Students are working very diligently in classes, often doing homework with their host families to help them along and attain deeper understanding of course material. After classes, as in the photo above, they've been working hard to prepare for the Farewell Show on the 25th. In theatre, for example, not only are they refining pronunciation of their lines, but starting to practice from memory as well! The more they practice, they more dynamic and involved they're becoming.
In other news, on Monday, we had our third (and final) group of students bring in desserts they'd made with their families. This time, though, we were smart enough to have knives!
On Wednesday - our usual sports day - we had a special treat when Grace, a gymnastics teacher at home, led a basic skills workshop for all the other students. It was not only very impressive, but also really fun. Grace did a great job preparing technical vocabulary and leading her peers through somersaults, cartwheels, handstands, and a tumbling relay race at the end! I must say, when she began and led stretches, I heard a lot of the boys groaning that it was difficult, but as it turns out once we got going they all brought so much energy and were tumbling all over with surprising ease.
On Friday, we visited the Fontevraud Abbey, near the town of Turquant (where the Mayor had invited us for a picnic last Friday). He arranged this visit for us, as well as for us to visit and have lunch at the nursing home in town to exchange songs with the residents. While we were waiting to enter, the boys got together to take a picture of "les garçons" (the guys). All the cameras went to the girls, and then they switched cameras to the guys, who did their share of picture taking. It was actually really adorable to watch, especially seeing their enthusiasm and camaraderie!
Back to Fontevraud - construction of the abbey began in the early 12th century and housed both men and women, but for much of its history, the monastic order was headed by women. The order was dissolved during the French Revolution, and the abbey was then converted into a prison. During the Occupation in World War II, it was a prison especially for members of the Resistance. While it's an unfortunate history, the abbey may not have survived the Revolution if it had not been repurposed. Fontevraud is considered one of the largest monastic cities in Europe. We gave the students about an hour to explore the cathedral, the cloister, the refectory, and other buildings with an audio guide.
We then headed to the nursing home where we were kindly greeted and served a multi-course lunch outdoors. The mayor of Turquant came to join us for lunch and stopped at various tables to chat with the students. After eating, we went to the common area where several residents were gathered to hear the students sing. The choir had prepared two song to share - Au Clair de la Lune and Compère Guilleri - after which all students joined in to sing the American national anthem followed by the French national anthem.
As we were leaving and taking a group photo outside, a man came out to thank us for our visit and to wish us farewell. He explained to us that he was a pilot in the First Indochina War (1946 to 1954) with many Americans. He then sang us a song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne called "This is a simple goodbye." The students thanked him, and it was clear they were deeply touched by the exchange.
When we returned to school, we began a badminton tournament (with a few matches still left to go that we'll finish on Wednesday). Students went home for the afternoon, but in the evening they came back dressed in "n'importe quoi" (nonsense), as it was the chosen "theme" for our very own Discothèque in the auditorium at school. Students and families alike seemed to have a lot of fun dancing - ranging from the electric slide to a dance to a well-known French song, Alexandrin Alexandra. Students brought juices, sodas, cookies, and cakes to have on the side, and overall it was just a really nice and lighthearted atmosphere that let students let loose and relax a bit together.
Today is the 14th of July, the day France celebrates its independence from the monarchy. Here, it is called "La Fête Nationale" (the national celebration). In the anglophone world, however, it's known as Bastille Day because it's the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, a symbolic moment in the beginning of the French Revolution. The entire day has been full of festivities, starting with a large military parade in the morning that pays tribute to the town's significant military history, followed by a reception with the mayor of Saumur along the Loire River. Many other activities - such as a boat parade and theatre representations - went on throughout the afternoon. I went with Kelly this morning and we ran into almost half of the group with their families, as well as our on-site coordinator Marie-Chrisitne, and once again the Mayor of Turquant! They served the adults sparkling wine (red, white, and blue to mimic the colors of the French flag) and orange juice for the students. It's been gorgeous out tonight and should be great weather for the large fireworks display tonight! Above is a picture of students (plus Kelly, Krista, Marie-Christine, and me) with the Mayor of Saumur.
This week we'll be continuing to practice for the Farewell Show, and will take Friday to have our last group excursion together to a nearby island/beach. It'll be a nice way to relax together and celebrate new friendships and much progress made!