For almost ten years, two Shawnigan teachers have forged a deep bond with our exchange partners at Lycee Sacré-Cœur in Angers, France. And for two weeks in March, 11 lucky students in Grades 10-12 deepened these French connections and made friends and memories they will long remember.
In October, students from Sacré-Cœur will spend two weeks at Shawnigan.
“We have a really unique bond with our friends at Sacré-Cœur,” says Jean-Jacques Receveaux, who has led the trip with his wife and fellow teacher, Carola Receveaux, for the past number of years. “It is truly a transformative experience for the students. A trip like this takes our students out of their comfort zone – it is an immersive versus touristic experience.”
Angers, a two-hour train ride west of Paris, was the medieval seat of the Plantagenet dynasty, and is a city replete with castles, gardens, half-timbered houses, universities, and cafes – certainly a beautiful way to spend the greater part of two weeks.
For some Shawnigan students, it was a whole new world that offered opportunities as well as challenges. Some students had little French. Some students had never travelled internationally. Some students had travelled, but had never had an immersive experience like this. "Travelling like this gives students opportunities to think critically, solve problems, build relationships, and break down preconceptions," says Mrs. Receveaux. "The students understand that we are giving them an outstanding opportunity. We are asking a lot, but they are giving a lot. We are very proud of them."
"We have a bond now with Angers, and this is really unique – it is extremely rare to have this setting for high school students," she adds.
"The French parents take such good care of our students as well," adds Mr. Receveaux. "There is a sense that this is a time to cherish and there is a high expectation of care – the billet families really put their hearts into welcoming our students – the kids made macarons, organized food, parties, and social activities, and the parents took our kids on trips around France with their families. The French parents made such deep connections with our students that they were crying as they saw them off at 5 am the morning we left."
Sacré-Cœur regularly receives groups of students from around the world, but Mr. Receveaux reports that the French parents see a difference in our exchange: "Our students are interested, polite, respectful, and have very good levels of French. They are OK with facing the unknown or taking chances. On our visit to a goat farm, the proprietors were extremely impressed by how enthusiastically our students embraced the opportunity to handle the goats, milk them, try goat’s milk and cheeses at various stages of development – they even went so far as naming the goats!"
As for the impact the trip had on our students – this is best expressed in their own words, as shared below:
While they didn’t make too much fun of my French, it was still intimidating sitting down at the dinner table with a bunch of strangers on the first night and only understanding about every ten words that were said. However, I quickly learned there is no better way to learn a second language than to fully immerse yourself into the culture by staying with a host family. Not only did this allow me to get to see a different side of the world, take in a new foreign culture, and make new, unforgettable connections, but also made me sympathize for all of the international students at Shawnigan which pushed me to gain a great amount of respect for them.
A big difference that I noticed is the freedom the students have. Students are able to leave the school at lunchtime and after school ends. They can walk around in the city with no school rules to follow. I personally think that this is a valuable thing that helps the students become more independent and mature. The school campus in Angers had no fields or space provided to play sports and most of the kids had no interest in them. Academics definitely dominate the school and students' priorities. Being with a family really changed my perspective in France, it being a country that I have visited multiple times in the past.
I have countless memories of my trip that I will remember forever, but my most favourite part of the trip was the family that I got to stay with. They were very welcoming and were always showing me new things and keeping me entertained, from hanging out and playing games to visiting new cities and their attractions on the weekend.
The experience of staying with a family that pretty much only spoke French gave me an incomparable chance to improve my French and experience what the daily life of a teenage girl in a small French town really felt like. Going to classes, visiting the town, taking the tram, experiencing live protests of the yellow vests, experiencing how French cheese and chocolate is made, eating lots of French food, and being interrogated by my host family about life in Canada was how I spent most of my two weeks. This made my trip entirely unique and one that no one else can ever duplicate.
One of the things I enjoyed about the trip to France was how we had free time to explore the cities and spend with our host families. While in Paris, Maria, Paula and I used our free time to explore. We visited the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Sainte-Chapelle, and countless other places while also figuring out the Parisian Metro. In Angers, Maria and I navigated our way through buying shoes, found some interesting graffiti, and saw our fifth Gilet Jaune protest of the trip. The amount of free time helped our knowledge and appreciation of French culture, because we were unable to rely on our teachers to translate for us, so we had to do it ourselves.
A lot of people think that the big thing to do in France is eat. And in all honesty that was a big part of it! But one of the reasons food played such a big role wasn’t just because it tasted good, it was because of the people who made it. Every night when I was with my French family, they would make something traditional. And it was always clear to me that the food they made was always made with passion, there was always a story behind it; where it came from, why it was important to them. Like how the Tartiflette was traditionally eaten in the alps where it would warm them up, or how there was a difference between how they ate bread from other people because they came from a different part of France.
Another thing I noticed about the food was how much French people love cheese. They have a whole course at dinner dedicated to eating cheese! One day, Mr. Receveaux told us we were going to a goat farm. At first I was a little hesitant to try the cheese, it didn’t smell great and in the past I haven’t really enjoyed goat cheese. So I started with the cheese covered in spices… and I loved it. Then I tried the cheese with a little less spice, and I loved that too. I even tried the cheese with no spices and enjoyed it. The moral of the story is; trust French people when they say food is good.
The next pillar of French food that I’d like to mention is crepes, and again, the reason it really stood out for me was the people making them. A couple of the mornings when we were in Paris we went to a creperie, and the guy working there was one of the friendliest people we had met. It just seemed like he loved every minute of his job and like my family, he was passionate about making the food.
So whether I was eating tartiflette, cheese, or crepes, the thing that stood out the most for me was the passion the people making them put in.
Personally, my favourite part of the trip was the people. Their hospitality was amazing and they were always willing to share their culture. They cooked classic French food and took us to many cultural events. The hardest part of the trip was saying goodbye. Over the two weeks in France, we became very close with our hosts and their friends. We taught them how to play "touch rugby" and "clap" and they taught us French games. We also introduced them to country music in return for French rap.
Maria Paula D
For me, the exchange was awesome! All the museums, gardens and buildings were incredibly beautiful. My favorite place was Sainte Chapelle which is a huge building full of colorful glass. Another place that I really liked was Montmartre which is a big neighborhood with a lot of art stores, cool graffiti, good food, and the immense Chapelle Sacre Coeur.
One of my favourite parts of the trip was getting to experience the French lifestyle whether it was staying with my host family, or hanging out with the students from the Lycee. Overall, I am super glad that I made the choice to go on this trip and I highly encourage anyone else wanting to go on this same exchange in the future to do so.
My two-week experience was something I will cherish for the rest of my life. The family I was paired with were the best host parents I could have ever imagined. They were truly like a second family to me and made me feel at home while being on a different continent. I felt as if my correspondent was a sibling of mine that I had just never met before. I was surprised by how fast I was able to connect to them and feel like we had been friends since kindergarten. All this made leaving nearly impossible and a chore for my teacher to get us all onto the bus. Before we left he told me and my classmates that people will be crying and nobody will want to say goodbye and I laughed and thought no way, we are only there for two weeks how could you get so attached. While it turned out he was right, as everyone was giving each other hugs and saying our last goodbyes a tear ran down my cheek. As it happened I lifted my head, looked for my teacher and yelled across everyone, “Roussie! You were right this is a lot harder than it should be!”