During Stowe High School’s spring break April 14 to 22, a group of seven high school students traveled with Stowe High French teacher Rebecca Chartrand and her husband James to Paris. While there, the students, who ranged from sophomores to seniors, had the unique experience of being completely immersed in French culture and surrounded by native speakers.
The students landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 7 a.m. and were greeted by a full day of sightseeing and the French language. They wasted no time in seeing some of Paris’s most famous monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Stowe High senior Ashley Prouty said, “Having never been to another country, it was amazing to be there and it was really overwhelming to see things like the Eiffel Tower in person, but getting to Paris so early after not having slept for a while was a struggle.”
From then on, it was a flurry of museums and chateaus for the seven students, all girls. They visited art museums such as the world-famous Louvre, which is home to the “Mona Lisa,” as well as the Musee d’Orsay, a famous impressionist museum that houses many works by artists such as Degas and Monet.
They also had the chance to visit Les Invalides, a museum dedicated to the history of the French military. This particular monument linked nicely to the group’s in-class curriculum, as a few of the students had spent the weeks prior to the trip learning about Napoleon Bonaparte, whose tomb is there. Stowe senior Emma Stein said, “In French class, we’ve been reading ‘The Count of Monte Cristo,’ which heavily revolves around Napoleon and his exile. It was a great experience to go to Les Invalides and see Napoleon’s effect on Europe. It allowed us to tie together what we had learned not only in French class, but also in various history classes. We were able to see an entire museum that was dedicated specifically to what we had been learning”.
As for the chateaus, the group experienced the grandeur of Versailles and Fontainebleau. They explored each of the chateaus as well as the surrounding gardens. At Versailles, the students took a rowboat onto the man-made lake and ate lunch inside the gardens and sipped on freshly squeezed orange juice. On her experience at Versailles, Stowe junior Jordan Miller said, “We were able to take a lot of really cool pictures because the weather was really nice and the gardens were just beautiful. It was also cool to see such a large chateau and learn about the history behind it.”
The trip was not all museums and chateaus, however. Part of the trip was spent indulging in modern French culture. The group spent one night watching the Troisieme Symphonie de Gustav Mahler, a modern Parisian ballet. A few brave students tried some escargot, while others chose to go the safe route with Nutella, banana crepes and enough gelato to last a lifetime. By the end of the trip, the group was also well acquainted with the city’s extensive metro system and was able to travel with confidence around the area.
Madame Chartrand said of the experience, “I’ve been to France before, so, from a teacher’s perspective, it was great to watch the students and see how excited they all were to be there and see all of the famous monuments and chateaus.”
As for other students coming up through the high school’s French program, Madame Chartrand is planning to continue offering the trip, but with a few possible changes. “I don’t think I’d want to stay in Paris the whole time,” she said. “Paris is a great city with a lot to do, but it can get a bit hectic. I’d like to take the students to visit other areas of France, such as Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley.”
She is also brewing up another idea. Following in the footsteps of the school’s recent Spanish trip to Nicaragua, Madame Chartrand said, “I’m also considering looking into other French-speaking countries like Haiti and parts of northern Africa for a possible service-learning trip. The hard part is finding a country that would be safe enough to travel to.”
To be eligible to participate in the French trip, a student must have taken at least two consecutive years of French with Madame Chartrand, and preferably be a junior or senior, although sophomores are allowed, space permitting.
The students who participated on the trip this spring highly recommend the experience. “Overall, the trip was amazing,” Stein said. “Obviously, in such a small school, everyone knows everyone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know them well. The French trip, especially with a group of seven girls, allowed us to form new and strong friendships in an environment that was totally new to us. We were able to learn a lot while still having fun and getting to know our own classmates on a totally new level.”