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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Week 3 and still going strong!

It's hard to believe that we've already passed the three week mark in St. Brieuc.  The summer is flying by!  This week was a busy one too. In addition to normal classes and activities, we also had our first round of the Dessert Exposition and our overnight excursion to Normandy.

For our Dessert Exposition, the stagiaires prepare a French or Breton dessert with their host family and bring it in to class so that everyone can taste the different desserts and learn how they're made, as well as any history or traditions associated with them. This week we started with the Bleu group, and the Rouge and Blanc groups will follow next week and the week after.  Here are a couple of photos of everyone tasting the desserts, as well as our swing dance lesson (led by our swing master Jamie) after everyone had devoured all that there was to taste.

Bright and early Thursday morning we left for our overnight excursion in Normandy. Our first stop was Le Mont Saint-Michel.  Le Mont Saint Michel is an abbey formerly inhabited by cloistered monks that sits atop a mountain on a small island on the coast.  In the past, the island was only accessible at low tide, but in modern history, a land bridge was built to provide constant access.  Le Mont Saint Michel held strategic important for France during the middle ages, as it is named for the patron saint of France and was often the target of English attacks.  It was also a major stop for religious pilgrims during this period as well.  During the French Revolution, it also briefly served as a prison.  Today, Le Mont Saint Michel is no longer inhabited by monks or prisoners, but its rich history is available for everyone to view.  After climbing the mountain to the abbey (and many many many stairs), we had a guided tour led by our one and only Sarah Kay. A couple of pictures from this stop on our excursion are below.

Le Mont Saint Michel

On the steps of the Abbey
In the fireplace that was used to prepare meals for nobles who visited the abbey

After Le Mont Saint Michel we rushed to Bayeux to view the famous tapestry which tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings. Unfortunately pictures could not be taken in this museum due to the delicate nature of the exhibit.  Below is a link to the museum and the wikipedia page for the tapestry for those who are interested in its history.

The Bayeux Tapestry - Wikipedia

Bayeux Tapestry Museum

After viewing the Bayeux Tapestry, we headed to La Pointe du Hoc which was one of the first landing sites on D-Day during the second world war. It was at this site that U.S. Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to disarm and destroy Germany artillery thought to have been installed at this point, which was the highest point between Utah and Omaha beaches.  Today, one can still explore the remains of German bunkers that had been built at the sight as well as the craters left by the bombardment that destroyed much of the area.

The whole group in one of the bunkers.

On the second day of this excursion, we visited the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach and the Memorial at Caen, which is a museum that was dedicated to peace after the Second World War.  At the American Cemetery we took a guided tour that explained the history of the D-Day, the role of Omaha Beach and highlighted some of the figures who are interred at the cemetery and their role in the war.  We were asked not to take photos during the tour and it began to rain quite heavily soon after, so unfortunately there are not very many photos of this stage of the excursion.  There are also a few photos of those stagiaires who chose to go down to Omaha Beach during the downpour. The Memorial at Caen was our last stop and the stagiaires had one final opportunity to immerse themselves in the history of the region and really see the impact of the Second World War in France and the world.

The Memorial at Caen

A Memorial in the American Cemetery

Omaha Beach
The American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, The Memorial at Caen

La Point du Hoc

At the Memorial at Caen, we ran into the group from Brest who were also finishing up their Normandy excursion. The stagiaires had a few minutes to catch up with their friends and siblings before we boarded the bus for the drive back to St. Brieuc.

It was a long and busy week, and there is still more to come. Keep a look out for more desserts, activities and the 4th of July!

Friday, June 20, 2014

La Danse Bretonne

Already we're at the end of our second week. Time is flying by.  Tonight the stagiaires had the opportunity to learn about and participate in traditional Breton dancing.  For two hours, the stagiaires and their host families wore out their pinky fingers and their calves learning several different traditional dances from the region. We stepped, jumped, spun, hopped and twirled until we couldn't do it anymore.  As the city of St. Brieuc is located in the region of Brittany, this night of cultural exploration was particularly relevant to the stagiaires experiences with their host families, many of whom are Breton, and to what they have been learning in class, especially the culture class.  Here are a few photos of the night, but many more can be found at the link below.

La Danse Bretonne

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Off to a running start!

We've officially made it through our first week in St. Brieuc.  The flight was uneventful, everyone's bags arrived with us and the host families were on time (even early) picking up their stagiaire from the meeting point when we arrived in St. Brieuc.  The bus ride was long and after more than 15 hours of traveling, everyone was tired and slept nearly all day Tuesday.  After one day to rest and adjust to the time change, we had our first day of classes and orientation on Wednesday, June 10.  The stagiaires recommitted themselves to the Honor Code and the language commitment and they shared these aspects of the program with their host families at our first host family meeting that night.

Thursday, June 12,  we had our first mini-event after a partial day of classes. Everyone took a guided tour of the city of St. Brieuc and learned about it's rich history and its role in the region and in modern France.  We visited the Cathédrale of Saint-Etienne and saw some of the oldest buildings in the city. The stagiaire also learned the basics of the structure of French government as we viewed observed the Préfecture (a regional government building) and other important sites in the city. Below is a group photo of the stagiaires in front of the Office du Tourisme.

In front of the Office du Tourisme before our guided tour of St. Brieuc

Friday, June 13, we had our first real excursion. After morning classes and lunch, we boarded the bus to head to Cap Fréhel and Fort La Latte.  Cap Fréhel is a light house on the coast and Fort La Latte is a restored chateau-fort, today maintained by a private organization, but which served a vital role in French history as the region of Brittany is positioned just across the English Channel from England. We began the excursion by exploring Cap Fréhel and taking in the beautiful landscape of the coast and the sea. Then the stagiaires valiantly braved a 5 kilometer hike from Cap Fréhel to Fort La Latte where we received a guided tour of the chateau-fort from a very feisty guide. The stagiaires learned the difference between "le donjon" in French (the residence of the chateau's lord) and "the dungeon" in English (a prison) and gazed into the "oubliette" where prisoners and others were put to serve out sentences for crimes or other offences.  Group pictures from both Cap Fréhel and Fort La Latte are below.

Cap Fréhel
A brief break on the hike between Cap Fréhel and Fort La Latte
Fort La Latte

The stagiaires passed the weekend with their host families and Monday we had our first full day of classes.  We also celebrated the birthdays of Molly and Nina with cidre (non-alcoholic of course) , cookies and other treats. Pictures from Monday as well as others taken throughout the last week can be found at the links below.

Departure Day

Visite de St. Brieuc

Cap Fréhel and Fort La Latte

Typical Day at School