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France: Finding Paris, Bordeaux and French connections

France: Finding Paris, Bordeaux and French connections

By Kasey Reed ‘20

The moment we all stepped off the bus at the Tivoli school in France and saw the smiling faces of our host students, we knew we were going to make friends for life. Last March, 10 Wilbraham & Monson Academy students embarked on a trip to France with faculty advisors Madame Dubois and Mr. Brook.

We started our first week in Paris, and for our second week we headed to Bordeaux to stay with exchange families. The trip was once in a lifetime, and I can say with confidence that this was the best trip I have ever been on and the students that went with me can agree.

Paris was a dream. It was more than I could have ever imagined. The Eiffel Tower took our breath away and the beautiful Gothic architecture lining the Paris streets was stunning. Each day  in Paris was packed with sightseeing and informative tours of famous places in the city.

We saw:

  • The impressive Arc de Triomphe
  • The classic artwork of the Musee d’Orsay
  • The astonishing Notre Dame Cathedral
  • The well-known Louvre and its prized possessions including the Mona Lisa
  • The extraordinary stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle and much more.

Each day, we started at 8 a.m. and didn’t get back until 10 or 11 p.m. We shopped every day in the streets of Paris, and ate the delicious  French cuisine which includes baguettes and chocolate chaud.

Starting our voyage in Paris gave us practice speaking French to waiters at restaurants and to store owners to get us ready to speak with our host families. Every student on the trip was enrolled in a French class at WMA and has taken French for three or more years. Our French improved a great deal after being immersed in French culture for two weeks.

My favorite part of Paris was going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I know it is cliché, but it is one of those things you only dream about.  The only word that even gets close to what you can describe it as is breathtaking. We went around 9 at night and saw the lights on the tower flicker as we snapped photos of the beautiful view. This is the moment where I think it finally hit us that we were in Paris.

Another reason among the hundreds why I loved Paris was the fashion that filled the streets. The fashion in Paris was elegant and thoughtfully worn. It was incredible to see the famous luxury stores that you only hear about in magazines — like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci — just a few feet away. This made window shopping a lot of fun.

The environment of France was lively and exciting, and being able to listen to the upbeat French music and smell the French pastries on the street was incredible.

Although we were all sad to leave Paris at  the end of our first week, we boarded a high-speed train to Bordeaux to start the next part of our journey. Our group was a little nervous because we all were staying with strangers in a foreign country and we needed to be able to communicate in French, which can be difficult. But all of our worries washed away as the first introductions made it clear that we were going  to be staying with kind, amazing families.

My correspondent’s name was Anastasia, and we hit it off immediately. We are very similar and had so much to talk about. Throughout the year, we communicated and it was so exciting to meet her in person. Her family was so kind to me and, although her parents weren’t able to speak English, I communicated in French with Anastasia’s help.

Although I loved Paris, Bordeaux was my favorite part because I was fully immersed in French lifestyle. Anastasia took me to her favorite spots and took me through her daily routines.  We visited a bunch of French cafes and shopped in the beautiful streets of Bordeaux. Bordeaux was gorgeous. It has been nominated as one of the prettiest cities in the world and being able to see it in person definitely reassured that.

We also attended classes at the Tivoli school, which was really eye-opening to see how another school functions in a different country. It was great to be able to sit in classes and learn in a different environment. We also had the awesome opportunity to teach English classes to high school, middle school and elementary school students. It was really interesting to hear about their questions about the U.S. and to learn more about the lives of kids our age in France. I learned that although we have differences, we are really similar in many areas. They knew a lot about American music and movies, and asked us many questions about the Kardashians and  President Trump.

Staying with my host family and being fully immersed in a different lifestyle continued the improvement of my French, teaching me slang and useful conversational words. It also exposed me to a lot of French music, which is now something I like to listen to back in the U.S. An amazing bonus to the trip was the friendships I made within our WMA community. During this two week voyage, we all got closer on this trip and I learned a lot more about my WMA companions. We created many inside jokes with one another and will always have awesome memories to look back at. Gokul Sivakumar ’19 said: “This trip provided a real authentic experience to all the subjects I learned at WMA in French class. Being able to apply the language and culture to the historic sites we visited was very rewarding in that everyone on the trip retained so much history and culture. The student exchange was the greatest opportunity to apply my conversational skills in French, and in return, there were a lot of parts of the languages that I picked up while listening and speaking.”

I am so grateful for this opportunity WMA has given me. If I could relive this trip again I would, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.