Exploring the French Side of the Atlantic


Tealin Robinson

From left to right: Emma Kumer (’16), Rachael Illgen (’16), Nataly Rice (’16), Ashleigh Manby (’16), Cooper McMorris (’16), Jordan McMorris (’14), Corrine Fales (’16), Madame Mary Mann. Madame Mann and her students are at a beach on the Mediterranean Sea in Nice, France.

Tealin Robinson, Activities Editor

Seven eager students and one Madame Mann departed from a Chicago airport for an exciting two week international trip to France beginning June 18. There, Corinne Fales (‘16), Emma Kumer (‘16), Rachel Illgen (‘16), Nataly Rice (‘16), Ashleigh Manby (‘16), Jordan McMorris (‘14) and Cooper McMorris (‘16) would see the sights and spend a week with a host family while practicing their  French skills.

The entire adventure was exciting from the start. The moments leading up to the flight itself were nerve-racking for most of the students. The thought of stepping into another country and having to speak another language can certainly make your stomach do a 360 or maybe a 720 degree turn. Although excitement can certainly overrun you as it did for Manby, who commented “When I stepped into the airport I was so anxious to get to France already!”

Unlike the students, Madame has been to France so many times she can hardly remember, “But somewhere around twenty total with half of them including students sounds about right.” She said the first time she had taken students to France was in 1989, “…before any of you were born!” Nonetheless, Madame continues to love these summer vacations, “We often take the same trip but things happen along the way to make each trip special and memorable.”

Once arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport, the excitement grew stronger as the group began in the heart of France. In Paris, the students of course saw the most famous landmark associated with France – the Eiffel Tower. But believe it or not, that is not the most enticing sight to see in Paris. The group did visit a lot of the other major sights: Notre Dame, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Montmartre, Versailles, and one of Madame’s favorite sights, Père LaChaise. While there, everyone enjoyed wandering around and listening to the music at la Fête de la Musique.

Throughout the trip, the students were allowed to split off into groups and venture around on their own for a certain amount of time. Of course it wouldn’t be an international adventure without at least a little bit of side humor. “I remember that every time we’d meet back up, we’d have to wait for the two boys (the McMorris brothers), so we were always like ‘oh, les garçons!’ (the boys)” Kumer explains, “Also, our tour guide on the ISE (Intercultural Student Experiences) bus had the funniest French accent when he tried to talk in English. He would always point out a landmark and then say, ‘Oh, so gergeous! So Franch!’ And we said that to each other every time we saw something cool for the rest of the trip.”

Of course when in France, one must speak in the native tongue. It’s all part of the experience! “My favorite part of the trip,” Madame explains, “truly is watching my students discovering France; discovering that their French does work as a means to communicate – it may not be as good as they wish but that will come with time.”

Alas, one cannot expect to fully enjoy the French culture without being a part of it! So after taking the TGV (high-speed train) from Paris to Aix-en-Provence, the group set out to stay for a week with a host family. The students found the exchange to be an exciting but challenging experience, and all were able to fall in love with the simple elegance of French countryside.

 “The family stay was the most difficult part of the trip.  I don’t know what the other students did, but my family did not speak any English, except for the girl. You don’t realize this, but trying to translate what you want to say into a different language is exhausting,” Kumer shared, and then added, “Of course Paris is charming; it’s a city that smells really weird and is covered in graffiti, yet it is also incredibly romantic and exotic. I actually fell in love more with the French countryside, though. My host family lived on the side of a mountain in Aix… I found their farmhouse absolutely adorable and was very interested with their way of life.”

When visiting the area by the Mediterranean Sea, “Madame was cool enough to let our group go swimming at 10 o’clock at night,” Kumer exclaimed, “It was perfect – the water was still warm and there was no one on the beach except us. How many students can say they’ve gone swimming in the Mediterranean under the stars?”

One of the main things that the students took away from their trip was that French culture is very different from American culture. They shared that the French are very quiet compared to Americans to the point where they often found themselves speaking loudly and then having to remind themselves that nobody wanted to hear them. In addition, they found that French dining also has an interesting flare to it. There are few fast food places throughout France due to its traditional home-cooked cuisine. Also every meal is scheduled for later in the evening, and before each meal there is a “bon appétit” to be said.

Sadly, the trip came to an end all too soon and it was time for the flight home on July 2. “On my way home I was extremely sad that I was leaving and I wanted to go back already,” Manby said, however not everyone was quite on board with this notion. Fales explained, “Although I love Paris and would have moved there if I could have, I was glad to be heading back to a place where I understood everybody.”