This spring break was an exciting point in my career: my first time ever taking a group of students to France! This was no tourists’ walkthrough of the country, though. We worked hard to organize the trip in such a way that students would be using French as much as possible and experience what it really means to live à la française.
We spent our first four days in Chartres, where each of us was hosted by a different French family. The families welcomed us with open arms and planned truly wonderful activities for their American guests. My host, Bernadette, is an incredible chef. We went to the market on the first day and enjoyed amazing home-cooked meals every day after. Her home is located right on the banks of the Eure in the most traditional and serene setting you could imagine. It was a joy to spend time with Bernadette, her children Sophie and François, and her grandchildren Clément and Zoé. They made me feel like part of the family, and since they grew up in the countryside of Auvergne, we had plenty in common to talk about.
During their family stays, students attended courses at the Lycée Notre-Dame in Chartres. I was truly impressed with how well our students accepted the challenge of ten-hour school days all in French, and I think the students were equally impressed that they could understand the lessons and get involved in the coursework. It was such a pleasure to see our students socialize with their new French classmates, bises and all, as we gathered for the welcome breakfast hosted by the head of the school.
Meanwhile, we leaders enjoyed side trips to Versailles, the Château de Maintenon and the dolmens at Changé. It was fun to go off the beaten path with our host families and, of course, speak tons of French along the way.
After saying farewell to our host families, we packed our bags and headed off to the Reims and Verdun area. We visited the cathedral, toured champagne-production facilities at the Maison Lanson, and dropped by the Musée de la Reddition. Afterwards, we were joined by Moira and LR Smith — French and history teachers from Webb, respectively — for a guided tour of the area in commemoration of the centennial of the end of World War I. We visited the Mémorial de Verdun, the Ossuaire de Douaumont, the St. Mihiel American Cemetery, and the Alvin York memorial in Châtel-Chéhéry. We left flowers along the way in recognition of the American heroes who fought in these areas.
We traveled on to Paris for the last two days of our trip. I was very thankful for all the time I’ve spent in the city. We had such little time and so much to see, and it took all my Paris savoir-faire to give students all the best of La Ville Lumière! We visited the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, went shopping on the Champs-Élysées, breezed through the Louvre, strolled the Jardin du Luxembourg, climbed the towers of Notre-Dame with just enough time to sit in on an Easter Sunday service, admired the stained glass of the Sainte-Chapelle, waded through the crowds in Montmartre, and of course my favorite, the true beauty of Paris, wandered the boulevards and avenues from Place de la Concorde to Les Invalides, the Pont Alexandre III and the Grand and Petit Palais.
People keep asking me what the best part of the trip was. In truth, I hardly know where to begin. Every moment was incredible, unforgettable and utterly priceless in its own way. We left Nashville as nine people from Webb and returned as a family; I think Mrs. Boyanton and I will always be maman and papa to these students, and there’s a hilarious story behind that for another time. But the best part was this: One of the students on this trip was the young gentleman who took me on my very first tour of Webb. Now was my chance to repay the favor, taking him on a tour of France for his senior year.
I still remember standing outside a restaurant and watching through the windows as these students got themselves tables and ordered food — all in French and all on their own — and then sat down to talk and laugh about all their adventures. It’s not often that we teachers get to see what happens when students take their knowledge out into the real world and apply it. I did, however, and I’m eternally grateful for the students, families and generous donors who made all this possible. My first student trip to France was simply perfect.