Saturday, March 19, 2016

Normandy Scholars: Transportation, Arrival, and a Weekend Away

(Tonight's blog entry is written by Mr. Yee, with impressions from Cleo Potter '16 and Sasha Koch ‘17 where listed.)

Normandy is a place that's steeped with a lot of historical connotation. Each of our students know that in 1066, William the Conqueror came forth from these beaches to take England, all captured in the Bayeux Tapestry. They also know that in 1944, Allied forces came back the other way to conquer the beaches away from the warring Germans, an event still memorialized on those same beaches. Now, in 2016, SSSAS comes back to Normandy for the 28th time. It's an incredible thing for me to reflect upon the fact that we will be seeing so much history of the world, and in many ways, so much history of our school on this trip.

The Dulles Ride

For this particular trip, it started with a bus ride to the Dulles Airport. We shared our bus with the students and chaperones of the Romania Service Trip. It was good to savor those final moments with other SSSAS folks on the bus and even in the terminal as we wandered aimlessly looking for food and diversion, waiting for our later flights. Fortunately, all of this went off without any sort of incident, and we were in the loving arms of Air France’s flight to Paris pretty quickly. Once we saw the Air France safety video (a safety video unlike any that I’d ever seen before), we were up in the air and off! (click to see more of this entry!)

In plane view
Traveling through Dulles was an experience of shuffling through alternatingly empty and highly crowded corridors, and upon landing, Charles De Gaulle was no different. All our students found our luggage and we shuffled on to find our driver to take us to Bayeux. We knew him through his paper “St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School” sign, and he after some quick introductions, he took us out to our bus. It was what looked like a suitably sized bus, and they even brought a luggage trailer, so it looked like they had improved upon the last trip’s experience where each person had to carry all luggage on his or her laps.

A 20 (happy) people on a 19 passenger bus

Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that there was something missing: one seat on the bus. Yes, they had brought a bus that seated exactly 19 passengers for a group that needed 20 seats. While the students started to text home, talk about their host families, or make puns just to pass the time, Madame Meyers and the driver made plans on how to get the additional person to Bayeux safely. Ultimately, the company agreed to send another car to take the additional person to Bayeux, and that person would wait for the car to come from 45 minutes away at a rest stop at the outskirts of the airport. “Never a dull moment!” Madame Meyers would say. I heard those words as Cleo (who was kind enough to keep me company) and I watched the bus drive away. 
Trapped at a rest stop, but at least it's greeting us "good morning!"

Traveling through our small, provincial life

Thankfully, after what seemed like a very long 45 minutes, our driver did find us from the “Lunch Grill” rest stop and we catapulted through the countryside in our Dacia taxi. We passed towns and countryside that seemed as though it had remained static for years. I could imagine our recent production of Beauty and the Beast staged right in the center of these towns, and that the Beast’s castle was any of the castles that our driver gleefully pointed out as we drove by on the highway. Highway speeds made it difficult to capture any of this, and our lateness necessitated more spartan approach to stopping. All told, because of our pace (and the apparent lack of pace from the bus crowd), Cleo and I arrived at Lyceè Jeanne D’Arc before the rest of the group. We met a room full of excited French students, and our arrival before the rest of the group only amplified their anticipation.



About 15 minutes later, the rest of the students arrived. Madame Meyers texted me when they had reached the parking lot, so the French students stormed out of their school and into the parking lot to reach our saints. I took a few pictures, but below is also 360▫ video footage of their first meeting and the first few conversations they had upon entering the Lyceé Jeanne D’Arc.  (To make these videos work well, full screen them and drag around using your mouse or the directional pad in the left corner.  If you view them on your phone, it will use your phone's accelerometer to move the image in the direction you move--a kinda very cool experience that I hope works!  All through it, ignore my hand or face that's always very close by...)

After a while, the students were either picked up or walked off with their respective host families. We, the teachers, took a brief tour of the school (pictures below), but also eventually left. We do not officially meet the students again until Monday, though Madame Meyers and I did run into a few of them at the market this morning (where you can buy everything from prepared food to live animals!). We also saw a few of them coming out of their large group dinner down the street from where the teachers of the Lyceé Jeanne D’Arc took us to dinner.  Various pictures follow!
The walk from the High School to the Middle School
The Middle School Library (and people reading comics!)

The hallways of the middle school
The middle school music room
The way that Lycee Jeanne D'Arc regards its athletic achievements
Tribute to our arrival!
A reminder of last year's trip

Other than a few glimpses around town, though, the students have been on their own, adjusting to their new lives in the French countryside! Here are a few thoughts from my travel companion, Cleo Potter ’16:

Cleo Potter '16 and Katie Connor '16
“I am starting this entry on the way to Bayeux, the town where I will be staying. I'm not actually with the group right now; I'm just with Mr. Yee, one of the chaperones. The bus was too full by one seat so Mr. Yee was going to go in a car and I volunteered to go, too. It's an adventure! Actually, it was a cold adventure as we had to wait outside at a rest stop holding up a sign. But now it's fun! Mr. Yee doesn't speak French which means I’m doing the talking if necessary. We both bought scarves at the rest stop. I'm good at ordering food in French. So far I've had a crossiant and hot chocolate (le pain au chocolat et chocolat chaud) and a chocolate eclair (l'éclair chocolate). I'll eat something substantial with the family I'm sure.

Cleo and Caroline
“It’s later and I'm upstairs resting now at my host family’s house. Caroline's family is super nice. It's a little overwhelming having to think, hear, and speak in French. Caroline's parents, sister, dog, and cat are here. Her brother and his girlfriend are coming at some point also. The cat is 9 months old and he keeps coming and cuddling with me! Lady the dog is 17 and she's sweet.

“Tomorrow we are going horseback riding and then out to dinner with the other students and their hosts. On Sunday we are going to Disney World! I'm so excited! I'm going to get lots of pictures with different characters and ride lots of rides!! I've never been to Disney in the US so this is great! I'm also of course excited for riding.

“The village where Caroline lives is so pretty--I love it! Bayeux is also very pretty! Caroline's house is so cute. We went out for coffee with some of her friends and other Americans. The mom drives a little stick-shift Fiat. French driving looks confusing and they drive faster, too, I think. Caroline got me a sweatshirt as an early birthday present. It says "Madame Chic”! I'm going to get her something for her birthday when she comes, too.”

Though we had no official contact with the students today, Sasha Koch ’17 sent these thoughts along on her first experiences with Bayeux and French food:

“While I can't complain about waking up to French bread and Nutella, the French don't seem to eat many vegetables! (des légumes) I haven't had a single one since the plane ride.

Bayeux feels much smaller than Alexandria, but everyone is friendly and vibes are positive. I went to the French market this morning with my correspondent Noémie and was surprised to see tons of chickens, bunnies, and ducks along with the vast array of bread, meat, and surprisingly, vegetables.

My favorite part about the trip so far is communicating with a bunch of the French girls at once. My American friends and I explain English slang and they help us with our vocabulary. It's awesome to get a real taste for French culture as it brings the words we study in our textbooks to life.”

Some market offerings

Running into students at the market
Waking up is always a bit of a struggle for me, but this morning was especially difficult. "Jet lag," one of the students said to me in a plaintive tone as I described how I'd intended to get up a few hours ago but arrived at the market just an hour before closing time. Yes, I think that jet lag describes my sleep state, but also how we were all feeling as we disembarked from our plane (sadly not an Airbus A380) and into the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. I heard students utter phrases of quiet surprise. "I can't believe we're finally here," I heard one say. "It's crazy to think that less than a day ago we were at school," said another. I think jet lag, then, describes more than just our bodies and their circadian rhythms; it also describes how long it takes us to acclimate our new environments, its common sights, and its customs. I think we'll all be jet-lagged for a little while, but just like any jet-lag, we will endure and see much more excitement to come!

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