My First Parent Association Meeting, New Italian Friends, Talking French with Luxembourgish Neighbors and Helping Put Out a Fire

It was quite a day today. I experienced my first parent association meeting in Luxembourg, made new Italian friends, talked in French with my Luxembourgish neighbors and helped put out a fire, literally.

Let’s start with this morning. After the usual rush to get the kids to the bus on time I drove to school for my first parent teacher association APEEEL coffee time meeting. The constant construction of Luxembourg never ceases to amaze me. On my 12 kilometer journey I was stopped in traffic two times by construction vehicles that take up the entire lane of traffic during rush hour and all day of course. Since there are small, narrow streets, you just have to sit there patiently and wait, along with the busses full of school children and unhappy morning commuters. When there are 2,400 students arriving at school all at once — yes preschool (maternelle), primary and secondary kids all arrive at the same time by school buses, country buses, city buses, car, bike and walking — It is quite a spectacle to see.

The meeting was quite informative and there were quite a few parents, men and women. Every time a speaker came forward the words were translated into either English or French depending on the speaker. The activities and programs that our kids will have a chance to participate in are beyond my wildest dreams. There is a Global Issues Group that students work on issues facing the world, a Fair Trade group doing fundraising and education, Les Mots de Zaza, an association helping with school books and the library, and a Peer Mediation group for students to help with Bullying in the school. One of my favorites is Actions Sans Frontieres (Actions without Borders), which raises money for NGOs, more than $41,500 last year, and then facilitates programs and projects with NGO’s that students, parents and teachers bring to the group.

actionsansfrontieres

Afterward I met some really wonderful ladies, one of which has a son in Luca’s classes. I now have two Italian friends so I can try a little Italian language learning after I get a better handle on my French. And hopefully our sons will become good friends.

In the afternoon, upon leaving the house to meet Juliana at the bus, I noticed fire and smoke coming from behind the house across the street that is under new construction. I had not noticed any workers there today so to see a fire was quite surprising. It is very windy near our house since we are on a hill and I was concerned that it might spread. The weather is really quite like Seattle – cold, windy and wet during most of the year I’ve heard. Since I have no idea how to call the fireman or police I went to my neighbors house. My neighbors are an older Luxembourgish couple who are very nice. The husband is able to speak a little English and the wife none so it took me a few minutes to try to describe to the madame about the fire, with many hand movements. Too bad I don’t know sign language. She called her husband and we discussed the situation and he called the police and firemen. When the firemen arrived I showed them the fire and tried again to communicate but it was mostly me gesturing wildly. Enough to get the job done.

Then I noticed my other elderly widowed neighbor looking on. Since she recently had heart surgery, according to my husband since I could not speak French or Luxembourgish with her, I went to her and tried to explain what had happened. We talked for almost ten minutes with me practicing my French, nodding and saying Oui. I did actually understand most of the conversation and could communicate, which actually made me feel quite confident.

So, tomorrow I have an appointment with my French language school to see what level I will need to enroll for classes. Such was my day in Luxembourg. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

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First Week of School in Europe

First day of school
First day of school

So, it’s day four of school here in Luxembourg. It’s Monday, September 7th, Labor Day in the US. Let’s just say it has been a very “interesting week” since I can’t say the appropriate words in print. My children attend the European Union School “Schola Europaea” with 2,400 other kids. So, it is quite a feat to get organized it seems.

Being new to Luxembourg we really didn’t know what to expect. We applied at Schola Europaea in May after our house hunting trip to Luxembourg. We sent in multiple copies of forms and paperwork and were not sure when we would find out if they would be accepted. We were told we would find out by mid-July which was a little uncomfortable not knowing if they would be accepted.

We did apply to another secondary school, Lycee Michel Lucius, a Luxembourgish school that has a wonderful English section, but in mid-June we were told that Luca was too young and immature for the school. So, for about a month we didn’t know if Luca would be accepted at the European School or have to be thrown into the Luxembourgish system for his last year of primary, which would mean learning French, German and Luxembourgish in one year as well as taking his end of primary tests in Luxembourgish to see which path he could take in secondary school. There are two tracks here, classique and technique. One is for students expected to move on to University and the other is for those who will not. So, if Luca were to be tested in Luxembourgish, he would probably fail the test for the classique school and be put in the track that would not take him to University. This was not an option for us. There were two other options in Luxembourg, the private schools St. George ($13,000 Euros per year) and the International School of Luxembourg ($17,000 Euros per year). Not really an option really unless we wanted to live on Top Ramen. Juliana was accepted at Lycee Michel Lucius but we felt keeping them together the first year would be better.

Finally in mid-July after not receiving mail about whether the kids were accepted we called. It is a good thing we did call because they had sent the acceptance letter to our address in Washington. We have still not received it in the mail… Thankfully the office was open for two more days before closing down for the summer. The office did not re-open until a couple of days before school. This meant me scrabbling to get the last minute paperwork in to get them fully registered. The acceptance letter simply stated your child has been admitted, school starts Wednesday, Sept. 2, there is a tour of the facility on Tuesday, Sept. 1, send us the tuition fees and go to the website for any information. The website had information from a year ago: nothing new for this year. It did have a list of books for each grade level but was ambiguious since we didn’t know what classes they would be taking.

Two weeks.. one week until school starts … nothing new on the site or in the mail. So I posted questions on Facebook for help and my husband posted at work and asked if anyone could tell us anything about the school, transportation, anything. We heard that the children take the public bus transport system which is wonderful and very safe here but we were not comfortable with sending our kids on the city system that showed them changing buses two times and taking an hour to get there.

We finally were able to get together with a nice family that would help us the weekend before school started. The father works at Amazon and his wife is a teacher at the European School. We met them for lunch and learned lots of information but still nothing on transport until Monday afternoon. Two days before school started the bus lines were published. Whew! The bus goes right by our house and stops just a block away. One less thing to worry about…

The Tuesday visit to the school didn’t really give us a lot of information but at least the kids had a chance to walk around the school. Wednesday morning was chilly and foggy. It was the first weather like this since moving here. It has been a record-breaking hot summer in Luxembourg. The kids were anxious and excited at the same time. I have to say it was a little sad and inspiring seeing them getting on the bus for the first time. My little chicks left the nest. I walked home alone and had the place to myself, enjoyably quite, for the first time in two months.

The first day of school went well. We went over the school bus route many times, and a map showing where they should get off on the return home. But low and behold, the bus went the opposite direction on the return from the published route and I watched as the bus went by and my kids didn’t get off. I started back toward home and the earlier bus stop in case they got off there. I walked back and forth hoping they realized that they missed their stop. Neither Juliana or Luca had a cell phone so if they did get off at another stop I wouldn’t know where so I would just have to walk and walk and hope they didn’t double back through the side streets to home and I miss them. After about five minutes I saw them running down the sidewalk toward home as they had gotten off at the next stop and climbed a big hill to get home. Whew… I am so glad I didn’t have to hunt for them around our small village.

On Thursday they received a schedule but it was missing times and classes. One of Juliana’s friends only had one class scheduled for Friday. The first two days were early release days so it went quite well but they were confused as to what classes they would be having. On Friday they had a complete day of classes except for Luca, who had a free period at the end of the day and just wandered around the school. Apparently during free periods, which both kids will have, you have time to go to the library, study hall or anywhere in the school. It baffles me but if it gives them time to do homework I am all for it. Friday evening an e-mail came to the parents stating that the schedule system was down and they were working on it. The older kids schedules would be fixed first.

Today is Monday and they came home with entirely new schedules and these will be in place for the next two to three weeks until they finally get the correct schedules. Juliana is third year secondary school and should be attending every day except Thursday from 8:40 am to 4:30 pm. Luca as a first year secondary should be attending every day except Tuesday and Thursday the same hours. Their early days off classes end at 1 pm. So, on a long day the children will leave at 7:50 and arrive home at 5:15 pm. Much different than the US. There are 9 periods of classes each day with one of them being lunch. Luca has said that 8 periods is more than enough and would like to suggest to the school removing the last period…

Both children have a second language, which is French. Juliana will take a while to catch up and her Morals and Social Studies classes are also taught in French. The kids get a choice between a Morals class or religious class. She will also have to catch up with two years in her third language, German. Luca will be starting his third language in German this year. So he will only have to catch up in French.

Today Juliana called me at 1 pm asking me to pick her up since her Art class, which was scheduled for two sessions and then nothing else in the afternoon blocks, was canceled because the teacher is sick. Apparently when teachers are sick the classes are just canceled and the kids just hang around and do homework or go home. On the plus side when I came to pick her up she was sitting with her new friend from Romania, Andreena. There is a group of four girls that have become close over the last week. We found out that Andreena lives just a block away on our street. Juliana is over the moon having a new friend that lives in the neighborhood, first time ever. We are about 6 miles from school so it is quite lucky… The girls spent the afternoon together strolling the streets and visiting the playground on their own. They just went out again this evening. I might just have to get her a phone.

On the negative side, I received a call from the school at 4:45 pm when Luca should have been on the bus, asking me to pick him up because he had a very bad time in his double period gym class and was in no shape to take the bus. Since it was rush hour it took me about a half hour to pick him up, but he has come out of it quite well, telling me all about his day, the ups and downs.

The thing that set him off was the way they play dodge ball here. It was confusing, the teachers didn’t explain it, there were four classes all together and it was overwhelming to say the least. On the bright side, Luca has also made a couple of friends that he plays futbol (soccer) with during lunch recess. His friend Lucas is the boy he met over the weekend with his family. And it turns out his mother is Luca’s French teacher.

It does seem that Luxembourg is a very small town in some ways. Is it kismit that we have been meeting people in just the right time and place? I am quite agitated at the schedule mess but very happy that the kids have been making friends and settling in. All of the teaches have been very helpful and kind. Oh, and Juliana was also signed up to learn Latin as her fourth language. Hmmm not sure if she should take that on too…