Ten students from Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy had the trip of a lifetime near the rural French town of Albi.
“Everywhere we went it was so beautiful and so different,” said Ellie Whiteman. “The culture is different. It was just such a great experience.”
The trip is designed to immerse students taking French at FALA into the language and culture in a way that can’t be done in the classroom, said Nadege Neta, one of FALA’s French teachers. Rather than take the students to a metropolitan area, such as Paris, where a lot of the residents speak both English and French, the students went to the tiny town of Albi in southwestern France for about 10 days. Neta grew up in the area and knows the town well. The students studied the area before leaving.
The two chaperones on the trip were Neta and Dustin Kuluris. The 10 students on the trip were: Sage Anning, Cydny Clark, Catherine Cole, Gemma Giovale, Rhyka Nelson, Dmitri Rudakewich, Cas Silverman, Samuel Stuart, Ellie Whiteman and Carson Woodruff.
During the trip, the students had to speak entirely in French, navigate around town to purchase food from the local farmers market and cook French meals for themselves and clean up afterwards. The students dined on escargot, local cheeses, frog legs, crawdads and lots and lots of fresh French bread.
“I can still taste it. I miss it,” Cas Silverman said.
Traveling to the market for their daily fare was a trip, Whiteman said. The students had to figure out what they wanted to make for their meals, figure out how much an item cost in euros and then haggle with the shop keeper in order to get the best price.
They also had to learn how to cook and purchase by mass rather than volume, Silverman said. In France you measure ingredients by weight in grams rather than the American method of volume by cups or teaspoons.
“I now know why the French people eat such big meals. They walk … a lot,” Whiteman said. “We would eat these huge meals with our French family and feel stuffed and then after walking for several hours, you’d be starving.”
Most of the streets in the town were built during the era of horse and cart and are too small for most cars to squeeze through and because everything is within walking distance, including the market and other shops, most people just walk, she said. The streets that are large enough for cars are typically only wide enough to fit one car. If two cars, driving in different directions, want to use the same street, one has to pull to the side to let the other pass, Whitman said. Some families have a car for trips to cities like Paris or other towns that aren’t within walking distance. They also don’t have traffic lights, so driving can be an adventure.
While visiting the area, the students also toured the sites in the area.
Silverman’s favorite was the castle Palais de la Berbie. It was like a living version of every castle you’ve seen in your childhood story books, she said. The castle was once the home of the local bishop.
Carson Woodruff said his favorite part was checking out the caves where the local cheese makers keep and age their Roquefort cheese.
Another student said her favorite part was the heart of the little town, with its medieval structures and the Sainte-Cecile cathedral and Pont Vieux bridge.
All of the students agreed that the trip helped with their comprehension of the French language and culture. At first it was difficult to get used to speaking only in French day and night, the students said. But it got much easier as the trip went on.
Whiteman said when she got back to the U.S. she realized she had become so accustomed to reading and speaking in French that she was having to think a bit before reading U.S. street signs and hearing English was a bit startling.
Now that the trip is over, the students had to give presentations on their trip to other French classes. Whiteman is working on creating a movie from the video and photos that were taken during the trip to advertise it to other French classes at FALA as part of her independent studies in French.
“It really shows what FALA is about,” Neta said. “They had to learn to be independent and leadership skills.”