by Kallan Wood
During spring break 2017, eight high school students and two teachers traveled to France where they stayed with French families and attended school at The Lycée Saint-Vincent, which is housed in a former convent built in the 12th century. At the center of our brief time in France, was an immersion in language and culture. Students dove in and did well. Math class in French at first sounded terrifying, but turned into one of the highlights of the trip.
The students stayed in Senlis, north of Paris, and had opportunities for travel and cultural exploration. The Lycée arranged a trip for us to the neighboring town, Chantilly, to visit the Château de Chantilly. The chateau itself is a grand country estate and an impressive structure; inside is a museum containing an exceptional collection of fine art spanning centuries. The students deeply enjoyed themselves.
We were able to spend one glorious and full day in the City of Light. We were lead around major landmarks of Paris by a Saint-Vincent teacher, and ended the day with a stop at the Musée d'Orsay. We had a delightful tour by an incredible guide (she was hilarious!) who walked us through works by Van Gogh, Monet, Rodin, Degas, and others. We capped off the day with a walk along the Seine to Notre Dame and a stroll along the Champs-Élysées before heading to dinner in Le Marais, the city’s historic district.
The next stop: Arles. A colorful local guide led us on a walking tour of the city and added much to the experience. She took us underground to the old Roman forum, to the Roman amphitheater and arena. The history of city is layered and dense and its beauty lies in this layering. The denseness is not just figurative – you can see it. A Romanesque church sits in the town square to the right of the 19th century City Hall, which was built after the 1848 Revolution with bold “R.F” carved into the pediment to signify Republique Francaise. We explored cobblestone streets and walked through the landscape of Van Gogh’s life.
Another highlight of the trip was our time in Grasse, where we visited Fragonard Parfumeur and learned the history of the original Fragonard (from the same family as the famous Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard) and the process of perfume making. The students were amazed by the intricacies of composing a scent, the notes, the creativity and really enjoyed selecting a special scent for themselves after the tour. The whole Fragonard experience was sophisticated, refined and stylish; très chic, très French.
We ended our trip in Nice, which was nice. We arrived just as the sun was setting over the Mediterranean. We toured the old city, found excellent local eats, took in the Italian and British influence in the city, and visited a cliff side park to take in the Mediterranean coast and the harbor. We could even see the snow-capped Alps to the north! We enjoyed some local street food and headed back to the beach. Most of the students did not hesitate to dive right into the icy waves. Some of us thought better of a frigid plunge, and we enjoyed watching the others leap and shiver in and out of the tide.
This was a truly spectacular time abroad for the students. In just in over a week we saw such wonderful growth and maturity (and use of French language) from all.