Saturday, June 29, 2013

A small town, lots of happenings!

This past week was full of cultural events in the city and serious studying at school. Last Friday, many students took advantage of the opportunity to go to the annual music festival – always on the summer solstice. Quite the variety of musicians filled the streets, as well as crepe and dessert stands, of course. This was an event that was free and open to the public and got a lot of families out and about with their student. One of the host families even organized a dinner in town at an outdoor terrace for students and families who wanted to join.  The instructors went out, too, and happened to run into what seemed to be about half of the group! Here's a picture of some desserts being made at the music festival - super fresh!! 

The next day, I took a good number of the group to the Vintage Bike Festival in town as an optional activity. The students were able to listen to live music, see vintage bikes and boutiques, learn about cycling in France, and of course, have an afternoon snack. The festival was particularly exciting this year because it’s the 100th running of the Tour de France! Here are some musicians that were playing at the bike festival, as well as the students who came at the finish line:  

The rest of the weekend, students had the opportunity to spend with their host families. Students are divided in three different groups for classes, and during the weekend one of the groups spent time making local desserts with their host families. We had lots of cakes, and even a flan with prunes in it! On Monday, students brought the desserts to class and we all indulged during our break. Next Monday, another group will be bringing homemade desserts to share!

Later in the afternoon on Monday, we went to town hall and met with the assistant to the Mayor of Saumur. Dressed in their finest, students were asked questions by the Mayor’s assistant, such as differences they noticed between Saumur and the States. While everyone was enjoying cookies and juice, she came up to the instructors and raved about how impressed she was about their level of French and how well mannered they were! We were extremely proud of the students. They give a very positive image of Americans – they’re extremely polite, always on time (which helps the group a lot!!) and are working very hard.

On top of being well mannered, though, they also know how to be silly: 

The rest of the week was full of classes, theatre, choir, and sports. Next week we’re looking forward to a 2-day excursion to Normandy – we’ll actually be there on the 4th of July! Stay tuned! 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Off to a great start with castles all around!

I'm really happy to share that the past few days have been extremely charged but very exciting! On Monday, the students came to school and spent a lot of time chatting about their host families. First things first, they took a placement exam to mark their level at the beginning of the program, which they'll do again at the end to measure their progress. Afterwards, we began orientation and allowed for a bit of free time before lunch.

Around noon, we headed over to the cafeteria, which is about a 15 minute walk from the school. The main chef is very friendly and knows about the "no English" rule, prompting students along as they request what they'd like to eat. There are a lot of choices available. Here's an idea of what students can take:
  • a hefty portion of bread - about 1/3 of an entire fresh baguette 
  • one entrée, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, cut up & seasoned carrots, potato salad, melon etc.
  • one "milk product"- a choice between yogurt or cheese
  • one dessert, such as fruit, chocolate mousse, tarts, etc. 
  • one hot main plate, including a meat choice - and there are usually about three different options - as well as about three (unlimited) vegetable choices.
Let's just say we're eating well! 

After lunch we went on a long "photo walking tour" where Michael took the lead and showed everyone things around town, beginning with the chateau of Saumur overlooking the Loire river. It was an absolutely beautiful day and it allowed the students to take some initial pictures of the city as well as become more familiar with their surroundings. Here's a group photo with the chateau behind us!

Monday evening (yes, still Monday!), we had a host family and student meeting at the school. The purpose was to welcome the families, go over expectations - including the Honor Code, answer specific questions, and talk through "scenarios" that can arise - such as what to do when a student doesn't understand a specific word or phrase. It also gave us as instructors an opportunity to chat one-on-one with the families more in depth about how the first few days went. 

Tuesday was another morning of orientation, where we went over the Honor Code once more and added our "own" rules, such as not being exclusive or unkind to each other based on level of French, encouraging one another, and always making sure to have a watch and a map on hand! We then came up with our "group slogan" which was "Rester Calme et Jouer aux Cartes," or "Stay Calm and Play Cards." Playing cards has been the go-to activity for the whole group - every moment they get a break, you'll immediately see about three or four packs of cards open! We even named our meeting room "the card room." Cards, take one:

After lunch on Tuesday we broke out into "support groups," which are groups of 6-7 students paired with an instructor. Every day this summer, we'll have 25 minutes of "support group" time, where we'll either discuss how things are going at home or work on phonetics. The idea is that as a smaller and consistent group, students will have the opportunity to confide in one another and ideally feel more comfortable talking more in depth about their experience. In our support groups on Tuesday, we talked about our personalities as well as how the first few days had been.

Following support groups, we split into our afternoon activity groups. Every Monday and Thursday students will participate either in choir or theatre, working on pieces to perform at the farewell show for host families. Tuesdays are "small groups," where students will be working on an activity - such as a dance or comedy sketch - of their choice to perform at the farewell show as well. Wednesdays are sports, and Fridays will generally be games or excursions.

Yesterday was finally our first day of classes! Students are in three groups of 8-9 each for classes. Every day they'll have literature, culture, linguistics, and grammar. We have three classes of 45 minutes each followed by support groups before lunch, then a break and another class after lunch, ending the day with one of the activities mentioned above. It was exciting for instructors and students alike to delve into classroom material together. For sports, we played ping pong, badminton, and dogeball.

Today was our first excursion to visit three different castles along the Loire River. We started out the day visiting Chambord, continued along to Blois for lunch where students ate sack lunches prepared by their host families, and ended at Chenonceau. The students were placed in groups of 4-5 each that they had to stay with the entire day. Not only does this ensure more security during trips, but having mixed groups also allows students to get to know others they might not have had the chance to talk with much before. After quite the downpour yesterday, it was a lovely rain-free day for our excursion! Here are a few students - Calvin, Emily, Kim, and Jay - in front of Chenonceau:

What is especially nice about this group is that they are very supportive of one another and are attentive to making sure everyone is included. I'll be posting (a lot of) photos to flickr soon! Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Finally time to relax!

Hello friends and families!

I just want to let you all know that we arrived safely in Saumur at 3:00pm (9:00am Eastern Standard Time). Most students slept a bit on the bus ride, then we stopped a for a hot lunch, and after we continued along with Le Roi Soleil musical on. It was especially great to see the castle of Saumur and the city as we crossed the Loire on our way to the school. When we got to the school, all the families were waiting for us! Within what seemed like only 5 minutes, all the families and students had found each other and soon headed home for the weekend.  

The next few days should be exciting as the students rest a bit, have their first "French dinner" at home, and get to know their families. School starts on Monday, and the families should be accompanying the students so they can learn the way. Here we go! 

Hope everything is going well in Indiana! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Be on the lookout..

I wanted to add that I'll be sending all the parents an e-mail as soon as we get to Saumur and connect all the students safely with their host families, so be on the lookout for that! I'll also post to the blog to let everyone know of our arrival.  A bientôt! (See you soon!)

Ready for everyone's arrival!

Hello parents, guardians, family, and friends!  Are you getting ready for the final farewell tomorrow? Michael and I have been in Saumur for a few days preparing for everyone's arrival and we are both very excited to have everyone here and begin what is promising to be a wonderful summer! We'll be meeting Krista, Kelly, and all the students at the airport early Saturday morning.

In the meantime, I've been exploring a bit and find Saumur to be very pleasant! Recently, I've gotten fresh radishes at the market, sat at an outdoor café and had "strawberry juice" (one of my favorites!) with a worker from a local kebab stand, and gone on a canoe trip - in the rain as it turned out - in the Loire river, passing under bridges and the chateau. These are just a few things the students will be able to do in their free time - the latter with their U.S. parents' permission, of course!