Maureen Pilkinton ’11 and Alex Skees ’11 teach English in France
February 23, 2012 By Mariah Pohl ’15
English in France this year, Skees in Saint-Brieuc and Pilkinton
in Rouen. Both studied abroad as Centre students at Strasbourg,
Skees (above, on a recent trip to Glasgow) enjoys teaching at
ecole primaires, or elementary schools. “The kids love learning
and are always enthusiastic,” she says.
Two Centre alumni have headed across the Atlantic in hopes of immersing themselves in the language and culture of France.
Alex Skees ’11 has established herself in Saint-Brieuc, a small town off the Western Coast near Rennes, while Maureen Pilkinton ’11 has settled in Rouen, about four hours away. Both alums acquired jobs as teaching assistants at local schools, helping kids develop their English language skills and educating them on American customs and culture.
Skees teaches teenagers at a high school called Lycée Rableais as well as children ages six to ten at two ecole primaires, or elementary schools. She describes her work with the ecole primaires as “the best part” of her day because of the children’s eagerness to learn.
“The kids love learning and are always enthusiastic; they especially love learning and singing songs,” she says.
Skees tries to keep her lessons as interesting as possible for the teens, she explains, because they lack the “enthusiasm” of the younger children — “as is pretty typical of high school students everywhere in the world,” she says. She notes that her recent lesson plans included holding discussions about Thanksgiving, showing clips from the Macy’s Day Parade in New York and doing vocabulary word-searches.
Skees says she discovered early on that this second experience in France would be very different from her time studying abroad — one guarantee of the Centre Commitment. She compares her 2009 trip with Centre to Strasbourg to her current status, noting the greater sense of independence she has acquired.
“Strasbourg was a wonderful experience for me, one of my favorite times during my four years at Centre,” she explains. “It exposed me to different cultures, but you do spend a lot of time with the students from Centre.”
On this trip she has spent significantly more time hearing and using French, and her familiarity with the language has continued to develop.While she does have a small support group of fellow Americans in the city, Skees elaborates on the wonderful reception by the locals.
“All of the teachers that I work with have been very welcoming, always offering to help me if needed,” she says. “I've had several teachers drive me around town, taking me to get groceries, taking me out to lunch. One even brought me cold medicine because I got sick the first weekend I was here. They've all been so nice, and it made the transition much easier.”
Just a few hours to the northeast, Pilkinton shares a very similar experience. In Rouen, Pilkinton is employed at Lycée Jeanne d'Arc, where she will work under her contract with the French Ministry of Education until April teaching high school adolescents between the ages of 15 and 23.
“My job is to build confidence in their English speaking abilities and have them interact with a native American speaker, which many of them have only heard thanks to television shows such as ‘How I Met your Mother’ and what they call ‘Dr. House,’” Pilkinton says.
Pilkinton reports that most students are only familiar with British accents due to their close proximity to England, and therefore have trouble understanding her self-proclaimed Kentucky accent at times.
“It has been interesting to be on the other side of the teacher’s desk,” she says, disclosing that taking away a student’s cell phone was “not as enjoyable as I thought.”
When reflecting on “the constant rainy days” in Normandy, Pilkinton says she spends most her time “preparing for class, walking to the grocery store, buying fresh produce from the market and enjoying a cafe au lait at one of the many cafes.” Pilkinton also acknowledges her “large consumption of fresh baguettes from the baker down the street.”
Similar to Skees, Pilkinton has experienced quite an adjustment as an American living in France.
“I've had to face many stereotypes that my French students have of Americans. I cannot count how many times I have been told, ‘All Americans are fat’ and asked, ‘Do you eat at McDonalds every day?’” But she feels that it is her job to correct these misconceptions and hopes that, by the end of her stay, she will have changed their minds.
Pilkinton admits encountering obstacles in the little things, “such as opening a bank account, starting a phone contract and finalizing [her] visa,” but stresses that they aid in bettering her conversational French.
“I can now correctly say, ‘I've tried disconnecting and connecting the cords to the wireless router several times and my internet still doesn't work! I want a refund!’”
Despite the different adversities these Centre alums have faced as foreigners, each of them expresses nothing but appreciation for the unique opportunity to develop their fluency, and alludes to having gained a much greater understanding and connection to France.
“It's been a wonderful learning experience,” says Skees. “My French has improved immensely just in the last few months, and I expect it to continue to improve throughout the rest of my time here.”
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Centre College, founded in 1819 and chosen to host its second Vice Presidential Debate in 2012, is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges, at 42nd in the nation, and ranks 27th for best value among national liberal arts colleges. Forbes magazine ranks Centre 34th among all the nation’s colleges and universities and has named Centre in the top five among all institutions of higher education in the South for three years in a row. Centre is also ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News for its study abroad program. For more, click here.