The School on the Hill

By far one of the most challenging experiences to date, I have found myself back within the deep nowhere of France, upon the tallest hill known to man, teaching English. Let’s see how this goes.

The school in Tulle

There’s civilisation out there somewhere

The school I am working in is remarkably different to what we are used to in the UK. It’s an apprentice school for those wishing to become pastry chefs, confectioners, chocolatiers, bakers, butchers, hairdressers and carpenters. A considerable number of students are my age, I even encountered several students in their thirties with families, those who had previously pursued other careers and decided on a change. Often students came from unsettling backgrounds, had done badly in their previous education and came here for a second chance. Here subjects are taught with patience and small doses of discipline. And the aspect that I find most interesting is that students divide their time between paid work and study. Two weeks at their placement, the third at school, and so on. This means that every week I am with a fresh set of faces. I must say, I think we could learn a lot in the UK from this system. Granted, motivation levels in English class are often low, as is normal in many schools, but when I was present in the practical classes, the focus and commitment from the students was remarkable. I was particularly surprised by how ambitious they are:

“What do you want to do in future?” 
“Within ten years I will be the best chocolate maker in France”
“I will be living in America, running my own restaurant.”

Why not ey. If you ask me right now what I want in future, it will go something along the lines of “Erm.. In a position where I can realistically afford a comfy flat in zone 2 and an entire wardrobe from Zara.” But that’s just me and my cotton wool head.

Let’s not forget the teachers, they are remarkable. The only English teacher is a saint, and what’s more, she really, really cares. Every day is a battle to motivate these kids to realise how important their grasp of English needs to be, that (unfortunately) they are unlikely to progress further in their ambitions in the world without it. I shuffle my feet uncomfortably at the side of the class during these moments, with my lazy French conversation skills and memories of GCSEs springing to mind. We don’t really make the effort back home do we?

Oh what a lazy, lazy nation we are.

What am I reading? Hunting and Gathering – Anna Gavalda
What am I listening to? Alvays – Archie, Marry Me
What did I eat? Duck confit, served most days in the cafeteria 😉

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Ode to the Workaway

So I left London for a bit.

It was about time wasn’t it? Thanks to the tremendous discovery of Workaway I enrolled in several volunteer projects for the next few months. There will still be plenty of solo wandering in between and I am excited to see how far I’ll get toddling around with my suitcase. Ok it’s not the jungle, but it’s still freedom. Utter freedom.

A view of the vineyards from the house in Gondrin

At the moment I am staying near the Midi-Pyrénées and working in exchange for accommodation, learning about sustainable living in the idyllic French countryside and eating the best meals I have ever had. Also, it’s 26 degrees.

I’ve just been sitting out in the vineyards and the silence is almost perfect. I say almost because I think my city-princess-ness is kicking in and I may never truly adapt to the gritty rural lifestyle. But the unbelievable silence, the clean air and smell, the neighbours spread miles apart: it’s idyllic and a truly inspirational lifestyle. Because the people here have spent years building up their homes from decrepit structures and old chateaus, living simply, killing the odd chicken and polishing off the prescribed bottle of red every night.

It’s quite funny, my lungs practically collapse each night from sharing a bed with two kittens jumping up and down on my head, but I couldn’t imagine asking them to be moved away. The night is filled with incessant purring and I wake up to a cockerel, it’s insane. My day begins being attacked by ten dogs as I attempt to take them on their walk through the vineyards. The sun is blazing throughout the day as we carry out odd jobs and ongoing projects and I’m dead by the end.  And yet I think it’s the perfect balance that I needed. We sit outside eating dinner and drinking unlimited homemade wine with the other volunteers. It’s tranquil, back to nature, sustainable living – and the best community spirit I have ever known.

Animals invading my bed

But there’s only so long that my city-ness will be kept at bay. Whilst the sun is hot (and yes it is) I am content, but I’ll crave London comforts soon. When the rain hits and the wifi fails I’m sure I will descend back into British misery and complain till the end, but right now, back to basics, I’m very satisfied.

Tomorrow we are going to forage for mushrooms. I’m so glad I came.

Currently reading Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
Listening to Angel Olsen – Unfucktheworld
Eating Coq au vin – as fresh as it can get given the locality of produce