Paris… sigh. Last week was my first experience traveling with a group of students overseas. It was wonderful. Not perfect, mind you: It rained some and it was cold, but it was PARIS for crying out loud. I was thrilled to watch my students experience French culture for the first time. We started off feeling very jet-lagged, but we had the city of love to soothe our discomfort. We saw Notre Dame and walked on the edge of the Seine River. On our first full day there, we learned about the history of the beloved city and visited the Louvre, where we were underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa. But we were still happy to have seen her mysterious, small face.
On Monday began what was to be for me the most memorable portion of the trip: we traveled to Normandy. We passed through Rouen and Honfleur, adorable French villages which are impossible to give you an appreciation for without “beaming” you there: the unique Norman architecture, which has both gothic and Celtic components, complete with cobblestones streets, takes you to a place that you thought only existed in story books. But the best is yet to come…
Words cannot describe the emotion we felt as we first set foot in the Normandy American cemetery. After having watched a movie in a 360 degree theater, reminding us of what actually took place on that horrible, wonderful day on June 6th, 1944, we couldn’t help but feel moved by the stories told about the men who paid for the freedom of others. Remembering that some pushed through their fears; knowing they were going to their deaths; learning that others died as soon as they disembarked from the ships because of the weight of their packs; pondering that some might have been trampled, many just gunned down, and yet through a miracle of God, the allies were victorious. As I looked at the German bunkers and artillery remains still left on the beaches, it was clear to me that God’s hand must have been in the battle that day. He helped us win a great victory, albeit at great cost. My heart is forever indebted to those brave men.
Returning from Normandy, we visited Monet’s house and gardens. Back in Paris, we finally braved the metro alone, without our Tour guide. And the stories we have to tell! One student fell into a baby stroller, one student had tourists become fascinated with her hair color and begin taking her pictures. One group visited the Père-la-chaise cemetery, where Jim Morrison is buried, and encountered a friendly stranger who told them all about several of the graves. Some of us were able to visit the Opera House, others the Musee d’Orsay (impressionist museum). We saw the gorgeous stain glass of La Sainte Chapelle. All of these made for wonderful stories. Last, but not least was the visit of two beautiful Châteaux: Chambord and Chenonceau, full of art and history.
My favorite part of the trip was experiencing the French people and culture, and seeing our kids experience it as well. I was able to meet a childhood friend for coffee. It was so wonderful to entrench myself back into the language, even if just for a little while. I was proud of the times when the students ordered food in French or tried their hand at communicating about other things too (i.e. “où sont les toilettes?”)
THE FOOD!!! Well… let’s see: fresh FRENCH bread every morning for breakfast, croissants, pain-au-chocolats, goat cheese from an actual goat cheese farm, crêpes, galettes, boeuf Bourgignon, confiture, crème brulée, mousse au chocolat, macarons, éclairs. Need I say more? Norman salads and quiche Lorraine…. Even McDonald’s had better quality food than ours! One of my students was able to buy macarons at the McDonald’s in Rouen.
I am so thankful for ACIS, the group that we traveled with. I felt very well taken care of. The Tour guide and manager did an excellent job of taking us to places where we most wanted to go and telling us every tidbit of history that he could think of. It is my deep hope and desire that many, many more Westfield students will take advantage of the trips that we hope to offer in the future. I would like to travel again in a few years, and other teachers are talking about leading a trip as well. Traveling away from your state, country, and comfort zone is so important to the shaping of your paradigm. It broadens your horizons. It helps you see outside of yourself. It reminds us all that we are not the center of the universe, that there are other ways to live. One of the most important things that we can offer our students is to help them open their hearts and mind to others. This is also the mind of Christ: thinking of others more highly than yourself. Foreign travel doesn’t solve all world problems, but it certainly is a great place to start teaching the value of our fellowman, no matter the race.
Every time I leave France, I feel like I leave a small part of myself behind. This time was no exception. Probably because I grew up in Nantes, the French will always have a special place in my heart. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity. I hope to share the next one with many more of you!