Getting immersed in a new culture

Students are traveling to France for over a week during Spring Break

The+Louvre+Museum+in+Paris

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The Louvre Museum in Paris

This year in April, 18 French students, two teachers, and a chaperone will explore another country, speak a foreign language, embrace a different culture, and explore several attractions about 4,000 miles away from their home town.  What they are going to be doing? They will be going to the country they have studied for years.

They will be spending a total of nine days, including two days of travel time, in France, visiting attractions in Paris, as well as in the regions of Normandy and Brittany.  In Paris, they will see the famous Louvre Museum, as well as the Musee d’Orsay, the Notre Dame cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and Sainte-Chapelle (a Gothic-style chapel).  In Normandy, they will see the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery, as well as Mont Saint-Michel, an ancient city on an island.  Students will also tour a cheese factory in Rouen, north of Paris.  In Brittany, they will see Saint Malo, a walled port city.

Ms. Jessica Reigle, French teacher and trip coordinator, said that the main purpose of the trip is “to go experience France live.  She added, “As foreign language teachers, we do our best to bring the culture to the classroom, but it’s 100 times better if the students can go experience it first-hand.”

This trip, she said, will allow people to explore the culture of France and break stereotypes that are made about the French.  The students will have to rely on about four years worth of knowledge about the French language. “Students will obviously be learning by just reading the signs in the area, using the language to order food and get around,” said Ms. Reigle.  She said that she plans for a cultural discussion using the students’ “mini-culture notebooks,” or notebooks in which the students will record interesting details, at the end of each day, in their hotel.

This trip will also get people out of their comfort zone, she says, because “this may be the only time that some of them ever get to leave the country or have this experience.” Having spent 10 months in France during college, Ms. Reigle knows how anxious someone could feel when being outside of their home town; however, she said, “it was the best 10 months of my life.”

“I want people to experience what I experienced,” she said. “I want to get the students out of their ‘Webster bubble’ so that they can see what there is to offer in our large world.”

Ms. Reigle said that she hopes that this trip will encourage students to try  this experience again in the future for college: “I am hoping to inspire some of them to study abroad someday in their future.”

Fundraisers such as one held earlier this year at Chipotle, the nearby Mexican fast-food restaurant, have helped support the French trip.  Ms. Reigle says she is grateful that “many people already have helped by participating” in their fundraisers, and she says there will be more to come.

More important than fundraisers, said Ms. Reigle, is encouragement. “The best way to support us is to encourage students that foreign language is very important in our world and to feed them with a positive attitude about traveling.”

Cultivating positive attitudes toward learning second languages may seem simple, but it is not, Ms. Reigle said.  “Many people have started to become pessimistic about the world that we live in today,” she said. “They think that we shouldn’t [continue to] travel freely, with everything that is going on.”

However, she discourages pessimism, saying she encourages people who are fascinated with language to explore the world around them without worry.  After all, she pointed out, there are only so many chances to travel, and, “you only live once.”