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.


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