Tuesday, 23 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 3 & 4 - Weekend without the kids

This is my first time on a school trip where I have spent a day without seeing the students that I have travelled with. This is the stark difference between an exchange trip and a school visit to a country or city, our students are going to spend the weekend with their host families doing a whole range of activities and I can't wait to hear what they are doing.

My day started early, our plan was to visit a sports bar in St Louis, an hours drive away so that we could watch the English Premier League football matches. The first game of the day started at 6 am local time so the bar would be open and the fans were in drinking beer. They had obviously been in since the game had started and they were enjoying the football both inside the bar and out in the beer garden. We arrived at 8 am to watch the last few minutes of Man Utd v Chelsea game that ended in a draw.

The next group of matches got underway and in the bar, you could watch any of the 4 games that were on the screens. Something that is impossible to do in the UK as only a few games are televised live. There was an electric atmosphere in the bar with supporters of all the teams sitting next to each other enjoying the games and a beer and there wasn't the angry rivalry between supporters at all. I sat there enjoying watching Man City take Burnley to the cleaners and I sat there feeling sorry for Burnley's goalkeeper who had spent so long playing at Man City this was not a visit to his former home that he would have enjoyed.

The two thoughts that I left there with were could this work in the UK? Would the stadiums really suffer if the games were televised?

The next part of our day was a visit to Das Bevo a restaurant in the heart of St Louis that had an oversized windmill as part of the exterior. The owners have made it look like a Bavarian-themed dining hall with dark wood panelling on the walls and dee head mounted to the wall with a pipe. There are gnomes on the bottom of each wooden arch as the original builder had a particular fondness for them. The food was good and there were setting a reality tv show being filmed in the restaurant but I’m glad they hadn’t started filming before we left!

Next stop was pudding and we were treated to a mini concrete at Ted Drewes ice cream parlour. On arrival, there were loads of high school kids that had been to an athletics meet at one of the parks in the city and they had all come to get ice-cream before going back to their own part of the city. The ice-cream is delicious and has flavours that are available in most good ice cream shops back home. We had mini’s which were a standard size pot back in the UK. There are 4 sizes which get very large very quickly. With so many schools here I took the opportunity to take a self-indulgent moment and get a photo on a yellow school bus. The lovely bus driver was very accommodating in letting me on her bus.

On the drive back from St Louis we stopped at one of the most iconic parts of American culture, Wallmart! This gigantic store sold everything from groceries right through to Guns! We popped in to get a couple of bits of shopping and the most interesting part of the store was the teller. He was definitely on a mission to get Employee of the Month. He was so enthusiastic in a monotonic kind of way and was really trying to push the Wallmart brand and their store card. He was so keen for us to do the customer satisfaction survey online.

The rest of the afternoon was then spent relaxing back home. Having taken plenty of flack about my BBQ from Rhett when he was over it was great to see him cooking out on his bbq for dinner. Everyone has their own way of cooking a bbq and Rhett seasons the meat before cooking it on the bbq and then adds a good smothering of bbq sauce at the end. The result was delicious, being someone who prefers meat over veg I was definitely looked after.

Sunday, for me, was a visit to the local Catholic church. Shelley plays the organ for mass and there is a congregation of about 100 that come each Sunday. Fr Jim, who is in his late 70s, welcomed us to the parish. Fr Jim then introduced to the congregation by welcoming us and showing the congregation what English people look like. It was a really nice tongue in cheek introduction to the Parish. The Mass was very familiar and we were able to join in exactly the same way as we would in an English Catholic church. What was different was the Bulletin, the weekly newsletter has all of the regular information that you would expect to find in a church but the back page was covered in adverts. They were all Catholic-related in some way shape or form but it seemed really alien to us. One of the adverts was for a Catholic online dating site, which whilst alarmed me at first then made me think that actually in keeping the church growing with all Catholic families.

After mass, we were then treated to the American version of brunch. I cooked scrambled eggs the way I make them in the UK and Rhett had fried eggs, and cinnamon rolls were backed in the over,
pretty standard thus far. Then the last part of the menu was biscuits with sausage gravy! We had had a discussion about what a biscuit was and we even got to the roots of what the word biscuit meant and these were definitely not what we would consider being a biscuit. It turns out they are plain scones in fact. So now for the sausage gravy that went with it. This was more like a creamy peppercorn sauce in consistency then what we would call gravy and had lumps of sausage meat in it. This isn’t the normal topping I’d have on a scone but actually, I really enjoyed it. I know this is starting to make me seem like a carnivore rather than much of an omnivore and I guess that wouldn’t be too far from the truth really.

The afternoon was then spent visiting a couple of local wineries and enjoying sampling some American wine. As with all vineyards, the blending of grapes with other flavours gives these small vineyards
a variety of wines and flavours. Some of these were not to my palet but others were simply delicious.

We met up with another teacher that I had collaborated with in the past and her husband and we had a lovely time chatting about classroom practice, technology use oh and the 51,000 something, unread emails that she has in her inbox!

We finished up in another winery that had an amazing restaurant that made a delicious Gumbo soup for starters. The rest of the meal was delicious and this was amazing. After dinner was a chance to just unwind and relax.

I checked in with the students again when I got home and they have all had an amazing time doing a whole manner of things. They all seemed to be something completely different and all having an amazing time. How valuable is it for students to be given time to socialise with locals and be completely immersed in family life?

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