Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independence Day

After a restful weekend, our stagiaires arrived to school on Monday prepared for a very busy day. The city of Saumur sent us an invitation once again to an official reception at the Mairie (the town hall).
A spokesperson for the mayor greeted us at this formal event where we exchanged some kind words, presented a gift for the mayor, and participated in a few activities. Our host, who is in charge of international relations, is passionate about language education and study-abroad programs, and so she had prepared several intriguing questions for our students to answer in French, ranging from "what has been your best experience here?" to "what are people like in your ideal world?" Everyone was quite impressed with the students' ability to think of responses on the fly and to express themselves in quite abstract ways. Their language improvement was evident at that moment, and we were all quite proud.

Later in the evening, we held our big 4th of July celebration at the school cafeteria, where students, host families, and representatives of the city and the school were invited to join us to celebrate our national holiday.
The mayor of Saumur made an appearance to welcome us to the city and to comment on the importance of our day of independence and our shared histories. He said that the French-American relationship is a strong one that will continue to grow, and he congratulated the students on the challenge they've taken on and the strong linguistic skills they've already built. One of our students made a speech on behalf of the group, thanking the city for the opportunity that they have, and expressing their fondness of the city and their host families. We then sang the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, and in a very rare but special moment when we permit an exception to the language commitment, we sang our own national anthem, much to the delight of all our guests. We then invited everyone to an apéritif graciously provided by local wineries, which not only included a sparkling wine for the adults, but also in order for the students to not feel left out, a non-alcoholic sparkling peach juice. We had arranged a sort of a pot-luck dinner, where host families brought main dishes and desserts to share.
While eating, we were serenaded by a music group called Les chats noirs (the black cats), in which one of the host families sings. They sang a variety of traditional folk songs and created an incredibly jovial atmosphere. The students very much enjoyed themselves, and even some of the younger children in the host families joined in the middle of the room to dance to the music. I can imagine that it could have been difficult to be away from family during the 4th of July, to miss the barbecues and fireworks and time with family, but when looking around at the the students enjoying their time spent with each other and their host families, I felt a comforting sense of home-away-from-home, which reminded me how much these families invest in our stagiaires, not just in time and resources but in emotion. Some of them have already told me they're going to have a hard time letting go.

So here we are in our fourth week, getting ready to tackle another excursion tomorrow. Preparations for the final program for the host families are in full swing, and our journey is moving along much too quickly! More to come soon from sunny Saumur!

P.S. As soon as I can get it into the correct format, I have some video of the party that I would like to post on here and on the photo website, so be on the lookout for that!

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