Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Noisy/Bailly +3 days...

I know it's a stretch, but I feel like my experiences in Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly are comparable to the mighty feat that the Allies achieved on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944...Any who, as much as I enjoyed seeing my family, especially my dog, and being back at Albion, I feel as if a small part of me is missing...especially the amazing scent of croissants wafting upstairs from the kitchen! I have met a lot of people thus far in my life, but I struggle to think of any individual, yet alone an entire family, that welcomed me into their home as quickly and sincerely as Valerie, Olivier, Juliette, Pauline, Alexis, and Antoine did when I arrived at the train station just over two weeks ago. I will not soon forget the time that I spent with my host family; between the vast number of intriguing discussions over marvelous meals, a handful of hours writing this blog at the dining room table while the kids did their school work, or simply grabbing a seat on the kitchen table and chatting with Valerie and Olivier while dinner was simmering in the oven.

In all fairness, my mother is phenomenal when it comes to putting a 5-star dinner together for my father and I, but I can think of very few things that are tastier then a loaf of baguette from the bakery down the street that is still pipping hot! Who could forget the excitement leading up to seeing who will bite into the charm hidden in the flakey, almond rich goodness that is galette des rois (Kings Cake)! While the purpose of our trip was to explore the French education system, which I made a steadfast effort to fulfill, I feel that this trip was more about expanding my cultural horizons by means of surrounding myself with the French culture and just letting things happen.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Last Supper...

It really is amazing how fast time flies. It seems like just yesterday when I pulled into the Noisy-le-Roi train station, saw a group of mothers clustered together, and eventually met a family of strangers that I quickly learned to know and love as family. Although some of days seemed to last forever, each week…every couple days simply went by all to fast. All of the small moments around the dinner table with my host family, the adventures with my peers around Paris, and most importantly the classroom experience have made an indelible impression on me that I hope to never forget.

Enough of the downtrodden jabber and saisir le jour (seize the day)!! We made our final venture into Paris today, and I feel that it’s pretty safe to say that my peers and I experienced as much of Paris as we possibly could in such a short period of time. Our first stop was the passages couverts de Paris, which is the first version of what we would call a shopping mall. After a chilly stroll through the passages couverts, we made our way to the Galeries Layfayette and Au Printemps, both of which put Somerset, a pretty nice mall near my home, to shame. The trip to these department stores was definitely worth it because both have extravagant stained glass domes that are simply breath taking. We made a quick trip over to the opera house before we sat down for lunch on the top floor of Au Printemps. Like the stained glass domes atop each of the department stores, the entire opera house was simply awe-inspiring. After a tasty lunch at Au Printemps, we made the trek through the frigid weather to the La Madeleine, which is a feat in itself since there was a lot of debate over whether or not the government would construct the church. Before heading home, we made one last stop at Notre Dame and ventured inside since the line to get in was far too long during our earlier visits since the weather was much nicer.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

“Nerd” Alert and the Mayor's Greetings

Before we even set foot inside Lycée Jules Ferry, I assumed that this school would be the French equivalent to a trade or vocational school in the United States simply because a few teachers at the Lycée International in St. Germain described it as a technical school. I continued to hold this view for the first hour or so upon arriving at the urban campus setting, but I quickly realized that this school is more than a typical lycée and that it is actually quite an amazing place. Lycée Jules Ferry is both a traditional lycée, but there is also a post-secondary education program available, classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE), which is a very intense two-year program that students enroll in with the intention of moving onto a grandes écoles, which literally translates as a “higher school”, upon completing the program. CPGE programs focus on skills that will help students succeed in the realm of science & engineering, business, and other civil servant careers. Once I put my preconceived notions aside, I realized that this school is rich with Project Based Learning activities that require students to engage in critical thinking. One such project the students were working on revolved around figuring out how to use solar panels in the most efficient and effective way.

Later this evening my peers and I attended the annual vœux du maire in Noisy-le-Roi, which translates as the mayor’s greetings for the New Year. This was a pretty formal event for the most part and was pretty entertaining for the most part except for the fact that I did not understand a word of the Mayor’s speech since it was in French! The general purpose for the event is for the Mayor to acknowledge significant individual contributions and major improvements to the community over the past year. In addition to the acknowledgements, the event also celebrated Noisy’s twin city program with Albion and Godella, Spain. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's a Small World!! (Lycée International, St. Germain)

My experience at the International Lycée in St. Germain was nothing shy of welcoming, especially since the overall atmosphere of the campus is very similar to that of a prep school in the America. In 1952 General Eisenhower, with the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), established The International Lycée soon after the end of WW2. The school started in the former house of a local pharmacist, and quickly expanded due to the high saturation of military families in and around St. Germain.

We spent the morning with Ms. Amy Crist, the Director of Libraries and Technology, who was kind enough to give us a brief  history of the school and a condensed tour of the campus. Ms. Crist was very proud of the technology scattered throughout the school, specifically the vast number of Smartboards in a good portion of the classrooms. She also spent a large chunk of time demonstrating BrainPop.com, which is one of the online resources that many of the teachers on campus use in the primary school.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Scot Hicks later on today during lunch, and we both found that we have a lot in common. Mr. Hicks served as the headmaster of Hillsdale Academy in Hillsdale, Michigan. This came as quite a shock since I spent a year studying at Hillsdale College prior to transferring to Albion College. He brought this up because I share the same last name as the previous President of Hillsdale College, George Roche, who hired Mr. Hicks for the headmaster position. Furthermore, Mr. Hicks also has some sort of connection with the St. Paul's school in New Hampshire, which is also kind of scary since I interned there this past summer.

I really truly felt like part of the Courcoux family and not so much of a guest because Pauline, the younger of the two daughters, sat me down and showed me her drawings. Although this may seem like a relatively small act, it seemed as if she finally felt that I was not a stranger in her house.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Snow" and Typical Tourists

Just as Valerie was about to serve dinner last night, I heard a shrill of excitement from Pauline and Juliette. At first I thought they were all excited about the new Cody Simpson album, but it turns out they were reacting to a "downfall" of snow. This was pretty funny because by Michigan standards, this "downfall" was more of just a dusting.

Although the snow didn't really stick to the ground, it was quite a hazard this morning as I made my way to the train station to meet my peers before catching a train to Paris. Upon arriving in Paris we made our way to the Musee d'Orsay, where we made our way through the various levels and a variety of different masterpieces. The Musee d'Orsay is a real gem because it was originally a metro station, which was scheduled for demolition. However, a handful of investors put their funds together and converted the rundown station into an art museum. There is a marvelous collection of masterpieces from the impressionist movement, which lasted from 1860 to 1900. It was shocking to see Monet's and Van Gogh's original work a mere couple feet away from my face. In addition to the beautiful artwork, there is also a splendid view from behind the exterior clock face that overlooks the city. Following an exciting morning wandering around the Musee d'Orsay, we gathered for lunch at the restaurant within the muséum, which in itself is an art gallery.

After lunch we caught a ride on the metro down to the Seine, and the Albion/Noisy-le-Roi twinning committee treated us to a river tour of the city. This was a truly amazing vantage point because I did not have to crane my neck to see everything like I did when I was on the streets, which is a real life saver! Upon completing the river tour, we passed the memorial atop the underground road where Princess Diana passed away in a tragic car accident in 1997. Once we made it to the train station and boarded the train destined for Noisy-le-Roi, I noticed all of the power lines that criss-crossed overhead all of the trains in the station and stretched for hundreds of yards beyond the edge of the station. This image led me to ponder the idea of how difficult it must have been for the locals to get around durring the second world war when the railways were under constant attack.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Lycée Corneille (Le Celle St. Cloud) & the Musee Lambinet

This morning I made my way to Lycée Corneille in Le Celle St. Cloud. In the French education system a Lycée is roughly the same as an American high school, so this was a slight adjustment from the time that I spent at Quintinye College in Noisy-le-Roi. The first class I observed was a European section of the international school and they gave their oral reports, which revolved around the various fashion styles and how they change with the seasons. Each group had a general theme, such as the different clothing that a soccer club supporter or an American flapper would wear. I had a good laugh watching the students strut their styles down the makeshift runway they constructed out of desks.

I then joined an English literature class where the teacher was helping the students stretch their minds for their exam later in the day. The review focused on the concept of free will in George Orwell's, "A Clockwork Orange". The overall level of understanding and application on behalf of the students really impressed me because they not only needed to read the novel in English, which is not their native language, but they also needed to wrestle with the ideas and present their understanding of the material in English on top of it all. This was an awesome example of critical thinking on a high level!

After a short day at the Lycée, the Albion/Noisy-le-Roi twin city committee treated my peers and I to a trip to the Musee Lambinet. The Lambinet Museum is a private mansion that was built in the late 18th century for Joseph Porchon, the architect of the King's residences. The Lambinet is of particular interest because it is the only museum in the city of Versailles.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Last Day at Collège & Paris Round 2!

The past two days have been quite busy to say the least! I kicked off Friday in an upper level history class where my peers and I explained to the class how our families came to America. This activity was particularly interesting because the majority of the class was shocked that not all of our ancestors landed on Ellis Island when they came to the United States. As one of two non-math  students, I opted to observe a geography and a history lesson instead of two hours of science lectures, but it was all Greek to me since the entirety of all the lessons that I could have attended were completely in French.

This morning I woke to find Alexis and Antoine, the twin brothers, playing a computer game in the living room while the rest of the family was fast asleep. They were quite shocked that I was already awake, but I explained that I was heading into Paris with my peers. Upon arriving in Paris, we caught a ride on the metro near the Louve and made our way to Montmartre, which is a hillside portion that is home to one of few cemeteries in the metro-Paris area and Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (the big white church). Lastly, we made our way to the world renowned Eiffel Tower and climbed all 710 steps to the second floor...I don't feel that any explanation is necessary for this one! However, we did time our arrival quite nicely since we missed the mid-day crowds, and had a chance to see the tower in full day light, as the sun sets, and lastly when it lights up at night and twinkles every hour for a few minutes.