Dominic Smith ⇓

My year at the Lycée Louis Barthou, Pau

This page is archived. It was last modified in September 2005 and it will probably not be updated.

My year at the Lycée Louis Barthou, Pau

As part of my languages degree, I have to spend eight-and-a-half months living and working in France. I am going to be an English teaching assistant at the Lycée Louis Barthou in Pau, a small city in the South-West of France.

This page will become an online diary (updated as an when I get time) of my time there, which will hopefully help other Year abroad students, present and future.

Whilst in France, I also have to do a dissertation, which will probably be about the Val d'Aran, an area just on the Spanish side of the Pyrennees, where the Aranés language, a derivative of Gascon, is spoken.

I am also going to be working with English teacher Jean-Marc Dumont, setting up a set of intranet pages, with television clips, in the languages faculty.

July/August 2002: I was fortunate enough to discover that my predecessor at Louis Barthou was another Cambridge undergraduate and, even better, that I was able to take over her flat. Whilst I was slightly apprehensive at the idea of taking on a flat I hadn't ever visited, I decided that the convenience would probably compensate for any problems I might have and so I arranged to pay my first two months' rent (August and September) by International Money Order. €300 / month seemed quite reasonable and my predecessor promised that I would like the flat.

11th September 2002 One year on from the attacks on the World Trade Center (an ominous date?), I caught the 12:00 ferry from my home town of Plymouth to Santander in Northern Spain with my parents, who had kindly agreed to take me to Pau. The ferry was delayed about 30 minutes, due to the high security checks taking place in Plymouth today. We were further delayed about three hours into the trip, for a 'technical problem' which forced the ferry to stop in mid-channel for another half-hour.

12th September 2002 After a very calm crossing, and despite yesterday's stop, we managed to arrive in Cantabria at 12:45 local time, only fifteen minutes behind schedule. Santander ferry port was a chaotic experience and the rest of the journey to the French border, which took until about 17:15 after a couple stops, was fairly uneventful but difficult with a lot of traffic.

13th September 2002 Friday the thirteenth, but today doesn't seem to have been especially unlucky. We camped last night with my parents' caravan at near St. Jean de Luz at the Camping de la Corniche, a nice site but not the one we had been planning to visit, which we could not find. We left St. Jean de Luz at about 10:00, since the campsite reception didn't open until after 09:00 and also the fact that we had to get breakfast in the town before moving off. It was during this stop that Dad's car was bumped slightly (no damage) by a car from Navarra. Dad was not impressed! The A63 and A64 were both much quicker than Spain's A8 yesterday and we arrived at a campsite at Ousse, near Pau, at 12:45. Again, we had failed to follow the directions in the Caravan Club book to my parents' preferred campsite at Orthez, but Ousse would be a lot more convenient for them, coming into Pau. Having set up the caravan, and eaten lunch, we took the car into Pau, where we arrived at about 15:30 for my first meeting wth Mme Estaun and to see the flat which I had been renting for the past forty-four days. Mme Estaun, the owner, arrived at 16:00 as arranged and took us into the flat. It is absolutely wonderful and I hope to have some photos of it on this page after I've been home to scan them at Christmas. As I had no phone yet, she rang the electricity company on my behalf to arrange for the future bills to be addressed to me, for which she had to quote my predecesssor's name and confirm the type of major appliances in the flat. This was helpful as it has left until tomorrow my first encounter with the infamous French bureaucracy! So much to do tomorrow, though... the bank, telephone company, shopping and I was also told by Mme. Estaun that it is a legal requirement for me to be insured against damage to the flat, so there's now that to do as well... and it's a Saturday!

14th September 2002 My first day in my new appartment - and what a busy day! The morning started with a visit from a removal company at 9:20, which Mme Estaun had warned me about, come to take away the old bed from my room. My parents arrived at 10:00 having had difficulty parking in the town, which seems very busy on a Saturday morning. We immediately left to try and open a bank account. The Crédit Mutuel, which had been recommended to me, offered me an appointment on Tuesday, which I took. In the meantime, I tried two other banks to see if I could do this bit any quicker, as I couldn't do much until I had an account. No joy. I also couldn't cash any traveller's cheques as none of the three banks would deal with me (or my parents) unless I had an account with them - very strange indeed. Having wasted all this time, I paid a visit to France Télécom. After waiting a long time to see anybody, a very helpful lady very efficiently set up my landline, gave me a new SIM card for my Itineris mobile phone, which I had purchased while I was in Petite Camargue two years ago, and also gave me a CD-ROM for a Wanadoo internet account, on the assumption that I will find an adaptor to convert my UK modem lead into a French one. By this time, it was about 12:45 and I still had had no breakfast, as I had no milk this morning. During a short visit to the local Champion supermarket in the Centre Bosquet, I was able to buy a few essentials, before returning, with my parents, to the appartment for lunch. Following such a busy morning, we returned to Ousse to the caravan in the afternoon I did a little sunbathing and had one of Mum's lovely dinners before returning to my flat. There's still lots of administration to do but nothing can be done tomorrow, being Sunday.

15th September 2002 Today was Sunday - and so it was impossible to continue with all the setting-up type work. Consequently, my parents took me for a day-out to the Col d'Abuisque, where we had a picnic. As in the last few days since I arrived, the weather was beautiful - sunny and hot (about 26C). For the rest of the afternoon, I returned to the caravan and had another sunbathe and dinner before returning to my flat. In the evening, I telephoned M. Dumont and Mr. Deary (the Head of the English Department), with whom I arranged a meeting on Tuesday.

16th September 2002 A very busy morning. At 9:00 I went to the AXA office in the Place des sept cantons to arrange the insurance of my flat. This was a fairly quick process (half an hour) and I even got a good student discount. It was quite cheap at just €38 or so. After getting a bit lost, I eventally found the Tourist Office and got a town plan (my parents had accidentally taken my copy yesterday). From there, I found my way to the Rue Louis Barthou, where I was able to see the school for the first time, and went to the Caisse d'Allocations Familiales to pick up the forms for Housing benefit. Again this entailed quite a wait to see anybody. My next stop was the Préfecture to try and get myself a Carte de Séjour but to do this, I needed two black and white passport photos. These were impossible to do in England before I left as all machines in England are now colour, but I managed to find a machine in the Centre Bosquet. It was out of order. I eventaully found a camera shop which took six photographs for €5, which wasn't too bad. I also needed an SAE for the Carte de Séjour, so I went back to my flat to get some envelopes and stamps. On the way back, I investigated the local Anglican church and also found the small computer shop that France Télécom had receommended to me on Saturday, where I was given a French modem lead free of charge. Horray - I now have internet! After sorting all this out and getting an SAE oganised, I found the Préfecture at 12:00: exactly the time it closes for lunch. So, I returned to my flat again where I had a rest until my parents arrived at 13:30. I was then too tired to do much, so we had a quick sightseeing trip around the town before returning to my flat and relaxing. Mum cooked a lovely meal in the flat before they went back to the caravan. This left me the evening to telephone Mme Estaun to confirm that the insurance was done and to say that I was sending her the form that she needed to complete, as my landlady, for the CAF. I also was able to look at my emails for the first time in a week and also to upload this diary for the first time.

17th September 2002 Today, I went shopping for some essentials early on, so that I could get to my appointment at the bank well before it was due at 10:00. I got there at about 09:50 and was able to open the account straight away. This involoved a half-hour long interview with a very friendly gentleman who explained everything nice and slowly. He went through my passport, flat contract and also my work contract and I was also able to pay the traveller's cheques I had brought from England into the account straight away, as well as setting up the direct debit to pay my rent. From here, I went over to the Préfecture, where I arrived at 11:00. I took the ticket for the Accueil d'Etrangers and was able to go in straight away. The women there told me that I would need to bring in my passport and photocopy, birth certificate (translated by the French Embassy in London) and photocopy, flat contract and photocopy, work contract and photocopy, two black and white passport photographs and an SAE. She was most surprised when I said that I had all that with me! We got down to work there-and-then and within half-an-hour, I had my Récépissé, a temporary Carte de Séjour. I was now able to think about lunch and also to get some sticky labels to put on my door and letterbox, as these still had my predecessor's name on, until Mme Estaun had had some metallic ones done for me to match the others. The afternoon saw my first visit to the school. I met M. Dumont at 14:00 and took me into his seconde, British Year 11 or fifth-form class. They were working out the lyrics of the song Murder on the dancefloor, which they seemed to cope with, although I couldn't explain to them what the song was about when asked! After this, I had to tell them something about myself, which they noted down and will use to make a webpage about me, but it's OK: only on the school's intranet. I also went to a première (year 12 / Lower-Sixth) class, where M. Dumont taught some grammar to start with and then I had to repeat the explainations of myself for the same purpose. My biography will be taking over the school's servers... arrgh! During this time, I also got to meet the other English teachers in the school, all of whom were very welcoming.

26th September 2002 After a few lovely days' holiday at La Paillotte, my ususal sumer holiday haunt, with my parents, I returned to Pau. On arrival, I noticed that the stickers with my name on the front door and letter box had been removed. This, of course, means that I had had no post so, after lunch, I had to return to the France Telecom shop to see whether or not they had sent me anything. They had not. I also decided to check this fact with the Prefecture tomorrow. In the meantime Mme Estaun, my landlady, had returned the other form I needed her to complete for the CAF but this, according to the post office, will have been returned to her. She has not yet received it. I have now managed to bully people into getting me a proper metal name plate. The afternoon was spent largely at Auchan, the major hypermarket on the eastern outskirts of Pau, where I did enough shopping to see me largely through the next couple weeks. I then had to say goodbye with my parents until Christmas and also check the emails I had been receiving from the Assistants' mailing list, up to 100/day, while I had been away. After this, I telephoned Sam, another assistant, who agreed to meet me tomorrow.

27th September 2002 I awoke this morning to discover that the Dymo tape with my name on it, which M. Boudeloup (the gentleman in the flat who deals with the metal nameplates) had done for me had also been removed overnight. Still no post. I reasoned that there was very litle point in going to the Prefecture until this mess is sorted out. I spent the afternoon sightseeing and also went to the train station to pick up timetables to get to Bordeaux on Monday for our training session. In the evening, I went to The Galway, an Irish pub and eventually succeeded in meeting up with the other assistants in Pau and also the large contingent of Leeds University students who are studying at Pau University for the year.

30th September 2002 I haven't done much in the last couple of days, other than going to the local radio club and the local Anglican church. I also had to go to the SNCF to buy a Carte 12-25. This wonderful card costs €44, but allows 12 to 25 year-olds to get either 25 or 50% off any train-fare (depending on the time. After this, I promptly bought a ticket to Bordeux for our training course.

3 October 2002 Firstly, I notice that my friend Duncan has linked to this page from his diary. Thanks, Duncan. Over the last few days, I have been in Artigues, near Bordeaux for our training course. This involved much eating and drinking and queueing and waiting and disorganisation. Not much else. The train ticket is going to be reimbursed and we got champagne in the Réctorat (the local Ministry of Education's representative's office) which was nice. Otherwise, it was pretty much a waste of time. Today, I went into the school to meet Mr. Deary properly and to look around a bit more, after which I went to do more shopping. I spent the afternoon in my flat, getting my own radio station set up.

4 October 2002 Today I had to go into the Secretary's office to pick up my Procès-Verbal d'Installation, which confirms I have started work at the school, at 9:30. She told us that we would need this to get our Carte de Séjour and she was most surprised that two of us had already been able to get one with only our Arrêté d'Affectation, our job contract. After this, we went to se the headmaster to introduce ourselves and he gave us a short, but sweet, welcome speech. I spent the rest of the morning trying to sign up as a Auditeur Libre at the University, This means that I would have the right to attend lectures, but not other classes or examinations, and to go to the library, which could be useful for my dissertation. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the right building, nor could anybody I asked tell me where to go. The problem seems to be that no place has asensible name, like 'English Faculty', but rather an abbreviation like A.S.I.A.M. I have no idea what this means. I'll have to try and find someone who can tell me. In the late afternoon, I returned to Louis Barthou to try to configure my laptop for use on the school network. This was largely successful, although we seem to have a small problem with mapping drives, so I don't yet have access to my area on the server. I also recorded the first of my Letters from Pau - 2 minute videos of me speaking about a subject (normally cultural differences), which wil be used with the première and terminale.

My room in Pau, taken by the school's webcam which is currently linked to my laptop

My room in Pau, taken by the school's webcam which is currently linked to my laptop.

10 October 2002 These letters will now start to become less frequent, because I have now properly started work,so there is less to report of interest. The first few days were, erm, rather disorganised and I spent a lot of time getting lost, because nobody had remembered to explain our timetables to us, once they were (eventually) complete. I have spent lots of days doing 'observation' but today I spent my first lesson in front of a half-class. The group of seconde (Yr 11) I had today were very good and well behaved. I am more worried about taking one of the other classes but we'll see how it goes... My timetable does give me Fridays off, however, so that is very good! Meanwhile, I have a bank card (no sign of a chequebook yet) and I returned this evening to see that I have plaques on my door and letterbox. Horray!

14 October 2002 Up to now, I have mainly been taking groups of about seven students out of their grammar classes and takling to them for half-an-hour. As I have no idea of their level or numbers, I have just been asking them to present themselves to me for the first lesson. Fairly boring stuff (especially considering that they are all new to the school and so have had to do this in all of their french lessons at the start of the year), but necessary. I do now have a code for the photocopier, so I can start to prepare material for next week.

19 October 2002 The letter I had from EDF, the electricity company, that got turned away while I was having my postal problems last month has finally caught up with me: I received the 1st reminder for non-payment of my bill today. Having explained the fact that I never received any post when I first moved in to them, they were surprisingly friendly. They have suggested I pay them a visit on Monday and pay in cash, which suits me as I still have no chequebook. I also still have not heard about my Carte de Séjour, without which I cannot complete my visit to the CAF to claim help with accomodation costs. To add to my difficulties, the half-term holiday starts on Thursday, during which I had planned to visit the Aran valley to do some preliminary research for my dissertation. As yet, however, I still have to find out how to get there (there seems to be no public transport over the border) and receive clearance from the University for my chosen topic. At least the weather is still good, however, although it is getting colder at nights. And the school work is still going well, too, and I now hear that I may be given some space on the school's Apache server to write my own exercises for the school computer network.

8 November 2002 My chequebook came today. Or rather not 'came', but I collected it. It turns out that the French don't send chequebooks in the post and nobody thought to tell me, so it's been waiting at my branch all along.

3 December 2002 You thought I'd forgotten about this diary, didn't you?! No, it's just that there hasn't been that much worth reporting. Except that I went to Spain for the Toussaint holidays to start work on my dissertation. Still no news of my Carte de Séjour, so I went back to the Préféture today and asked them about it. 'Oh, they replied, we need your 'Bulletin de Salaire before we can finalise your dossier.' 'Why didn't you mention this before?' Gallic shoulder-shrug. My payslip hasn't reached me yet, so I'll have to ask the school about it tomorrow.

4 December 2002 Went to the Intendance in the school to ask about my Bulletin de Salaire. They are still in the Réctorat in Bordeaux. I explained what it was for and, within half-an-hour, I had a copy of some form of 'attestation' faxed through to the school. They thought this should work.

5 December 2002 With a nasty cold, I went down to the Préféecture with the new document. 'Oh, says a different lady, I don't know why they asked you for that. We do the EU ASssistants straight away!' They tell me to return at the start of next week.

10 December 2002 Back in the Préfécture and I am told that my Carte de Séjour is in the pile ready for the Préfect to sign. I tell them to hurry up as my Récépissé expires on 16th December!

11 December 2002 Not realted to the ongoing Carte de Séjour matter, but I had a letter from Cambridge today. Nice to know they haven't forgotten me. Actually, it was more of a questionnaire about how I've settled in. The response should now be in the Year Abroad Office, for the second-years to consult. Lucky them.

13 December 2002 Another Friday the 13th, but, like the one in September it wasn't unlucky at all - the letter arrived from the Préfécture confirming that my Carte de Séjour had arrived. I went in and, after a short wait, handed back my Récépissé and they stuck the Carte in my passport. All that remains now is to sort the CAF money out, but I can't face that this side of Christmas and, besides, I have been informed you need a Bulletin de Salaire for this, too.

10 January 2003 I went home for a few days at Christmas but I've settled back in here now and school is the same as normal. I went down to the CAF today, with all the paperwork I thought I'd need, to try and get some money out of them. But they didn't want anything. They took my form off me, with my passport photocopy and bank details, and that was it. they didn't need to see a salary slip (which I've at last received) at all.

21 January 2003 My first contact from the CAF: they say they have looked at my dossier and given me a dossier number but I might not hear from them for another 21 days. Horray!

22 January 2003 Two more letters from the CAF today: one of which says that they've looked at my dossier and will shortly be paying me three months backpay for October, November and December. I can expect January's amount at the end of the month. I'm beginning to think these people are more efficient than the Préfecture after all!

22 February 2003 Just back from a ten-day visit to Andalucia during the February 'half-term' (two weeks, over here!). Not much more to report except that the first draft of my dissertation is now almost complete. Phew! Oh, and my CAF money has been coming in without any hiccups so far.

4 March 2003 It's Mardi Gras today, so the school is shut to avoid the traditional egg and flour fights between Louis Barthou and St. Cricq. Officially, though, it is shut for the TPE part of the Baccalauréat. We had pau's carnival on Saturday, which involved a very colourful procession through the streets, and was very interesting to watch. Also, the local Anglican church's website is now online, so you can see where I go. No, I wasn't involved in the design of that site!

3 June 2003 Ooops. Sorry about the diary coming to a sudden halt, but I have been very busy for the last few months writing websotes for other people and I have not had time to update my own one. That said, I cannot think of much interesting that has happened. I went home for about ten days at Easter and my contract in Louis Barthou finished as expected on 30th April. It was a fairly quiet goodbye, except for the two previous weekends when I had students visiting me (one lot uninvited) and I ended up being taken out by them. Very nice. Since Easter, the strikes in the schools have intensified: there have been national strikes each Tuesday for the last few weeks, although I am, of course no longer affected by this. The strikes are against the propsed de-centralisation of the education system, as well as the sacking of all the 'aides-éducateurs' and pension reform for the teachers. The Bac exams are due to start in less than two weeks and the situation is still not resolved. frankly, the whole situation is a mess. Anyway, since my contract finished, I have had a few weeks away with my parents who have brought their caravan back again to collect all of my belongings. After travelling around a bit, we returned to Pau to clear my flat, which I handed back to Mme Estaun on 31st May, although I have to pay rent for June as I missed the deadline for giving her notice, due to my uncertain plans for the summer. As I write this, I am on the MV Val de Loire, having left Santander about two hours ago, headed for Plymouth where we arrive tomorrow morning. Given the hassle I had with bureaucracy when I arrived, you might be wondering how I fared leaving. Actually, it was much easier. I have to write to the CAF on 30th June, when my rent expires, so I will be paid June's money. As for the telephone line, that was sorted by my going into France Telecom's office in Pau on my last morning, where there was again a long queue but they were very helpful when I got to speak to somebody. The electricity board was also quite easy, since I just had to ring them when I was leaving to tell them that and give them the meter-reading which I could do myself.

[x] Me

I am Dominic Smith and this is my personal website.
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