Sunday, July 7, 2013

Reaching the midway point in style!

Last week certainly was charged! After our return from Normandy, we had a late start Friday morning and watched a film in the auditorium together. Since Friday marked our halfway point as well, we had some things to take care of as well as to celebrate in the afternoon! First, we voted on a program t-shirt, Kate’s design with our “group slogan” on it taking the win. Next, we had students choose a topic they’d like to write about for the end of program magazine.  Although we’re only halfway through, it’s already time for students to start gathering ideas and reflecting on memorable moments they’ve had in France. At the end of the program, we’ll assemble a magazine that will make for a wonderful memory – a gift in a way – for the host families, as well as for all students.  Topics range from favorite recipes, to the first day, to the excursion in Normandy, to music in France. Students will be submitting their first drafts at the end of the week, and I’m really excited to see what their impressions have been and how far they’ve come.

In addition to these preparations, we conducted mid-program evaluations in the afternoon. Students took turns meeting with their support group leader one-on-one.  At this time, we shared with students how they were progressing in each class, how they could improve, and what they should keep up! We also shared commentary from their host families (who had just filled out and sent back their own evaluations in a sealed envelope) and any additional observations we had.  This was a time for us to encourage students to stretch their limits and fully engage in the second half.  Needless to say, we’re very proud of all of them and how far they’ve already come. (Let me digress here to give a small example of how even their behavior in public has matured drastically: when we were in the museum at Caen, there happened to be many other groups – particularly Americans – visiting as well. While other youth spoke very loudly over one another – almost shouting – and were rather pushy, our students were much more “wise.” [We always tell them “soyez sage” or “be wise.] Not only did they use softer voices, but they also stayed together and were very conscious and respectful of others around them.)

After evaluations, it was time to celebrate! Since we have four birthdays during the program – Kate, Meaghan, Luis, and William – we took the opportunity to celebrate them together with various tarts and cakes. Miam miam!

I could say that this was a great way to end our busy week, but then I’d be leaving out the perhaps most jovial occasion yet – a large picnic and celebration with all students and host families! On Friday evening, we were invited by the Mayor of Turquant, a neighboring town (about 10 minutes away), to a picnic shelter near the Loire River to celebrate the fourth of July together (although it technically was on the 5th because of our excursion).  We absolutely could not have asked for a more beautiful evening! Around 7, host families started to gather, bringing foldable tables, blankets, chairs, and lots and lots of food to share! We even had a group composed of nearly two-dozen singers and musicians called “Les Chats Noirs” who played throughout the evening and really added a touch of charm to the already jovial atmosphere.  A few host parents were in fact part of the group.

After some welcoming tunes from Les Chats Noirs, the students gathered and sang the American National Anthem for their families, followed by the first part of the French National Anthem.  Following the students’ lead, many families joined in.  The Mayor of Turquant came to welcome everyone as well, sharing kind words with the families and students.  Then we all broke out the food! And then dessert, and then more dessert. (Personally, I think I tasted 5 different desserts made by families? Maybe it was 6….) Some, such as Kamal, got pretty creative and made a “raspberry baguette,” taking out the center of part of a baguette and filling it with freshly picked raspberries from the backyard.  Afterward students had time to just let go, many playing soccer in the field with host siblings (even one as young as 4!) and with other students. When the music began again, the dancing followed! Students with host families, students with other students, relatives and family; it was quite the uplifting vibe!  We ate and played until the sun went down, and that, I must say, was a beautiful ending to the first half of our journey this summer.

As we are at our halfway point, I want to take a moment and thank you all at home for sending your sons and daughters with us this summer, for having trust in the program and more importantly for trusting in your children as they mature and grow away from home, many for the first time. They miss you a lot, and I know the feeling is the same at home.

Nonetheless, for several of them, the relationships that they’re forming this summer will last a lifetime. As testimony to this, I’m actually typing this entry right now on the train on my way home from visiting my own host mom from 9 years ago.  I had a flood of memories in the 24 hours I was there as I picked a few pounds of raspberries in the backyard for an hour, shared photos from the past few years over tea, and learned some basic patchwork skills while relaxing in the sun.  While everyone has his or her own respective and unique experience, it goes without saying that many students this summer are creating bonds like this that make people they never knew until three weeks ago part of their “family.”  “Hosts” for the summer, but family for much longer….

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