Global Learning, International Exchanges

Dispatches From France

A group of Northwest School students and faculty members are currently on a two-week trip to Angers, France, as part of our Global Learning Program. They are being hosted by families whose students go to our partner school, Lycée Emmanuel Mounier, and are attending classes. Read our students' stories below.

March 26

Staying with my host family in France has been an experience like no other. I consider it one of the most challenging things I’ve encountered, as it pushes everyone out of their comfort zones. With a new challenge like this, it’s easy to stay quiet or go to your room, but it’s amazing to see the small things that bring people together despite a language barrier. A simple question can strike an ongoing conversation, and interactions such as talking or simply laughing and smiling can go a long way. An awkward silence is unavoidable within the first couple days, but that becomes a chance to take a step back and realize everyone is in the same boat and that feeling uncomfortable is just part of the process. I’ve noticed as the days go by that I have learned more about myself, what challenges me and what makes me, me. Being able to bring those attributes to the table each night has not always been easy, but it has been worth the effort to create a new relationship far from Seattle and memories to look back on. In the last couple of days, I have made a new home, established new friendships, and gained a broader perspective on the beauty of human connection.

-Ava L. '20

March 25

I knew we were going to bike on Friday, but I thought it would be maximum of 4 miles and just on the streets of Angers. I did not realize that we would be biking over the water and into the forest on what turned into the longest and most beautiful bike ride I have ever done. We started in the center of the city where we rented the bikes. We were already a conspicuous group, but now we had bikes to elevate the chaos. At the start, we were a giant swarm of awkward teenagers who clogged the roads and sidewalks. Our first stop was a delicious boulangerie where we fueled up with pastries before hitting the trail.

We started along the Maine river and were soon riding on a lovely trail - a strip of land in the middle of the river with water on both sides of us. In Angers, the climate is a little warmer than Seattle, and it is already peak spring. All of the flowers are in bloom, and the birds were chirping. People were sitting in the daisy covered grass, bird watching, and taking morning strolls. We biked under bridges, next to trains, in fields, up a very steep hill, over cobblestone streets, and through the hot sun. After a total 11 miles, we ended up in a beautiful little town on an island in the Loire river called Béhuard. As soon as we got into town, a puppy wandered up to us; her name was Maya. It was explicitly stated that one of the rules for the trip was not to touch any random animals that we encountered on the street, but Maya was too cute and nobody could resist. Maya guided us to a spot by the river where we ate our lunch while she played in the water. We hungrily unpacked our picnics, curious about what unfamiliar French snacks our host families had supplied us with.

After lunch, there was some time to explore the little town. We played some frisbee, wandered the winding streets and admired the beautiful houses. When it was time to head back, everyone was reluctant to leave the adorable little town. When we finally arrived at the end of the trail after over 22 miles total of biking, everyone collapsed on the grass. I still have the souvenirs of a sore butt, a sunburn and sweet memories with new friends.

- Eve S. '20

March 23

I never thought of myself as the kind of person that really liked castles. Like many boys, for a brief time around 2nd grade I thought the idea of castles (and destroying them) was a pretty cool concept. However, in the United States, medieval buildings are not exactly relevant. When I found out that I was going on the France Trip, the thought that I might see some old buildings crossed my mind, but I could never have anticipated what awaited me.

From my first day in Angers, les châteaux have been some of the highlights of my visit. Some, like the one I saw on the first day with my host family, are straight from a children’s book. A picture-perfect representation of mediaeval life that looks incomplete without a dragon or two. Others, like Le Château de Brézé, are more complex. The castle itself, like most others like it, is impressively placed on a hill overlooking a river with picturesque vineyards sprawling to either side of it. It is an enormous stone complex inscribed with gothic style decorations, which our guide pointed out were actually added in the 18th century, amid a neo-gothic craze. The dry moat that surrounds the castle is so deep that looking to the bottom is a dizzying endeavor and wide enough to easily fit three SUV’s placed end to end. The buildings that make up Le Château de Brézé are filled with overly-ornate rooms meant to impress the dukes and duchesses of the surrounding countryside. The castle itself was built to be lived in, not defended, and it shows.

However, this castle has a little secret. Underneath the foundations lies a maze of tunnels—a subterranean fortress carved into the limestone. The tunnels are immense, impressive, and terrifying. Once defended with booby traps, relatively recent additions include the creation of an intricate system of underground bunkers intended for early firearms. The tunnels empty into the bottom of the dry moat, which acts a sort of eerie walkway, with hidden passages and deserted defenses all focused on the strip of dirt and grass that encircles the castle. On the other side of the moat lies the production facilities to feed an army, all underground of course. There is a bakery, a wine press, and enough barrels to supply world-renowned wine to an entire army. Seeing amazing castles like Le Château de Brézé made me appreciate the rich history of France, but at the same time, I thought about the kind of things that we have in my home that they don’t get to appreciate here. The differences are what make each place great, and we should appreciate them.

P.S. for those of you in Seattle, tell Mt. Rainier I said hi.

- Atticus M. '20

March 22

Yesterday, we visited the incredible Chateau d’Angers, a castle that dates as early as 970 BCE, and that rests on the river in Angers. The castle was lush with the greenery of spring, the ground covered in grass, flowers, and bright moss climbing up the tall towers. Once crossing the drawbridge, you are met with an incredible garden with shrubs overwhelmingly shaped, knobby trees, and even rows of wine grapes. As if the castle itself wasn't amazing enough, at the end of the tour we got to the Apocalypse tapestry, one of the most famous tapestries in the world, and one that many people travel to Angers to see. The tapestry is so big, that it takes up a room that feels like the size of the Boeing factory. It has six parts, but has over eighty scenes, each scene being the size of a large rug. The tapestry reads like a comic book, and recounts the biblical story of the apocalypse. What is really interesting, though, is that there are hidden political messages made by the artist, Jean Bondol, that suggest the power of France and the French crown, and how they will always prevail against their enemy at the time, Britain. So, basically, it's the worlds first political comic.

- Mia H. '19

March 21

One of the good things about Angers is that it is surrounded with many small cities and towns. On our 4th day of adventure of Angers, March 21st, we took around a 45 minute drive by bus and arrived in a small city called Saumur. Saumur is another one of many towns in France where a beautiful château still remains today. Compared to Angers, the town itself was very small. However, within the small town, there were small boulangeries (bakeries) and chocolateries (chocolate shops) which bring happy vibes:). Since it was a little early, there weren’t a lot of people outside and boutiques weren’t open yet. We walked for about 15 minutes and arrived at a little path which led to the castle.

After a rather demanding hike up a steep path, we found ourselves at a château with a spectacular overlook. With its gold-rimmed spires and stone-laden facade, the 10th century “Château de Saumur” practically transported us to the mystical fairytales of our childhood. Juxtaposed to the castle’s medieval architecture was the town’s modern developments that we saw from the hilltop view. After taking in the breathtaking scenery, our group began to explore the castle’s grounds. While the castle itself was closed from touring, we more than happily ventured through the grounds’ fortifications and gardens. Once our devices were considerably more filled with new photos, our group headed back to the “centre-ville” for lunch. The teachers split us up into groups, and we began our search for the perfect meal! From sucre-beurre (sugar-butter) crêpes to freshly prepared “sandwich jambon,” all of us returned to the group feeling refreshed and eager for our next activity!

- Seeah L. '20 and Scout S. '20

March 20

Wednesday in Angers brought a day full of exploring, walking, and lots and lots of art. After a morning visit to the David d’Angers sculpture gallery, we ventured off in smaller groups to find a small cafe or grab a baguette at a ‘boulangerie’ (bakery). Afterwards, it was time for our next adventure: Le Musée des Beaux-Arts. Located in the heart of Angers, this museum contains art from many different periods, from the medieval time all the way up until today. One of the first rooms in the museum showcased a large collection of paintings, artifacts, and images of Angers, depicting the history of the city and its pasts appearances. After this, we saw several rooms full of Baroque and Renaissance style paintings. Near the end of the exhibit was a collection of more abstract modern art, which was an interesting contrast to the rest of the museum. Some wrote down their observations or sketched their favorite piece, while others quietly studied the art, but everyone seemed to get something out of our aesthetic afternoon. At the museum we discovered more beauty, something I have found to be very common in Angers and France. From the detailed architecture and thin winding roads to the rivers and lush farmlands, the beauty of this place has made our visit feel even more special, and adds a very whimsical touch to an already wonderful trip.

- Greta H. '20