Sunday, July 22, 2012

Au revoir, Brest!

Our last week together in Brest flew by so quickly!  Many of our stagiaires went with their families to the Tonnerres de Brest to see all of the festivities.  There were so many fascinating boats, activities, and sailors, with fireworks several times.  Special guests at the maritime festival included sailors and their boats from Norway, Mexico, Indonesia, Russia, Morocco, and more.  On Thursday morning, the early birds among the stagiaires went with the profs to go watch the boats leave after the festival ended.

We also celebrated one last birthday - Ellie!  Her birthday falls on a day when we will not be able to have a cake together, so we had one earlier.

Much of our week was devoted to prepping for our trip to Paris.  Stagiaires met with their groups to decide where they will go when they are allowed to break away from the large group.  We also had a goofy fashion show after Rodica's culture unit on fashion in which all the stagiaires modeled the outfit of their choice, set to music featuring the voices of all the profs.  I recommend checking out the pictures!

We also were working feverishly to prepare the Farewell Show for the host families - rehearsals, memorizing lines, getting costumes ready, melting large quantities of butter - it was a flurry of activity!  The Farewell Show went extremely well; we are so proud of the stagiaires and their many skills.
Backstage at the Farewell Festival

After the show, everyone was invited to our reception for drinks, dancing, and funny photos with some of our leftover props.  Stagiaires also got their t-shirts (which they designed themselves), and host families received a copy of the Honors Program journal.  Stagiaires will receive their own copy in the States - we didn't want to weigh them down with yet another book!
Checking out the program journal

 Photo booth accessories

 Trying on mustaches and ALL of the hats

Dancing at the reception!

Today is our very last full day in Brest.  Tomorrow morning we will be leaving very early to head off to Paris.  For those of you interested, our schedule is approximately:

Monday: travel day, visit at the gardens of Versailles, arrival in Paris, dinner and surprise activity
Tuesday:  Montmartre and Musée d'Orsay, free afternoon time for groups, surprise activity
Wednesday:  Tour Montparnasse for views of Paris, Louvre, free afternoon time, boat ride on the Seine, and yet another surprise activity

Thursday we leave for the United States!  In case you've heard anything about it, yes, there are most likely going to be some Air France strikes, but our flight will not be affected because it is long distance.

Our flight from Paris, just to remind you, is AF0664, arriving in Chicago at 12:30 PM on July 26.  Mike, Mark, and I (Amy) will be on this flight.  Stagiaires coming with Mike and I all the way to Indianapolis will be on flight AA5099, arriving in Indy at 8 PM on July 26.

It's sad to be so near the end!  Your children are wonderful people, and it was a pleasure and an honor to get to work with them.  I hope you see how much they have learned over these six short weeks!

All the best,
Team Brest!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Boat rides, excursions, and bowling

Our weeks together never slow down; as we near the end of the stage we are hard at work memorizing lines, deciding on t-shirt and magazine ideas, celebrating birthdays, going on excursions, and of course bowling.

Monday afternoon the mayor of Brest offered us a boat ride to see the rade of Brest.  It was interesting to see Brest from a new perspective, although a lot of stagiaires also ended up getting sleepy from the rocking motion of the boat.  These kids are doing a lot of work; give them a few spare moments and they start dozing!

On Tuesday, we went on an excursion to the Pointe des Espagnols, a second seaside rock outcropping, Camaret-sur-mer, and Quimper.  As you can see, the stagiaires love climbing on rocks.
 Getting to see Brest from the other side of the water!
 Our stagiaires also love pain au chocolat
 Always a good idea to lend a helping hand.

We also celebrated three birthdays in one week, even though they were a bit more spread out than that in reality!  Felicia, Kenneth, and Charlotte are three more lucky stagiaires to celebrate their birthdays in Brest. Felicia and Kenneth had a duel celebration with a chocolate-pear cake, and Charlotte's cake was an apple pie cake with homemade ice cream.
Opening the official stage presents... Asterix comics with notes from the professors

On Thursday night, stagiaires and their families were given the option to come bowling at a French bowling alley.  We were thrilled to discover that the French also do cosmic bowling, and I hate to say it, but it looks like we don't have many future bowling stars among our students or host families.  Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and a great opportunity to spend time together.

This week will be our very last week in Brest.  Many students have been going to the international maritime festival, les Tonnerres de Brest, with their host families.  One morning next week they will have the option to get up very very early and come with us to the beach to watch the ships leave at the end of the festival.  Otherwise, we will be busy as can be prepping for our Farewell Show and getting a crash course in how to be safe and have fun in Paris.

All the best,
Team Brest!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Happy 4th from Brest!

We may not have had an excursion this week, but we sure were busy!  For a week or so, we have been practicing singing the Marseillaise and the Star-Spangled Banner for the Fourth of July ceremony at Brest's American monument.  It is quite an official event involving the ceremonial placing of flower bouquets, a salute from the French navy, and a moment of silence to recognize those who have died.  The stagiaires sang beautifully, and we even appeared on television later that day.
 Amy and Anuj carried the flowers offered by "Stage Indiana" (the name we use in France for the Honors Program)
Everybody lining up and getting last minute jitters!

After the ceremony, we had a reception dinner for the stagiaires and their host families.  The food was a mix of French and American - we started with an apéritif/"cocktail" with fruit juices, Breizh cola, and small snacks, followed by an entrée buffet with potato, vegetable, and fruit salads.  Next was the main course - grilled meats (chicken, ribs, sausages) with fries and vegetables.  We had a huge cake as a dessert, followed by coffee and marshmallow roasting.
Bonding with a host brother!

 Our stagiaires have some crazy little siblings here in France!

A new tradition, sneaking the "American Tradition" hardhat onto unsuspecting diners.  (It's hard to explain; needless to say, our stagiaires are inventive people!)

The next day we started classes a little late, because dinner went until midnight!  And again, we keep those stagiaires busy, because Thursday night was our special lesson in Breton dancing.  Brest may be chilly (with a high of 60F most days lately!), but we danced enough to finally feel too warm.  There are several main Breton dances, many of which involve either linking hands or pinkies and then slowly moving in a circle.  Others are partner dances with a fair amount of swinging around.  We had a lot of fun, although it's hard to take pictures that really capture what the dancing looks like!

Learning to spin is probably the hardest part!  And of course, we have so many more girls than boys that almost everyone gets to both lead and follow in the dances.

Friday evening was an optional activity for the stagiaires - a party for tweens and teens at a neighborhood association (it's a little like a chaperoned school dance in the United States).  

Next week we are starting to really prep for our departure - designing a T-shirt, working on our farewell show, thinking about what will go in our magazine - it's a lot of work!  We will also have an excursion to the Pointe des Espagnols and Quimper on Tuesday, as well as a boat ride on Monday afternoon and a bowling party later this week.

All the best from Team Brest!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Two days in Normandy

Last week, we had three days of classes that led up to our two-day Normandy excursion.  The first day we visited Saint-Malo, a fortified city with very scenic ramparts, and Mont-Saint-Michel, the famous and beautiful abbey.  
Mont-Saint-Michel in the distance - in Rodica's culture class, the stagiaires learned about the legend of Mont-Saint-Michel by reading a short story by Guy de Maupassant

For most of our excursions, stagiaires have assigned groups and a meeting place.  We accompany them to the main site and then they are responsible for staying together and meeting on time.  This time, both the profs and the stagiaires met up and discovered that virtually everyone had an ice cream cone in hand.  

We spent the night in a youth hostel right next to the ocean, and were lucky enough to have enough sunshine to play pétanque, begin a seaweed war, and run around the beach.  We had enough warmth to go swimming, according to some of our crazier stagiaires.  Zero out of four profs were crazy enough to go more than ankle deep in the water.

Jumping at the beach!

We woke up bright and early on Friday to head to the WWII memorial museum at Caen, followed by a trip to the American cemetery and Omaha beach.  This was a much more somber day, of course.  It is also a day that can be a test of the language pledge, as stagiaires are suddenly surrounded by other English-speakers.  

Stagiaires in front of the Mémorial de Caen.  The building reads "La douleur m'a brisée, la fraternité m'a relevée, de ma blessure a jailli un fleuve de liberté" - roughly translated, this means "Pain/Grief crushed me, brotherhood lifted me up, from my wound emerged a river of liberty"

I highly recommend checking out the Picasa album this week; I got some great photos, including some individual ones, but had a hard time choosing what to put in the blog!  The link again is:

Next week promises to be extremely busy.  Quite relevant to our excursion, stagiaires will be participating in a Fourth of July ceremony at the American memorial in Brest, during which they will sing the Star-Spangled Banner (our one honor pledge exception) and the Marseillaise, France's national anthem.  They will also be learning regional dance, having a reception with the families, and participating in several optional activities.  

See you next week!  (And can you believe the program is already half over?)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Acting, Singing, and Kouign Amann

This past week, stagiaires began their creative activities in preparation for our farewell show at the end of the stage.  They had a choice between improv theatre, during which they will also write short skits, singing (particularly the Marseillaise and the Star-Spangled Banner for our July 4th event), and scripted theatre during which they each get the opportunity to perform in one or two short comedic pieces.  These activities take place in the afternoon after our last class, and then, usually before 4 pm, they have a little bit of free time with their friends in Brest before heading  home to their host families.

We also started phonetics classes - it's not easy to learn a whole new alphabet, but doing so will help the stagiaires to work on improving their French accent, as well as getting a better understanding about how to pronounce words upon first sight.

This past week, as well as part of the coming week, will also be devoted to lunchtime optional visits to a local crêperie.  If stagiaires so desire, each day a different teacher goes with his or her support group for a small lunch together.  It's a very small, family-owned restaurant so we simply couldn't all go together!

Of course, the big event was our first local excursion to Locronan, the Pointe du Raz, and Concarneau.

Group photo in front of the church in Locronan

While in Locronan, we visited a local bakery to discover how the regional speciality kouign amann is made.  Imagine the gasps as the baker very calmly put half a pound of butter into a cake that serves four to six people.  Of course then, the real question is, did the stagiaires enjoy eating kouign amann?

All signs point to yes!

We had lunch at the Pointe du Raz, and were incredibly lucky to have beautiful weather.  Last year's stagiaires didn't even get to walk out that far because the heavy wind made it too dangerous then.  This year was sunny, with only a light breeze.  Then stagiaires got to have some more independent time in Concarneau in their assigned groups, looking at the walled city, checking out everything that goes along with a cute seaside town - ice cream shops, crêperies, shops selling local goods, etc.  

And finally, on the trip home, we inaugurated the 2012 discobus!

This coming week will be short as far as classes are concerned, because Thursday and Friday are dedicated to our Normandy excursion.  Stagiaires and instructors will spend Thursday night not far from Mont St. Michel, and as well as visiting this beautiful site, we will also see the D-Day beaches, the memorial in Caen, and the walled city of St. Malo.  

All our best,
Team Brest!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Famous in Brest

Just a quick update - we are famous!  Le Telegramme, a local paper, wrote a short article and published a photo of our reception at the mairie.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Our First Week Together

This first week has been incredibly busy!  The stagiaires had their onsite orientation, during which we talked about figuring out where you are in Brest, using public transportation, and much much more.  Students completed a treasure hunt to get acquainted with the city, and they discovered lots of interesting locations.
One of our treasure hunt teams - impossible to get a candid shot of this group; they always knew when the camera was nearby!

We had our first of four birthdays this week - Courtney!  Everyone got a chance to eat some delicious strawberry cake.

We also had an optional activity on Friday during which we visited the Château de Brest.  There aren't many older buildings left in Brest so it was a change of scenery for the stagiaires who decided to go.  The big event was our reception at the Town Hall.  The mayor of Brest gave a lovely speech, as did Mike, our communications instructor, and stagiaires Christian and Carolyn.  We are very proud of everyone; it was a lovely event with Breton snacks and drinks after.

I'm also learning that it's never a bad idea to take a picture overhead when I'm at the front of the line (we go together to lunch and sports).

I'll try to put up several photos each week, with a variety of stagiaires (and at least one group shot), but there  are always more photos on the Picasa website.  There were some difficulties with Picasa last week but I think it should be figured out now, and more pictures are forthcoming.  Some stagiaires are a little more camera shy than others, but I do try to take pictures of everyone!

Next week we have our first local excursion, and it should be absolutely beautiful!  If you are interested in looking up information on where we will be going, our main stops are Locronan, Concarneau, and the Pointe du Raz.

Best wishes,
Team Brest!