really hope that I am) able to join one of the car-shares that they do. It would cut down my journey by about 45 minutes, as my responsable said, it's just a waste of time.
What are you doing by the way? I forgot to mention that in detail, didn't I? I study French with International Studies at the University of Warwick and it is a requisite of my course that I spend my third year in a French-speaking country. Despite my interest in the Middle East, I chose France (instead of the Maghreb) because of the purity of the language and thought that I would aim to improve my French over the course of the year. I had a choice of either studying at a university of teaching and I decided to teach instead and that is what the next seven months will be about.
This blog is here to update friends, family and anyone else interested in my year abroad or thinking about taking one. I also collate all my articles at www.sirajdatoo.com so you can read my other stuff if you want!