Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Normandy Excursion and Other Activities

This week was a busy week for the program. We had our first overnight excursion to Normandy on Thursday and Friday and then on Saturday some of the stagiaires joined Mark and played football with Brest's American Football team "Les Tonnerres de Brest".

But before all of those activities, we took time out of our morning routine on Tuesday to draw and color a giant fish for the grandson of the host mother of Kristin and Amy.  The girls sharedwith the group that the boy has cancer and his favorite bedtime story was about a fish.  Other friends and family had been drawing fish to decorate the boy's room and Kristin and Amy thought that the group could contribute as well. Everyone was more than willing.  Lauren and Kat drew the body of the fish and the rest of the stagiaires and the instructors all helped to fill in the colors.

Kristin and Amy told us that their host mother was very surprised and very touched to receive the fish for her grandson.

On Thursday we boarded our bus at 7:30am to leave for our overnight excursion to Normandy.  Our first stop was the coastal city of Saint Malo.  Here the stagiaires were left to explore the walled city and soak in the sea air.
Walking to Saint Malo from the bus
Ocean view from Saint Malo
After exploring the city. We all met just outside the city walls for a picnic lunch before boarding the bus for our next destination.

Our next stop after Saint Malo was Mont Saint Michel.  As you can guess from its name, this stop on the excursion required us all to "climb" a mountain.

At Mont St. Michel, the stagiaires toured the Abbey located at its peak and explored the shops and restaurants that lay below it.

Once everyone was sufficiently tired from climbing and descending the "thousands" of stairs at Mont St. Michel, we re-boarded the bus and headed to our hostel for the evening.

Everyone was surprised and excited to see that we arrived at the hostel at the exact same time as the group from St. Brieuc.  Stagiaires and instructors alike were very happy to see all of their friends.  We all had dinner together and then headed to the beach afterwards.

With the St. Brieuc group, we played frisbee, pétanque, and some even learned to Charleston!  The outdoor activities continued until it got too cold/began to rain. Then it was back to the hostel and to bed, as everyone had a very early morning ahead of them.

On Friday, we continued our Normandy excursion with a first stop at the Caen Memorial which is actually a museum dedicated to WWII.  After taking a group photo, the stagiaires viewed the museum and watched a film on the landings at Normandy.

We followed up the museum with a trip to the American Cemetery where the stagiaires were able to get a sense of the impact of the war on the region and its connection with the United States.

After the cemetery, we walked down to Omaha beach, one of the sites of the landings at Normandy.  The beach no longer resembles what the stagiaires had viewed in the film at the Caen Memorial.  At Omaha beach, everyone took one last opportunity to feel the sand beneath their feet and play a little in the (cold) ocean water.

After the beach, we got back on the bus and began our 5 hour ride back to Brest.  Everyone was tired, but not too tired to sing along and dance to a song lead by instructor Loïc.  The video wouldn't upload to the blog, but you can find it at the link below with the other photos.

Normandy Excursion and Other Activities

After this trip, everyone went home and got a good night's sleep. But some stagiaires were "recovered" enough from the trip to join Mark and Les Tonnerres de Brest for a little football Saturday afternoon.  Thanks a lot to Kristin for the photos!

Woo! So that was quite a week for us all.  Upcoming this week we have the 4th of July celebration and ceremony and then classes and activities as usual. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reception at City Hall

Today the stagiaires were welcomed to the city of Brest with a reception at the Mairie (City Hall).  The host families, our coordinators and all those involved in making this program happen in Brest were invited.  The ceremony began with a short speech by our Literature instructor and Student Coordinator Loïc Lerme.  His speech was followed by two students speeches given by Lauren Philips and Leland Nelson. Both speeches were well prepared and well received.  Finally the Mayor's representative welcomed the group to Brest and informed us that we are all invited to a special concert on the Fourth of July hosted by the American Consul to Rennes.  The speeches were followed by light refreshments.  Below is a photo of the group on the steps of the Mairie.

Tuesday and Wednesday are normal class days. But Thursday we leave for our second excursion to Normandy and we will return late Friday night.  Keep a look out for a new blog post on that trip once we've all returned and recovered.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Our First Excursion!

Thursday, June 20 we had our first excursion in Brittany.  The weather wasn't the best but everyone made the most of it.  The stagiaires have learned very quickly that en Bretagne, il pleut.  (In Brittany, it rains.)

Here are the stagiaires on the bus on the way to our first stop:

Our first stop on this excursion was the village of Locronon.   It was recently listed as the second-most beautiful village in France.  Our itinerary for Locronon included touring the cathedral and learning how a traditional Breton cake "Kouign - amann" is made.

In front of Cathedrale St. Ronan

Because the patisserie is so small, we split into two groups. Half the group visited the patisserie while the other half visited the cathedral.  While in the patisserie, the group learned how "Kouign-amann", a traditional Breton cake, is made.

Kouign-amann basically consists of flour, butter and sugar.  The stagiaires (and the instructors) all watched in awe as the patissier added 200 grams of salted butter (nearly half a pound) onto each pile of dough.  This was followed by 200 grams of granulated sugar. The dough was then folded to keep in the butter and sugar and transferred to a conveyor belt where it would be rolled out flat.

After rolling several times, the dough is put into cake molds and allowed to rise for thirty minutes in an old-fashioned cabinet called a "parisienne".  After sitting, the cake is baked in a standard bread oven. As it is one of the most popular desserts in Bretagne, this patisserie makes 200-250 of them per day.

Tasting a slice of Kouign-amann
After the patisserie and the cathedral, the stagiaires were left to explore the village for about an hour before we moved on to our next stop on the excursion.

The plan was to have a picnic lunch at La Pointe du Raz, but when we arrived it was pouring rain.  With no other options, we all bundled up, opened up our umbrellas and all trucked out on a 30 minute hike to La Pointe.  By the time we arrived the rain stopped and the stagiaires were able to climb all over the rocks that made up La Pointe.

And even luckier, on the walk along the way, we discovered a picnic shelter where we were all able to sit and have lunch out of the continuing drizzle.

After La Pointe du Raz, we climbed back on the bus to head to our final destination, the city of Concarneau.  The city consists of a modern section and the the medieval ville close.  This city is the third most important fishing port in all of France and the primary source of tuna in all of Europe.

We all walked together from where the bus parked to the ville close and then the stagiaires were left to explore on their own in the medieval city.  Everyone's first stop was the glacier for some ice cream.

In the ville close, the stagiaires could explore shops and cafes with souvenirs and traditional Breton products.  They could also climb the stairs to walk around the walls that protected the city and provide a  great view of the modern city and the port.

After a few hours of exploration, we all returned to the bus to head back to Brest.  It was a long day and everyone was tired. But they all the stagiaires seemed to have a good time.

The rest of the photos can be viewed at the link below:

First Excursion Photos

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Joyeux Anniversaire Shannon et Kristin!

Today we celebrated our two June birthdays. Shannon's birthday was yesterday and Kristin's birthday is tomorrow. The cooks at the cafeteria where we eat lunch (L'Aile) prepared a lovely tiramisu style cake with sparklers in them as birthday candles.  Everyone sang "Joyeux Anniversaire" to the two birthday girls and then rapidly devoured the cake.

We continued with our second day of afternoon activities today. All of the stagiaires chose either Choir, Theater or the Improv group to be a part of in the afternoons. But to warm everyone up today we played a few theatrical games as a group that required the stagiaires to work together and trust each other.  The first game had them pair up with one person pretending to be blind and the other person leading them around the room. The second game required the stagiaires to link arms back to back and lead each other around the room. And the final game was a modified trust fall where one stagiaire, with their eyes closed, was passed around in a circle by the others, trusting that the group would support their weight. Some of the games were more challenging than others but in the end the stagiaires worked together and enjoyed themselves.

Pictures from today can be found at the link below:

Birthdays and Theater Games

Monday, June 17, 2013

First Day of Class!!

Today we had our first day of normal classes.  The stagiaires got an introduction to French literature, French linguistics, French Culture and French grammar.  The day flew by and before we knew it we were on our way to our first real tourist attraction: the Chateau de Brest. Unfortunately, it rained on us throughout the visit. But that didn't stop the stagiaires from exploring the grounds and posing with every canon, tree and castle wall that they came upon.  In the Chateau, the stagiaires learned about the rich naval history of the city of Brest, which even has some connections to the US over the last few centuries.  Overall a good time was had by all, and the few without umbrellas, raincoats or rain boots learned a valuable lesson about being prepared for the ever changing weather in Brittany.

Below are a few photos from the day and the rest can be viewed at the link:

First Day of Class/Chateau de Brest Photos

Friday, June 14, 2013

Discovering Brest!

Over the last couple of days the stagiaires had the opportunity to discover the city of Brest. Unlike the day we arrived, the weather was (relatively) warm, it was sunny and not too windy.  We led them around town and showed them all of the important sites, including the location of the schools, where they would have lunch during the week and the shopping areas in the center of town.  The stagiaires also practiced navigating the public transportation system.

They then had to demonstrate their navigational skills the very next morning (Friday) in order to show up for their first day of school. Each stagiaire successfully made their way from their host family's home using the bus, the tram, or both and made it on-time to the classroom! After the morning classroom activities, we led the students to the center of town for a scavenger hunt.  They were divided into six groups and given two sets of clues per group. They then were instructed to explore the center of town and take photos of the response to each clue.  The weather was perfect for this outdoor activity and the stagiaires had the opportunity to nagivate Brest and explore on their own.

Some pictures from the last two days are included below and the rest can be found at the following link:

Getting Around Brest

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We Have Arrived!!!

After a long flight and an even longer bus ride we have made it safely to Brest.  All of the stagiaires are with their host families and should get a good rest tonight.  The flight went smoothly with no delays or significant bumps minus one misplaced suitcase which we hope to soon recover from the airline.  The bus ride was long but the stagiaires got a nice view of the French countryside (if they managed to stay awake). And all of the people we encountered along the way were excited to see and speak to the stagiaires here to soak up the French culture.

In the next few days all of the stagiaires will become oriented to the city of Brest, our daily schedule and their host families.  And so the adventure begins!

A few group photos are included here but if you click the link below there are more photos from the airport and the bus ride.  Can you tell they're tired on the bus?

Departure Photos