France #19: Final Reflections (Part 2)

Jarod Harrington ’20:

As our time in France is winding down, Mr. Taft assigned us to groups in order to reflect on our experiences during our time here. We were tasked with finding a café or any place that would allow us to sit down and have meaningful discourse about our trip so far. I was part of the only group of three so Sydney, Maddie, and I wandered through the streets of Tours in the baking heat looking for a place to settle. After finally finding a café that was actually open, we walked in, ordered some refreshments, and started talking. Guided by the questions Mr. Taft provided us in an email, we talked about everything from the lighthearted messing around we would partake in on a daily basis, to more serious topics such as how we’ve improved or changed as people while on this trip.

We started off by sharing our most pleasing experience as well as our most unpleasant. This was my favorite part of the entire conversation because some of the stories were pretty funny looking back on. All three of us agreed that our time in Paris was the most enjoyable, but next in line for the three of us was spending time with our families. We all agreed that the down time we had interacting with our families and getting to know one another were some of the most enjoyable moments. Yes, there were times when things got a little awkward, but it’s from those moments that some of the most rewarding experiences come. This also ties into our most unpleasant moment.

For the three of us we all talked about times, most of which were with friends of our host siblings, when we really struggled to either follow a conversation or hop into it. These were the most uncomfortable moments because being three very social people, we found it hard to accept the fact that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to contribute as much as we wanted to. It’s these experiences though that make me more appreciative of learning a new language. Stepping out into the real world and having these daily encounters is something that can’t be taught in any classroom. Learning a language is all about making a connection. Who cares if you don’t conjugate every verb correctly or don’t word your sentences in the most grammatically perfect way possible. It’s these types of interpersonal interactions, the ones where it’s impossible to escape to English, that make trips like these so rewarding and fruitful.

Jarod Harrington ’20

Caroline Mahony ’21:

As our trip comes to a close, I have time to reflect on my experiences here in France. Our travels have brought us from the D day beaches on Normandy, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to the homes of our wonderful host families here in Tours. This trip has been a sharp turn around from daily life at DA. Coming from 6 hours a day of classes, 2 hours of co-curriculars, and required sit down meals, everyone knows that Deerfield asks a lot of all of its students. So, it only makes sense that even though school is over, our teachers expect us to keep up the pace here on our trip to France.

On our first day, after a red eye flight, we were immediately dropped off in the town of Giverny to explore and find some good food for lunch. Two hours later, we were again leaving to go to Monet’s gardens. We were just the slightest bit jet lagged. To round out that day, we took the bus to our hotel by the coast, and had a delicious French meal. Tired as I was, I’m not sure I fully realized that I was ordering veal’s head off the menu. Nonetheless, it was delicious, a great start to my gastronomic adventure through France. I think that I, as well as my group, have come a long way since that day.
Here we are in Tours, each day I wake up and walk over to “English sur Loire”, where Laurent teaches me and my peers new vocabulary and phrases until 12. Then, we have 2 hours free to eat wherever we want before heading over to the Chateau de Tours to meet up and go off on our adventure of the day, be it a chateau, a musee, a bike journey or a boat ride.

This is my first visit to France, and I have learned so much from these excursions. Each place we visit tells us something new about France’s (and Europe’s) past, which we can connect to the present culture today, which we experience personally with our host families. I remember being on the TGV train from Paris to Tours to meet my host family, and I had no idea what to expect. Once I met them though, I knew my family was truly “sympa”. I met my host parents, sister (14), and little brother (7). On that first day my family took me to a “guingette” a French party on the banks of the Loire river. There was dancing, music, good food, and good times to be had. After this, we all slept in late, but woke up in time for a family brunch. That weekend my family had some of their family over, so I also met cousins, aunts, and grandmothers. As I was setting the table, their grandmother came over to me and asked why I was placing the forks upside down. Puzzled, I asked her what she meant. She explained to me that in France, people set forks down with the points facing downward, as to be less ‘aggressive’. This was the beginning of much culture I learned from my family. From my host father, I learned how to cook some quintessentially French dishes, like Ratatouille and apple tarte. From my sister, I learned about French music, from her brother, his love of Legos. My French mother showed me how to throw a party for friends.

In addition to all this, I’ve become acquainted with the cute city of Tours. I have had the opportunity to walk to and from my house each morning, so now I can navigate myself through any part of the city. This is the first time I have ever really walked around alone in a city, and I think I have developed my sense of direction as well as my independence. This trip has helped my French enormously, and also greatly increased my confidence in speaking the language. And aside from that, I have learned so much about French culture, and the everyday life of a “Francais”. I will carry this knowledge with me through the summer and bring it with me back to Deerfield, ready to share what I’ve learned with my peers.

Caroline Mahony ’21

Angélique Alexos ’20:

When I entered high school, I knew that I wanted to be part of a school trip as I love travel and being able to explore different locations and historic sites. Coming to Deerfield and having so many trip opportunities, I was certain that I had to be part of at least one travel experience. The month-long trip to France was, and still is, especially important to me as French is the language I am learning in school and France itself has so many historic sites (and châteaux) to visit and learn more about European culture.

As our group started preparing and the date of departure drew nearer, however, I became slightly apprehensive about being able to speak the language and navigate French daily life. Specifically, I was nervous about meeting my host family, being able to speak and understand French in multiple contexts, and even figuring out what I needed to do to ride the bus from my home to school. I also wasn’t very sure of what to expect about French family life in general. When I travel, it is usually with my family, and we are able to tailor the trip so that each day includes a level of comfort and enjoyment in an area we know little about. In other words, we were tourists seeking to enjoy and understand a new culture for ourselves and from our own perspectives. To be successful on this trip, our group would need to be more than tourists in order to work well with our families and assimilate in French culture, especially in Tours where we had much more independence in our daily lives.

Using that mentality to reflect on my experience on this trip, I can say that I’ve been able to have many new experiences living in France. As a group, we’ve visited many museums, seen different parts of the French landscape through multiple modes of transportation, and, of course, visited some châteaux. We were able to apply historical events we’d learned about in school to the places where those people actually lived centuries ago.

Some of the most memorable experiences were those that I had with my home stay family. I learned how to figure out my bus route and got to walk to school and back home every day, I learned how to make traditional French dishes, and I met sister, Juliette’s, friends and cousins. Yet, within learning all of these aspects of life that were different from my own at Deerfield and with my own family, I realized that we both share a similar fundamental understanding of daily life. We both love baking and watching movies and singing to music in the car. Even in speaking a foreign language, I have learned words and phrases that correlate with those I use when speaking English. For me, that it what makes learning new languages and exploring a culture so special. While it may at first seem as though you are leaving your comfort zone to understand this new language, it turns out that there are many similarities that tie us together.

Madame Nichols (left); Angelique Alexos ’20 (right)