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.

Beach Day

17 June 2022 by Leo Bene

We began our day at 8:45 AM at the Université de Caen. After meeting up in the lobby, we headed up to the classroom. During class, we went over two main subjects: the destruction of Caen during the war, and later its reconstruction. We were led through a slideshow of images of the city before the war, then during the war, and finally after the war. We analyzed postwar architecture in Caen and then compared it to the style of the buildings built during the reconstruction directly after the war, before finally taking a look at the modern architecture popping up in Caen today. We analyzed the question of whether the reconstruction was done well or not, and came to the conclusion that while it was successful in some areas of the city, there is a lack of harmony between the buildings. Finally, we were given the even more difficult task of understanding what makes a reconstruction successful and came to our conclusion, thanks to a series of passages from various architects. We decided that for a reconstruction to be successful, it cannot attempt to rebuild exactly as before, nor can it attempt to be too modern.

After taking a brief snack break, we left the University and headed out into the city, led by our professor. We walked through the city, looking at a wide array of buildings. We deciphered in what period they were built through various architectural clues. We analyzed details in their facades and their connections to themes from the pre and post-war periods. For example, when we stopped at a building that hosts various services for families, we looked at an engraving on the wall, showing a group of four children playing together. We decided that this engraving depicted the importance of community and care for others. Overall, this was the perfect way to connect our learning in the classroom with the real world.

After returning to the University, we went to a meeting to thank the University, its professors and staff, and Mr. Diop and Madame White for making this trip possible and to mark the 10th anniversary of the program. I speak for all the students when I say we are extremely grateful for this opportunity. We enjoyed an “apéritif” before walking over to the University cafeteria for our lunch break.

After eating lunch, we had a few minutes to play basketball before it was time to go to the beach. With the guidance of Dennis Jin, we walked over to the Gare SNCF. There, we boarded a bus to the beach “Ouistreham.” The bus was crowded with people who had the same idea as us – we all wanted a reprieve from the 34-degree (Celsius of course) heat, a record temperature in the last forty years. After a 40-minute bus ride, we arrived at the beach. Before going to the actual beach, we had the opportunity to wander through the city surrounding the beach. At the beach, we all went for a swim. The water was much warmer than the water at Étretat. We played football and “taps” in the water, temporarily relieved from the heat. We swam out to the buoys, rested for a couple of minutes, and then returned to the shore. After swimming for about an hour, we headed back into the town to grab ice cream.

After an afternoon at the beach, it was time to head home. However, this was the same time that everybody else was returning home. Therefore, we had to fight to get a spot on the bus, despite the bus agency having called an extra bus to take us home. We all managed to make it on, and by 7:00 we were back home.

D-Day Academy

16 June 2022 by Evan Zhang

After getting a complete night’s rest without any NBA games as distractions, we continued into today, revived after previous restless nights. Today in class, we proceeded with the same overarching topic of World War II, but primarily focused on D-Day (“le jour J” in French). Madame Brauns, our teacher for the week, taught us about the specific actions that both the enemy and Allied armies took before Operation Overlord. She also explained the strategic planning behind plots such as tricking the Germans into believing that Pas-de-Calais would be the main point of attack, instead of Omaha Beach which is where it actually occurred. In summing up the class, we all presented a slide show, in groups, explaining the importance of certain World War II sites in France.

Once the classes were out, we took a short bus ride to the D-Day Academy, during which no one fell asleep (probably due to the bumpy roads). We had lunch in a nearby field, reminded of summer nights in Boston due to the abundant amount of bugs. However, the lunch did not disappoint, as there was not a crumb left over from the sandwiches for the bugs to feed on.

We then marched over to the D-Day Academy. We did not know what to expect, but it was as if we were reliving our childhood. There was a warehouse filled with old trucks, artillery, hand guns, and clothing from World War II. Initially we thought that the two hours of allotted time would take forever to pass in the hot and gasoline-smelling warehouse. Contrary to our belief, our amusement with playing dress up, and pretending to drive the trucks and shoot guns (there was no ammo in them), sustained us all the way to the end of our appointed time. Afterwards, one of the guides in the museum showed us where all of the different armies landed during D-Day. He also explained similar ideas that we discussed in class concerning the decisions and maneuvers that occurred. Finally, to finish up our day on a high note, we all got to ride in the back of one of the big army trucks used to transport soldiers. During this exciting drive, we pretended that we were going off to war by playing some World War II songs on a speaker. After this invigorating end of the day, we were looking forward to a long night with the Celtics, as well as a hot (92 degrees!) and relaxing next day at the beach.

Kayaking at Pont-d’Ouilly

15 June 2022 by Matt Golden

Today we arrived at our classes in the morning with our bathing suits, “wet loaders”, towels, and excitement for our adventure this afternoon. Before we got ahead of ourselves, we first had our two classes with a snack break in between. Today, the main focus was the French Resistance against the Nazis, and how it was created and what they did. One activity we did in class was imagine ourselves as a French boy during this time period, and we were writing a letter to our parents that we were not going to join the German workforce like we were supposed to. Instead, we made the difficult decision to join the Resistance, and this exercise really put into perspective for me how difficult it must have been to live in times like these.

After our class was over, the majority of the group went to the University café to enjoy some burgers and fries or a ham and cheese crȇpe. When finished with our hearty lunch, we traveled up to our second home (the volleyball courts) to get some nice rallies in before we left for our journey. Following our intense match, we walked down to the front of the campus to board our bus en route to Pont-D’Ouilly for our kayak excursion.

Next, we arrived at our destination and prepared to have a good time in the water. After receiving some instructions and our life jackets, we were off and running. There were a lot of laughs, splashes, and some wipeouts, but everyone had a smile on their face. We were able to slide down some waterfalls, go for a swim, and all in all just have a good time. We also played a game where we all held each other’s kayaks side by side and those who dared would try and run across and back without falling in. Joe and I raced each other and not trying to embarrass him or anything, it wasn’t close. I could have stayed at that place for hours, but sadly we had to return back to Caen on the bus.

When we returned, we still had a few hours of free time before we needed to be home for dinner. Most boys took the tram to the Centre-Ville in order to get some snacks and our beloved ice cream from Moustache. Following our snack trip, we returned home for dinner where I had a delicious homemade pizza with a salad. I was exhausted after being in the sun all day, so I went to bed pretty early. Ultimately, today was my favorite day of the trip so far as it was a healthy mix of learning and adventure with a lot of laughs mixed in along the way.

 

Le Memorial

14 June 2022 by Thomas Silva

Tuesday marked the second day of the second week of our trip here in Caen. Today was filled with lots of education on World War II, similar to yesterday. We had two classes with a break in between, both focusing on the central years of this war, from 1939 to 1941, and its impact on the world. We listened to songs, observed propaganda and television commercials from the 40’s, and most of all discussed the film which we watched yesterday – Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Personally, I enjoyed the film, as it had great acting by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, but there were some complaints about the length (nearly three hours). Also, it was a bit disappointing to not hear the calming voice of Hanks, as there were French dubs and subtitles instead of English – but then again, we are in France, so it only seemed appropriate.

After lunch at the University cafeteria, we all had some free time. With that free time, we all burned some calories with exercise. A few went with M. Diop to play some tennis, and another group played some basketball. As for me, I went to the pitch with the remainder of the students and we played some soccer (we won, of course). It was nice to have this free time and just enjoy the down time with the boys.

After the exercise, the group made their way to the Memorial de Caen, the building where we ate lunch on our first day. We went through the World War II exhibit and there, we held some fake telephones to our ears, and observed with both senses the gravity of the war throughout the years. The layout of the exhibition stuck out to us, especially the 360- degree display that immersed us in the action of battle. It allowed us to flow through each room as though we were moving through the actual events that changed the lives of millions. After the walk-through, we then watched a short film that explored the events of D-Day, or as we call it in French, “Jour-J.” Although there will be much more in the next days about this historic event, the film was very informative and dramatic (also there were very comfy seats yet incredibly loud when you moved).

The remainder of the day was all free time, so most went back downtown to either get some ice cream from Moustache or go up to the University to play some basketball, although the courts were packed. Instead of ice cream, however, I decided to give Burger King a try for the first time in my life! It was actually quite good (for a fast food chain), and I may return. After that, I played some basketball with a few of the boys and headed back home for the night with a nice walk. All in all, the day was a pleasant one.