“Rouen Enigma”

le 8 juin 2023 by Omar Rahman

We all woke up around 7:30 this morning. At this point, we have become accustomed to our French lives and French families, beginning with our morning shots of coffee and baguettes before we head off to class. Today, our class involved a project where we had to write a short paragraph and record a short video on William the Conqueror. During our first few days, we were used to the name William the Conqueror as Caen memorializes him with many streets and statues being named after him. However, the main interest was our day trip to Rouen, a neighboring city to Caen. We got on the bus and headed to Rouen. As we reached our destination, we walked out to the Old City, narrow with pedestrian streets lined with half-timbered houses and overshadowed by monuments and churches. Here spread the foundations of the Renaissance in France and we were tasked with exploring the city on our app “Rouen Enigma” in groups of three. Of course, my group and I began the tour with lunch at a small creperie. There we got several crepes and croques nordiques before exploring the city. As we walked, we saw several landmarks, a few of which were the Notre Dame Cathedral of Rouen, a 14th century clock, and a Statue of Jeanne d’Arc. The cathedral is the subject of many paintings by Claude Monet, one of France’s most renowned impressionist painters. He is said to have painted this cathedral more than thirty times. The building itself has many stained glass windows and is divided by three doors. We learned that this division is supposed to represent the tripartite holy trinity. The large clock, called Le Gros-Horloge is a 14th century astronomical clock that was created during the renaissance and is one of the oldest mechanical pieces in France. Finally, the statue depicts Jeanne d’Arc at the stake and was carved by Maxime Real del Sarte with Roger de Villers in 1927. But more importantly than the statue itself was the little bit of history we knew about it. None of us knew whether the story was true or not, but we learned in French class that Jeanne d’Arc was a peasant girl who eventually became the leader of French resistance against England in the 15th century. Still, she was supposedly burned at the stake for heresy at that spot in Rouen, 610 years ago. As the tour slowly came to an end, there was time for one more break for food. While some of us retreated to the comfort of McDonalds, others tried an Asian Fusion restaurant which had some of the best food yet. After a well-spent afternoon in Rouen, it was time to head back to Caen on the 90-minute bus ride back which included a lot of sleeping. Before returning to our homes, several of us played a bit of soccer at Caen University. As our host families began to call us back on WhatsApp, we were ready for dinner and some well-needed rest.



le 7 juin 2023 by Aiden Theodore

This morning I woke up late, due to a mixture of jet lag and overestimating how much time I have before the train to school arrives. I rushed out of the house with breakfast in hand, two pieces of bread with butter, and managed to arrive one minute before my train. Once I got to the stop, I saw Omar and Madame White, who also don’t live too far away. We took the train together and arrived at school.

At school we watched a video about the Middle Ages in France. We learned about the strategies the French would use to protect themselves when attacked, such as cannons, as well as the weapons their enemies used against them.

After, we went to the Chateau to see the progression of the time periods in Normandy. We began with an exhibit of the Prehistoric Period and saw the bones of a mammoth and ancient tools, made of bronze and iron, used by the people of those times. Then, we saw different clothing, accessories, and village layouts from the Classical and Middle Ages. Finally, we ended in the Late Modern period.

We then had two hours of free time to go around the town and explore. A couple of friends and I went to a pâtisserie and ordered an escargot au chocolat for a small price which would have been double in America.

After our free time, we took a nice train to Bayeux to view the Tappisserie de Bayeux. The tapestry was very long and was carefully embroidered with the events surrounding the conquest of England by William I, the Duke of Normandy against King Harold II. We then visited a cathedral nearby, saw the different paintings and gothic architecture, and then had one hour more of free time.

During our free time, I went to this place nearby that sold crepes that were very good – 10/10 stuff. After, it was time to go home to have dinner with our families.

Again, I took the train with Omar; then we split ways once we reached town. At home, my host mom made pizza, and we sat at the table, talking about our day while we enjoyed our meal.


La Mairie de Caen et L’Abbaye aux Hommes

le 6 juin 2023 by Lucas Numa

Today was our first day of classes. I woke up at 6:30 and had a traditional french breakfast of bread with butter and jam as well as orange juice with my host mom. Shortly after, she showed me where the bus which I would take to get to school was.

Benji and I took the same bus and we went to our first day of classes together. We learned about Normandy through art and read some famous French authors from Normandy.

After classes we had lunch at the University cafeteria. I had paella and bananas with chocolate. We had free time and a bunch of us waited at the train stop to go downtown.

However the train was delayed thirty minutes – luckily Jack brought his speaker, and we hung out at the train station until the train got there. The stop where we were supposed to get off to go to our tour at the Mairie de Caen (City Hall) was closed, so we asked some locals for directions, and they guided us to a bus which would take us right next to where we needed to be.

Once we arrived at the Mairie de Caen and the Abbaye aux Hommes, we took a tour where we learned about the building as well as its history and the history of its founder William the Conqueror, who we would also be learning about in our classes in days to come.

Later we had free time and explored the city center a little bit more. We went to this famous street called la Rue Froide, and had some of the best pastries I have ever had.

Then we walked to the restaurant where we ate as a group and talked about our adventures in the city, as well as our experiences with our host family. These experiences ranged from nights playing pool, to Call of Duty, to even having conversations with our host families.

Finally, we returned home where I fell asleep after talking with my host mom about what her favorite things to do in Caen are, as well as her experiences at some of the sights we will visit later on in the trip


Bienvenue en France!

le 5 juin 2023 by Benji Macharia

For most of us, this adventure began the moment our parents left us at the airport, but for our parents, this adventure started the moment they heard about this trip at the start of the year. So I would like to thank all of our parents who helped prepare us for this trip, and our teachers who are guiding us. The excitement from when we left our parents on Saturday has grown and on our first day in France, we were all trying to take in the culture. The pilot on the plane spoke pretty fast, so I’m glad he repeated everything in English. That was the point for me when I realized that we were really entering into a whole new society and way of life. The ride to Caen felt long due to our eagerness to meet people and test out our French. We finally got our chance when we stopped for lunch en route. I didn’t expect to have perfect French with the accent but it was something to realize how american-accent infused French sounds to a Frenchman. When I asked for the pizza right in front of me, and the server laughed at my French, it was a reality check. I finally got to see what it feels like from someone else’s perspective whose English might not sound like ours. The feeling of being a tourist finally set in and I have enjoyed taking in the things that French people do in contrast to an American. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and I had my second reality check of the trip. A French breakfast is very different from an American breakfast. For example, there isn’t much meat or eggs, but lots and lots of bread. Like any kind of bread you could think of, they probably have it for breakfast. And their bread is heavenly so I’m glad I get to eat it often. When I was returning my silverware and plates, I asked the server where I should place the bottle of milk and water that my table had used. She looked at me and it took about 3 minutes for her to understand what I was talking about and another 2 for me to understand where she was telling me to put it. Those 5 minutes were the most embarrassing moments for me since everyone was watching me, but I was having trouble speaking and understanding. Later we learned about the rules from our API director Catherine and then took the bus to see where we would be attending school. The bus and the tram here could be compared to the green line and the MBTA bus, but these buses and trams are a lot more reliable. So far they have been very useful and easy to use aside from the doors closing too fast and leaving part of our group behind on the tram. Our school is a new campus in Caen made in 2006, and it’s very modern and looks very nice. We met our teachers and got an introduction to the school. After that, we went into the city for lunch and had a pretty nice meal at a restaurant in Caen. So far I haven’t really had a bad meal here in France and the food has genuinely been great. We then toured the castle of William the Conqueror but didn’t get to see most of it since it is under construction. Though from the castle edge, we got to see the whole of the Caen Center and it was really cool. After some free time in which Aiden and I toured around the center of Caen and got to see all the small shops and restaurants, we finally met our host families, the moment we had all been nervous yet excited about from the moment we received our page about them. They were all waiting in the hall where our API director had spoken to us that morning. I was beyond nervous trying to see who my host family was and hoping I looked nice enough to make a good first impression. My host family’s Mom, Rachel, was there to pick me up and take me to our home. She is very nice and welcoming and we had a great time getting to know each other in the French traffic. And once we arrived at home I got to meet the rest of our family. They are all so welcoming and we had a nice dinner where I gave them their gifts, and we got to speak about the difference in the cultures. My room is on the top floor next to my host family’s parents’ room and I love the art and design of it. After a long day, I was so happy to have a nice family. I can’t wait to see what else we will learn about France, and I know that we will have a wonderful summer together.

La Traversée et Le Mont-Saint Michel

24 June 2022 by Mark Anderson

We woke up early this morning to a small farewell from our host families at Vissol. It was basically our last day with them, the only other being spent buying souvenirs and packing for Paris and the flight home. We slept through a long bus ride from Vissol to the start of the walk to the Mont Saint-Michel. When we finally got there we could see the Mont Saint-Michel in the distance. We met up with our guide, who explained the trek and that we would all have to be barefoot because of the terrain. 

When we finally were all together and started the walk, the first thing we realized was that the ground was mostly mud and that it was going to be a long walk. Along the way, our guide explained a lot about the history of the Mont Saint-Michel. It was a destination for pilgrimages dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the leader of heaven’s army who is also the final judge between good and evil. The ground along the way was like mud, it squelched under our feet. Half of the boys hated it and the others found it nice, like a spa experience. One of the main things that had us intrigued was the special shells that came with a backstory. Our guide explained that if you pick up one of these shells and touch it to the rocks of the Mont Saint-Michel, you will have good luck for the next 7 years. On the other hand, If you broke your shell, you would be cursed for all eternity. With this gamble in mind, many of us chose to take shells and try our best to keep them safe for the rest of our journey. Just before crossing the small river, our guide pointed out a small spot where we could find quicksand. We put down all our bags and then stomped on the ground while moving in a circle. Suddenly, the ground started to shift and the guide told us to keep moving or else we would sink. He showed us how to effectively escape the quicksand if we were to get stuck – “shake and remove one leg, then put the knee of that leg onto the sand, then shake and remove the other.”  After spending some time experimenting with the quicksand, we finished off the rest of our walk and finally made it to the Mont Saint-Michel. We split up to eat, and I enjoyed a homemade sandwich with some snacks and a jus de pomme. After briefly shopping for some souvenirs we climbed to the top for a guided tour of the Abbaye. We took in the beautiful view of the surrounding land from the top and our guide taught us about the old traps, the history, the crypt, and even the prison. He opened the small door to let us explore the inside and then locked it behind us, scaring most of us. Even though I could have explored this place for hours, it was time to take the bus to Saint-Malo, where we would stay the night. On arrival, we quickly put our luggage in our hotel rooms and went back out for a dinner as a class at a crêperie. The ham, egg, and cheese crêpe was absolutely delicious and a dessert of either a crêpe caramel or assorted ice cream was divine. Even though this day was really long and eventful, it was one of the most enjoyable days of the trip, and our first day in a while being together for dinner instead of with our host families. The Mont Saint-Michel was beautiful, and its history was really interesting.

La Fête de la Musique

21 June 2022 by Jayden Phan

I woke up at 7 today. I’ve had the same thing for breakfast every day since I’ve gotten here– black coffee, bread, unsalted butter, and Pont L’Évêque. It’s very good, and quite a traditional French breakfast at that.

In class, we did more Latin and French translations with Romain. Latin is a language that I have really started to appreciate recently, and I am genuinely interested in the history that goes along with it.

We had a normal lunch at the University at 12 – I had a steak haché with ratatouille and prosciutto. I don’t know how “traditional” the food is at the University, but it’s pretty good for a school lunch. All the boys usually have similar plates.

Afterwards, we were scheduled to do a D-Day-themed escape room called “Caen You Escape”. To be completely honest, I personally do not enjoy escape rooms. Quite frankly, I often find myself distracted and/or not particularly interested in the “puzzle”. The best part of the escape room for me was appreciating the decor and “art” of the rooms, as well as brainstorming and bonding with my group. The rest of the groups certainly had fun as well.

After a quick dinner with my host family, however, was one of the main events of the whole trip – la Fête de la Musique. This is one of those events that happens every year, everyone looks forward to it every year, and every class has their own unique story of their experience. The common factor, however, is lots of people dancing and a citywide rave. Pretty much all of the boys had never been to anything like this, and so it was a novel and certainly an exciting experience for all of us. I think everyone was really happy to be there and to experience a (rightfully) glorified event among all RL French boys.

La Ferme de Billy

20 June 2022 by Dovany Estimphile

As usual we started our day with an informative class on the French language and culture. Today’s topic was on the Latin roots found in the French language. We delved extensively into how a word in Latin over time transformed into a French word. It was interesting to see a word change slightly throughout the centuries until it ends up as a new word in a different language. After learning about French dialects, we pivoted to the history of French territories. We discussed the Treaty of Verdun and the division of the French empire, all of which played a pivotal role in the destruction of the French empire.

Once we concluded our classes, some of us went to eat lunch at Nachos (which is essentially French Chipotle), while others ate lunch at the University. After eating lunch, we prepared for our next activity, exploring an apple orchard. To get to the orchard, we caught a bus to Rots, a town west of Caen. The apple orchard we visited was La Ferme de Billy. This long standing orchard has produced apple juice and cider since 1651. The orchard and its legacy have survived for over five generations under the same family. When we arrived, we were initially greeted with a tour of the many apple trees planted. We then moved on to the machinery. The machine portion of the orchard had a different mood than the farming portion. The machine portion of the orchard felt like it was a science lab extracting as much product as possible, while the tree farm, although efficient, felt more natural like a large garden. We learned their entire process of taking apples and turning them into apple juice. They start off with washing the apples to get rid of any possible bacteria. They make sure to filter out large unwanted objects in the apples like leaves early in the process. The filtration of bacteria and other undesirables has great importance to la ferme de Billy. In the orchard, the juice’s quality and purity always felt the most important. The apples are then crushed and go through another step of cleansing. After seeing how the apple juice was made, we tried some ourselves. The two types of apple juice we tasted were their jus de pomme and cidre. Both of which tasted great, but most preferred the jus de pomme. As our visit was coming to its conclusion, we had a chance to purchase some apple juice. Most bought a bottle for themselves and another as a gift for their host family. After returning to the city of Caen, we concluded our day with some ice cream and later basketball.

D-Day Landing Beaches – A Reflection

18 June 2022 by Joseph Wang

Our trip to France so far has been full of fun and excitement: (daily) trips to the local artisan ice cream spot, dynamic volleyball rallies, and of course enough beautiful chapels and castles to go around. But this past Saturday gave us a unique opportunity to delve beyond these surface level activities and think more deeply about our own lives and the sacrifices made by those who came before us.

The day began at 9AM, as the group piled into a tour bus which was thankfully equipped with air conditioning. Along for the ride was a knowledgeable tour guide who would lead us over the next nine hours via the bus’s speaker system. As we sped through the streets of Caen and out of the city, we learned about France’s history in the years before and during WW2, as well as the logistics behind the D-Day (Jour J) landings. Before we knew it, we had arrived at the first of the five landing beaches: Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold, and Sword. Contrary to some expectations, it wasn’t a grand scene. To the uneducated eye, the historic sites could have passed as just another beach. Yet something about them struck us. As I looked up to the muted blue sky I couldn’t help but imagine a fatally wounded soldier, perhaps only one or two years older than we are right now spending his final moments on Earth staring up at that same sky. His silent sacrifice, now almost 80 years in the past, provides each of us (alongside countless others) an opportunity to live our lives in peace and freedom.

During our tour of the landing sites, we also had the opportunity to explore the bunkers that were used to fend off the Allied landing, which included wreckage of tanks and artillery used in the original battle. According to trip tradition, the whole group (with some help from Mr. Diop) managed to climb on top of a bunker to take a class-wide photo. Everyone made it down too, although not without the suggestion of remaining on top (where the adults couldn’t reach) until the curfew was pushed 30 minutes later. After enjoying a delicious picnic lunch packed by our host families, it was back onto the bus for the next visit of the day.

Our destination was the Normandy American Cemetery, where we were welcomed into a luscious courtyard surrounded by a sprawling wall inscribed with the names of American soldiers who went MIA (Missing In Action) during combat in Normandy during WW2. As we walked past exhibits of maps detailing the liberation of Normandy, there was a collective aura of shock and realization as rows and rows of crosses emerged, all neatly organized in orderly columns against the backdrop of the flowing greenery. To me, that was the moment where the casualties suffered in WW2 became more than just a number or statistic; as the rows of crosses continued it dawned upon me that each one of them marked the loss of a unique soldier, many differing in state, height, or skin color but yet all united in the final sacrifice they made for their country. As I walked past the different names, I wished, perhaps naively, that I could get to know each soldier, that I could put a face on the fallen and hear them recount their lives. Yet all that I could see was their name, state, and the date of their final act of bravery. I’m reminded now of the inscription on the graves of those whose bodies could not be identified: “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY A COMRADE IN ARMS KNOWN BUT TO GOD.” John 15:13 says “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Even though their lives may be unnamed and unrecognized, their sacrifice will be marked within the gates of heaven.

As I continued through the memorial, emotions washed over me: sadness and lamentation for the lost and appreciation of the sacrifice they had made. But finally, and perhaps most prominently I felt the call of responsibility. Given the thousands of people buried here who cut their own lives tragically short for my sake, the least I could do is make the most of the opportunity they gave everything for. It’s through the way we carry ourselves and treat others around us that we can carry on that legacy. As JFK put it: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.” As students who have been blessed with immense opportunity, there comes also a great call to use our gifts not just to earn a high salary or live in a comfortable house, but to impact the lives of others in a positive way, even at a cost to ourselves.