La France Pour Moi…
Personally my class trip to France was a big hit. Thirteen of us, students from Grade 10 visited a French town, St. Germain en-Lay near Paris, in the last academic year 2008-2009. We lived there for two weeks with our host families, and went to their school as exchange students. Their school is known as Lycée International and it is a very reputed high school. It is also a very special school because it has many different sections in it. There is an English Section, a German Section, a Chinese section and so on. Students get to choose if they want to be a part of one of these many sections or not. Even though they have to do most of their subjects in French, some of the subjects like history and geography are taught in the language of their choice. It is an incredible concept, because you not only have classes in French and another language, but you can also learn an extra language like English, Spanish, Latin or German. Students who go to that school there tell me it is not very easy to cope with, as the studies over all are not that easy, but they enjoy it. Our exchange was happening with the students from the American Section of the school.
The trip seemed like a god-sent blessing for the hard work that we had been doing. When we reached France, we were greeted by the familiar face of the Principle of the American Section of the school, Mr. Sean Lynch. He and some other teachers had visited our school a few months ago to confirm that the exchange was actually happening. We had questioned them with everything we could think of, to know about the school and France. Mr. Lynch’s smiling face had to be a good omen. It was evening time and it was pretty cold. It was the time of the year when winter has just ended and the spring is just about to begin. It was getting greener and the flowers had just started to bloom. I like this kind of atmosphere, it seems fresh and new.
I lived with a huge family. My host had three siblings and a Dutch girl staying with them who was studying in France as well as helping out in taking care of the two smaller children when their parents were at work. It was a comfortable house with a tiny backyard. I was pretty happy to be living with such a cute family. I shared my room with Joesephine, and I loved it.
France turned out to be everything that people claim it is. It is the haven for good food, pretty people, expensive stuff, romance and a lot of French. And I totally fell in love with it. I loved the Eiffel tower (my next dog is going to be named after that wonder of the world), I loved Louvre, I loved Paris, I loved Versailles, I loved the goat cheese, I loved the weather, I loved everything about it. France has been one of those places for me that I have always wanted to visit since early childhood, other than Disney World. It has some kind of a magic about it. The language, the culture, the people, all seemed so different and yet so fresh. The people seem so alien like, the cities seem so modernized, and the food seems so unfamiliar. We were all set to explore, we were all ready to enjoy the newness, we were all eager to find out more.
Maybe we were a bit too eager. It turned out that being a part of this exchange program meant true work. This one was going to be very different from the exchanges that ever happened with our school to Paris and Australia. We were expecting it to be this trip which would tour us around Paris and St. Germain all day long, and allow us to spend time with the family during the evenings. But it turned out that out of the 13 days we were staying in the town, there were only going to be 5 days that we were getting to tour Paris, or even get out of the school. The other days were completely booked for us to make presentations on Mahatma Gandhi and our culture in India to the students over there. This was a bit of a let down, but eventually turned out to be tremendous fun. Over the days we presented to numerous classes ranging from 4th grade to the 11th grade. The “fun” part was the fact that we actually got to interact with so many French people. We actually got a taste of the culture and what they are like even though it was us who were presenting. If were just to tour around the country, how were we to interact with so many people? This was and actual exchange program with insight into one another’s cultures.
Lycée students and teachers really liked us. The presentations and the workshops with the students there went off pretty smooth. It didn’t surprise me, kids in MGIS manage that very often. One of us made a beautiful slide show presentation on what is Gandhi’s stand in today’s society, we made interesting activities for the students to do, we managed to answer their queries smartly, and we even taught some of the classes our folk dance! It was incredible, the response that we got. These students had never learnt about a culture in such a diverse way. But what really impressed them was the Indo-Franco night.
The Indo-Franco night was the event when we shared our cultures through music, dance and performances. We had prepared an entire exhibition as a starter to the night. We had a stall for Indian snacks, a stall for Rangoli, a stall that displayed tie-die done in one of the workshops, a stall for female accessories etc. Following the exhibition there were two solo classical dance performances by us. This was the part of the night that really astounded the French society, especially the beautiful Kathak sequence done by Sakhi Ganeriwala. A little girl actually came looking for an autograph of Sakhi, backstage! We also performed some Bollywood Dances (for the first time we were asked to do such a dance by the teachers themselves and we couldn’t have let an opportunity like this go by). There was a musical performance by the French students which we didn’t really understand much off as it had a lot of talking. The night was concluded with a performance of Garbaand then we managed to call many of the watching students to dance it with us. Indo-Franco was successful, and nobody could have been more elated by the success than us.
There were only a few disappointments that led to the end of the exchange program. The first had to be its end itself. The second was not being able to visit Park Asterix, which we were so determined to visit. And the third was that an outdoor trip in Paris was planned on the last day of our exchange with our hosts, rather than the first day. This was a disappointment because we enjoyed their company so much, and became so friendly, that if the trip had been conducted earlier, we would have left St. Germain with much more closeness to our hosts.
Most of us were leaving and returning to India. Five of us stayed back to go off to Le Havre to participate in a seminar about Political Sciences and International Relations. Many people from all over Asia and some from Europe, were attending this seminar. It was conducted by Science Po. We were to attend lectures by professionals on global issues regarding environments, governments, economics, recession etc. It sounds very studious of us to go there be a part of something like this. But truly it was every bit as fun as St. Germain if not more.
To begin with, we were a group of people that would normally never hang out all together, so it was refreshing to be with these people, at least it was for me. It wasn’t just the company of such wonderful people that turned out to be fun, but the seminar and the people attending it were awesome too. The mornings were scheduled for us to attend the lecture, then after lunch we would be divided in groups to make presentations related to the topic of the lecture in the mornings, and the evenings were always planned out for something fun. One of the nights there was bowling, once we saw a movie, once we visited a wine factory, one night there was Gala dinner and dancing (although we had to stop the dancing in the middle because the fake smoke that was got to create the mood turned the fire alarms on!). It was such an eventful week. Of course there was a lot of learning involved, because that is what we had gone there for, and I learnt tremendously about how our global community works especially in Asia and Europe. The presentations that we made enabled us to go deep into one aspect of the topics and dwell on it. Each day was different, though. Once there was a debate, and once there was a comparison, etc. It opened my eyes to so many things happening around me which I don’t even have the slightest knowledge about. I realized that things affected a lot around me to not care. The seminar opened up a whole new dimension of perspectives for me and I was very thankful of mom to point out to me that not attending it would be letting a big opportunity go away.
There. I think that is explanation enough for why my trip to France was such a hit. Yes it was a bit of a cultural shock, but that is part of opening your mind. I now find a desire of going back to France, especially to Paris. I have found and learnt a lot in the trip that was merely anticipated as a break. I know that I have matured after the trip, in the sense that I now know what importance my life in India holds for me. There are two many hidden “moral-of-the-stories” in the entire trip for me to bore you with. But for now I am just going to say that I feel I am a more refined person when I got off the plane that day in Ahmedabad than when I had gotten into it.
-Mahi Baid, Grade 10 (now in Grade 11)
I was touched
“It was soooo (…) nice to meet you! I’ll miss you loads! We have to keep in touch!” Read the bright orange sticky note I found on my bed, the night before I flew home. My host sister Albane (14) had written it. I was touched, by the amount of affection I had received from my siblings and family over the past 2 weeks. Baby Basil (5) had made me several drawings, including that of a banana tree! Emiline (10) had gifted me a name plaque made with melted plastic beads which she had made and Alexis (16) had diligently helped mark my schedule, and saw to it that I was comfortable at school. The Descas were more than my hosts; they were family, between the mum, dad, siblings and the bunny rabbit, I always had company, and my stay in France was a joyful and relaxing experience.
I stayed in France for 2 weeks. I flew from India, with my classmates and teachers, that itself was exciting but the stay in France was indefinitely more so! We were all assigned host families with whom we could correspond before the trip. The majority of our day would be spent at the Lycée International, our host school, where we would present Indian culture, our customs and traditions to the students. Often we took day trips, in and around Paris to places like Versailles and the Science City.
At home, we got a taste of typically French foods and lifestyle. Various cheeses and desserts were offered at dinner time, whereas breakfast foods include ‘pain au chocolat’ (Chocolate bread) and ‘chocolat chaud’ ( hot chocolate). Spending time with the host family, telling them about India and home is one of the most rewarding conversations I have had in my life.
Sightseeing was of course overwhelming! All the monuments we had only seen in pictures and read about stood before our eyes! It was difficult to rely on our memory, there were far too many things surrounding us, we took pictures in abundance, bonded and had an international experience with the works!
- Ruju Carlson Patel, Grade 10 (now Grade 11)