Nick – Mentor
If any woman is going to get me to eat meat and break my vegetarianism, it’s going to be a French woman with a glass of Bordeaux.
For the past week, the principal of Albion High School, four professors, nine first-years and I stayed with host families in Albion’s sister city of Noisy-le-Roi, France. It was all a part of Dr. Guenin-Lelle’s first-year experience seminar: Culture, Connections, and Communities from Albion to France – and Back.
After the eight-hour flight to Charles de Gaulle airport, our host families in Noisy greeted us. Each of us split off to stay with our host families to have a “free weekend” with them. I was welcomed to their home by their entire family, who had prepared a four-course meal, which finished with a slice of gateaux aux pommes. On Sunday, my host family took me to explore the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysées, Louvre, Place de la Concorde and Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore near Notre Dame.
The rest of the week was scheduled to the minute. When going to Paris, we took a bus from Noisy to St. Nom le Bretèche, then a train to St. Lazare. We navigated the complicated metro system to the Tour Eiffel, Musée d’Orsay, Montmartre and Sacre Cœur. We also had the chance to take a boat ride to see Paris from the Seine River.
We visited a middle school near Noisy and went to some of the classes where students were learning English. Some of us were interviewed by a group of French students and then they had to present us to the class. After, our group met the Gerstacker students in St. Germain-au-Lay who were developing a product and a sale plan with other French university students. They’re going to present these products at the Elkin Isaac Research Symposium.
On Thursday, the class traveled to the city of Versailles to see the palace and gardens. Dr. Billie Wickre explained the architectural significance of the palace, while Dr. Guenin-Lelle described its history. After building Château de Versailles, Louis XIV moved his entire court from Paris to the palace. Over 10,000 occupied the grounds and, at the time, it was the most powerful estate in the world. Every room is accented in gold, every light fixture made of crystal. Elaborate portraits and sculptures of leading French figures line the halls of the palace.
Friday was our last day before leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport. We spent the day at Lycée Hôtelier, a high school where students were being trained to be world-class chefs. We dined there after a tour of the school, and it was simply the best food I have ever tasted in my life. Next, we spent an hour at UVSQ, a university that has an academic relationship with Albion College. At night, we had a collective dinner with all of the students, professors, and host families in Bailly.
As a French major, it was amazing to use the language in Paris, experience the culture of French life and witness first-hand the relationship between the city of Albion and Noisy-le-Roi.
Alex Carey – first-year student
Fall break is generally a time for Albion students to go home, sleep in their own beds, and escape the daily trip to Baldwin for food. It’s a break from classes to relax and catch up with family and friends. My first year seminar and I, however, had a different experience. We went to France.
On Oct. 19, my first-year experience seminar called Culture, Connections, and Communities from Albion to France – and Back, taught by Dr. Diane Guenin-Lelle, traveled to Albion’s sister cities Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly for one week to experience firsthand the dynamics of French culture.
Before our departure, we learned in class how French culture compares and contrasts to American traditions and how one is able to look past differences and establish relationships across cultures.
While in France, we visited famous icons in Paris such as the Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay and Sacre Cour, in addition to the illustrious palace of Versailes. We explored French cafes and shopping centers but also left time for smaller places around Noisy like middle schools and town halls.
We learned a lot about French history but we were also able to experience the busy modern European city life in each of our activities. This allowed us to see how the French general public differs from Americans.
For example, when Americans accidentally make eye contact with strangers, we may smile to avoid feeling awkward. The French, however, see no reason to smile at anyone they do not personally know.
Personal space also holds different rules across cultures. Americans value their personal bubbles. We take up a lot of room and talk at a large volume. The French, however, do not see any reason to spread out and take up space. They are reserved and compact in both the ways they hold themselves and the level at which they speak.
We were also able to experience essentials of French family life through our varying experiences in separate host families. Some students, myself included, were challenged to interact completely in French with the host family. Others were placed in a house where English was spoken to avoid communication errors. No two host families were the same. As a result each student learned something different about how the French act at home.
This trip to France was one of the best experiences of my life, as I’m sure my classmates would agree. As a result of my week in France, I learned an immense amount about French culture while also establishing new friendships – both with my classmates and my new French friends 4,000 miles away.
Photo by Alex Carey