A number of our graduate students traveled abroad this summer for various reasons. Kimberly Ryan recently shared her adventures in India. Alexandra, a Master of Arts in English candidate, also traveled abroad this summer. Unlike Kimberly’s study abroad, Alexandra spent her summer working in France. I enjoyed hearing her stories and hope you do, too.
This summer I had one of the most enriching, amazing, mind-blowing, fantastic summers of my life. It was an adventure that will be hard to trump and one I will most certainly take again. For six weeks I ate, slept, breathed and lived French culture (with an American twist), teaching English in France. The company I worked for, American Village in France, is a language immersion camp for French kids and teenagers looking to learn American English, customs and traditions. The term “American English” might sound and look weird, but is becoming somewhat of a new fad in Europe due to the influence of American culture and politics on the world. American Village has thirteen sites scattered throughout France and houses kids from ages eight to seventeen, offering the “camp” experience throughout the year. Students, or “campers” as we call them, come to American Village to embrace and learn American English and customs through daily activities, ESL classes and field trips. In other words, I spent my days wearing ridiculous costumes, putting on skits, getting pies thrown in my face, experiencing swimming in a French pool (which is an experience to say the least), going hiking in the French country side, eating sometimes questionable French camp food, making “Scooby-Doos” and getting to hang out and laugh with some of the coolest eight to twelve year olds I have ever met. Oh yeah, and getting to spend a week in Paris and London wasn’t too bad either.
My trip started on June 25 flying from Miami to Paris to spend four days in Paris before heading out to my first camp site. I met my former roommate, Whitney Adams, a fellow M.A in English student and recent graduate from the College of Charleston at the airport. Whitney was the one who introduced me to American Village and encouraged me to apply. She had previously worked with American Village and did nothing but rave about her experience with them the summer before. Luckily enough, we ended up getting assigned to the same site and got to spend our summer in France together. We then met up with our friend Alison and proceeded to check out the sights in Paris. We did the usual Paris sight-seeing: Versailles, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées to name a few. After our four days in Paris, we hopped on the TGV and headed towards Vienne, the town closest to our camp site. Vienne is located just outside of Lyon –Lyon is second in population to Paris—located in the Rhône-Alpes region. Relatively small in population and size, Vienne sits quietly at the base of the French Alps and is about a three hour train ride from Geneva. Despite Vienne’s small stature it still embodies the French charm and sophistication one thinks about when imagining French culture. Ivy and vines seem to effortlessly climb up the stucco and hempcrete homes, which are carefully built along the rolling hills of the countryside. Restaurants line the street with colorful awnings, while diners sit outside sipping on wine casually taking two hour lunches.
Once in Vienne, we met our camp director and fellow counselors at the train station. The camp was located about twenty-five minutes outside of Vienne in a town called Cour-et-Buis. Cour-et-Buis is literally a one stop light town, having a bakery, tabac, post office, and one bar. Our site name was “Tour de Buis” and was nestled in the countryside surrounded my bales of hay, roaming cows and the occasional car passing by. Upon arrival, all of the counselors spent time getting to know one another. We had counselors from all over the world—from Morocco, to Idaho, to Americans teaching abroad in countries like Spain and the Czech Republic spending their summer break teaching for American Village. We were a mixed bunch of Americans, French, Brits and Moroccans. Despite our different backgrounds we all managed to click and get along great. These people would be some of the most amazing and interesting people I have ever met, quickly becoming some of my closest friends. Our roles were divvied up by our nationalities; to better explain, Americans were the only ones allowed to teach English classes, and the bilingual French speakers helped with the kids in their dorms tending to their more personal needs. Though the kids were encouraged to only speak English to the counselors and each other, I could not help but try to speak French with them. And by “speak” French, I mean repeat the same four sentences and phrases over and over. Nevertheless, I learned more about French culture by working with these kids in spite of working in a somewhat “American” setting.
Our day to day activities involving the kids included breakfast, ESL lesson 1, recess, ESL lesson 2, congress, lunch, free time, activity 1, snack, activity 2, showers, dinner, evening program, evening cool down, then finally bedtime. After the kids went to bed counselors had a 10pm meeting followed by ESL and activity planning for the next day. Easy to see they were very, very long days. Spending twelve hour days with kids and counselors we naturally became very close, acting as a make-shift family for each other. “Congress” was by far my favorite part of the day. Though each activity we put on was designed for the kids, congress was inadvertently a time for the counselors. I honestly have never laughed so hard in my life. Congress was a series of skits put on by the counselors explaining the day’s activities, teaching them aerobics, teaching them a cheer as well as a song, giving awards for best kept room, etc… Each congress was centered around the theme of the day. Each day had a designated American theme, and we would center our activities around that theme. For instance, we had “American History Day,” “Earth Day,” “Wild West Day” and a plethora of others. For field trips we went to the pool and on a hike through the countryside. Activities included dodge ball, egg drops, dance-offs, capture the flag and so much more.
After the two week session had ended at Tour de Buis I was transferred to another site. I traveled back to Paris, spent two more days there then went on my way to Petit Bois, also known as “little forest”. Petit Bois is located in a small town called Cosne d’Allier in central France. The closest “big” city is Montluçon, I use the term “big” loosely because Montluçon is not very well known in France (or so I was told by the locals), despite its 100,000+ population. A more famous town close to Cosne d’Allier would be Moulins—no affiliation or relationship with Moulin Rouge in Paris. Moulins is where I arrived via train, and was accompanied by a thirty minute bus ride to Cosne d’Allier. For the next two weeks, I called Cosne d’Allier and Petit Bois my home. I was introduced to a whole new group of kids and a whole new team of counselors. Just like before, we immediately all got along. We had some Irish, Scottish, Bahamian, American and French counselors and they were all equally amazing people. Petit Bois holds up to its name, it is literally a little forest. Aesthetically, Petit Bois and Tour de Buis were very different.
We followed the same schedule as before, but our activities varied this time. We went to the lake one day and to the local pool on another day. As I mentioned earlier, going to a French pool was quite the experience. All men are forbidden to wear board shorts and must wear speedos. Both women and men have to wear swim caps, and basically everyone takes a full on shower before they enter the pool. French culture dictates a strong hygiene process prior to swimming in a confined space, and I was unaware of this. An unfortunate event occurred that consisted of me walking through the “hygiene station” with my flip flops on, insulting the lifeguards, inevitably leading me to get cursed out in French followed by getting thrown out of the pool, having to walk back to Petit Bois by myself getting partially lost on my way back while being heckled by French construction workers. But hey, it was all a learning process and I learned some fun little French sayings. The last two weeks went by fast and we found ourselves saying goodbye to the kids once more. There was a sense of relief once the month was over; though it was one of the best times of my life, it was physically exhausting. Once the kids left we had some adult time and celebrated.
Some of us traveled back to Paris and some of us moved on to other sites to teach for another month. It was sad saying bye to everyone, but I was excited for what was next—London! I met Whitney some other friends back in Paris. We spent some time shopping and reminiscing on inside jokes and the time we spent together at American Village. It was cute, it was fun, it was fabulous. After divulging in one last Parisian lunch, we were on our way to London to see the Olympic games.
Coming along with Whitney and me was our friend Kristin, a fellow AmVil (a fun little colloquial term we call ourselves) counselor we worked with. We met some more AmVil friends upon arrival and immediately checked into our hotel, eager to see the sights and, more importantly, the Olympics. We spent four days in London, getting to see bits and pieces of Olympic events throughout the city. We got to hang out in Olympic Park and witness the first day of the track and field events. We got to hang out in Hyde Park to watch and cheer with thousands of others all across the world. It was an amazing feeling and the energy and patriotism everyone had for their country was magnetic. We of course went on walking tours around all the historical and cultural buildings: Westminster, Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, MI6, etc. And that was amazing as well. We went on a pub-crawl in Camden, ate lunch in the gardens at St Paul’s Cathedral and just relished in the fact that we had such an amazing chance and experience to be in London during the Olympics. I highly recommend doing that at least once in your life.
The trip came to an end and I was back in the states on August 8. It was a bittersweet. I was excited to get back and see my family but missed the family I had created while away. Traveling is so important, it teaches you so much about yourself but more importantly about cultures other than yours. It opens your eyes to how big our world is and how much it has to offer. I am so happy I decided to teach at American Village this summer and I cannot wait to hopefully do it again soon. As absolutely corny and over the top this may sound, it is so true: travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.