Monday, June 27, 2011

La Randonée

It hardly seems possible, but we have already finished our second week and are starting the third. With time flying by so quickly, we'll be hosting our "Fête des familles" (host family party) before we know it. In order to be well prepared for the event, we've begun the planning early during our afternoon activities. Every afternoon, we choose to do sports, choir, or theater, and it is the work from these last two activities that will form the show that the students will put on for the families. During choir, we listen to and practice a variety of French songs, both early and modern, and even some songs broken into four parts. Though it took a little encouragement, our brave stagiaires, some of whom who have never had any training, have jumped right into the choir exercises.

On theater days, the students are first engaged in some sort of activity that requires them to open themselves up to their classmates and to themselves, sometimes nudging them outside of their comfort zones in order to be a little silly, even. For example, the students were asked to cross the stage of our amphitheater one at a time, each time in a different way.
It was quite rewarding to see that even our more timid students were able to come out of their shells a bit, and that all the students were very encouraging of each other.

For the remainder of the time, the students have been working in groups to create short skits that they will perform for their families. They have already worked out some great ideas--how to become French in seven weeks, a Christmas-Carol-type tale of an unhappy stagiaire who is visited by the ghosts of other students, and aliens who kidnap a stagiaire and learn about the French culture. They will continue to write and direct their skits during the upcoming weeks as we prepare for the Fête des familles.

Even with all the work we put the students through during the week, there was a large group that was willing to spend their Saturday afternoon with us during our first optional weekend activity, which was a randonné (hike) around the nearby town of Montsoreau. The trail began in the heart of the small town, worked its way along the Loire river, and climbed up over the hill that looks over the valley. The view was quite remarkable, with a patchwork of vineyards and wheat fields covering the area. Students ate a picnic that their host parents prepared for them on top of the hill, then as we continued on, we came across an old windmill, so we of course had to take the opportunity to get a nice group photo:
Since it was a fairly warm day, we took a couple more good breaks in order to rehydrate and relax in the shade. Students even had the opportunity to see the town's château, which offered a museum describing the region's history as well as an excellent view of the valley.

After a restful weekend, the students began their third week with us today, and they are now setting their sights on the upcoming excursion to Normandy. They are very excited, and I think it will be a very enriching experience as they see the intersection of American and French history. I can't wait to let you all know how it goes! Stay posted, and enjoy the new photos that I have posted on the photo website.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fête de la Musique

A week full of a normal schedule seems to be doing great things for our "stagiaires." They are much less tired (though maybe a little during the 9 am support group), they are eating well, and most exciting of all, they are already making some big improvements in their speaking and comprehension abilities. Some students came into the program already having some advanced skills, and are now filling in the gaps, and some students were very quiet the first few days, but are now starting to open up to us, their peers, and their host families. I have no doubt that we will be seeing some impressive transformations by the end of the program.

Yesterday, we met with the host families to discuss any of their concerns, and we were pleased to hear that they love their students. They are becoming well integrated into the families, participating in activities, conversing with the adults and in many families the children as well, and even keeping up with their household chores (keeping their rooms clean, setting the table for dinner, etc.). The host families enjoy helping the students with their homework, whether it's reading the textbooks, doing a grammar assignment, or discussing cultural differences. Overall, they are very impressed by the students, by their thirst for knowledge and their willingness to try new things. We are pleased to have such an outstanding group of host families, who have already shown a great depth of kindness as well as patience as they help our stagiaires navigate through this journey.

While this week has been somewhat "normal" in terms of the schedule, it is by no means a quiet one. Tuesday night we saw Saumur and indeed all of France celebrate the national holiday called the "Fête de la Musique". This national music festival, celebrated every summer solstice for the last 29 years, invites musicians to cover nearly every street corner and fill the city with music. It seemed as though every Saumurois was downtown for the event, and as the other profs and I took a moment to enjoy the festivities, we spotted some stagiaires and their families along the way.
The types of music varied, from rock, to classical, even some American country! It was quite an amazing sight to see, and the students who were able to go very much enjoyed it as well.

More photos from the music festival will be posted to the photo website soon, and there are still many exciting events to come, so stay posted!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Photo website

I've created a photo website on for this year's program photos. You can access the website by clicking on the link here: You can also make prints directly from the website and pick them up at a later time.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

First week

As we end the first week of the program, the other instructors and I are feeling quite pleased with the way things are going so far. The students are enjoying living with their host families, and are beginning to adjust to the new time schedule in France. They have spent the last few days and nights trying to get to sleep at the right times, but now they are almost in the groove. When the students first arrived in the Paris airport to pick up their luggage, they were quite exhausted, though they took the opportunity to sleep on the bus ride to Saumur. The next day, some of the students went on a quick tour of Saumur with us. The town has a population of roughly 30,000 and is situated right next to the Loire in the Loire Valley. A rather impressive château overlooks Saumur, and in fact, every day we eat right next to it for lunch. During our walk, we were able to take a look around it, though we will wait for another day to go inside.

On Wednesday, in addition to taking an exam, students came up with their group motto, which is "when in France, do as the French do." The motto is intended to help students encourage each other when having a difficult day and in need of a little extra motivation. Yesterday, we began our first day of regular classes. The students were divided up into their support groups, and had nothing but good things to say. Homesickness was discussed, but those who said they were feeling it are coping very well by keeping a journal and appreciating their new experiences thus far. We then split up into our various classes--either with Erin for literature, Kemmie for communication, Michael for grammar, or myself for culture. We had lunch, returned for another class, and then began our first afternoon activity, which was choir. We listened to a few songs to get an idea of what they might be singing, and while they seemed a bit intimidated at first, they began to warm up to it a bit. Several students are already familiar with "Aux Champs Elysées," for example, so we did get some participation in.

For lunch, we take the students to the cafeteria of the building where we instructors live, a sort of lodging for young workers, which offers a very generous meal that includes a salad, a main
dish and vegetable, cheese, and dessert, all of which change each day, as well as a piece of bread. Many of the students have very much enjoyed trying all of the different foods in France. One of the things the most often remarked upon is the variety of cheese that can be found here. The desserts and pastries are of course a favorite as well.

Today we took our first group excursion, a tour of some of the châteaux in the Loire Valley. This region is very well known for possessing a great many of these opulent castles, which were the homes and vacation houses of many kings and nobility of France. The first we visited was Chambord, shown here with the lovely group photo. Chambord is the largest of the Loire château, with 440 rooms. It was constructed by François I in the 16th century and includes a double helix staircase that leads to a beautiful terrace, and is surrounded by a large hunting
ground. The students took many pictures and looked over every inch of the château before we
moved on to Blois for lunch. While we didn't have enough time to look through the château itself (which is not the most interesting of the three in terms of the interior), students ate a picnic prepared by their host families just outside of this royal palace.

Our last stop was then the château of Chenonceau, another 16th century construction. The castle is surrounded by a moat and large gardens, and even includes a labyrinth. The interior is very warmly decorated with luxurious bedrooms, a large kitchen, and a chapel. After a long day of walking around, we took the bus home and sent the students off with their host families for the weekend, for whatever activities they might have planned. I'm sure the students are also looking forward to sleeping in and getting some rest, as it has been a very busy week, and we have only just begun.

This weekend, I plan to get some more pictures of the excursion uploaded onto another website. I'll be informing you of that soon.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

First days

Welcome to the Saumur 2011 blog! As we are quite busy these first days with orientations and other preparations, I won't be able to provide many details right away, so I will be updating this again soon. The students have been introduced to their host families and have started getting themselves accustomed to the new time schedule. We walked around town today to see some sites, and tomorrow we have exams and the on-site orientation, so we are keeping them very occupied!

As I update this blog, I will also be posting photos, such as the one below (but better, without anyone covered up by a tree):

They are all smiling, even though we've just woken them up from a nap and taken their photo.

The host parents all appear to be very pleased with their students, and the students all seem to like their families, so all is going well! More information to come soon.