Paris in the summertime.

Hello friends and family!

We are now in the middle of our Paris excursion, and we’re really busy but having lots of fun. Unfortunately, the hostel turns off the Wi-Fi at night (when we’re here), so posting to the blog easier said than done. I’m going to try to upload just a couple of pictures with this update.

We left Saumur Sunday morning bright and early. There were tears, but it is really bittersweet. Their time in France may be coming to an end, but that also means we’re coming home! On Sunday we stopped by Chartres to see the cathedral and then spent most of the afternoon at Versailles.  The students were pretty blown away! We got to our hostel in time to get settled in before dinner, and then we headed out for a boat ride on the Seine. We got really lucky and passed by the Eiffel tower right when it started sparkling! 

On Monday morning we went to the Louvre all together in the morning, and then split into our Paris groups.  Each teacher has a group of 5-6 students, and they planned out their visits in advance. My group, for example, went to the Orangerie and Montmartre. That evening we all met back up at the Tour Montparnass. The view from the top is quite spectacular.

Today we all went to the Musée d’Orsay together (my personal favorite), and then my group visited the Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and the Luxemburg gardens before heading back to the hostel to rest.  

Tonight we had a little surprise planned for them.  We had dinner and sang karaoke at the Café Rive Droite! It’s one of my favorite nights of our whole stay. 

Tomorrow the groups are free during the day, and then we’ll be busy getting bags together in the evening!

Paris can be pretty tiring, and it was really hot today, but the students are being real troopers. I think they’re just grateful to be in Paris. 

Thanks for reading!


Making the most of it.

Hello friends and family!  With this post I am officially caught up.  This covers last  week, which was our last regular week before the Farewell Show, Bastille day, and heading off to Paris!  Today was our last day of classes, and we are now preparing for the Farewell Show on Thursday and making plans for Paris.  We’re leaving on Sunday already!  I know I say it all the time, but it is just incredible how quickly the time flies by while we’re here.

Last week was pretty calm.  I have some fun pictures from sports on Wednesday, and after school that day we had an optional bowling excursion.  On Friday we had our last excursion before Paris and spent the day at the beach!

During sports this week we again had multiple options for the students.  Some played volleyball or badminton again, but we also had a group doing yoga and Neil led a group workout.  We’re lucky to have the school gym at our disposal!


Then, right after having sports, we trekked across the river to the bowling alley, where the students played two to three rounds.  This group gets along so well, and they have so much fun when they get to hang out all together outside of school.  They work really hard and deserve to relax and just enjoy themselves.


Helen is quite the bowler!  She helped show her team the ropes.


Finding air-conditioning on a hot day in France is glorious.
Some had more luck than others, but they all bowled better than I would!


Emma also showed off her skills.  She won both rounds!


The students got lots of yummy treats from the vending machine.


A few host siblings showed up and joined in the fun.


Waiting on the host families to pick them up.

I included this random picture from my class because I am so proud of our students.  We spent a fair amount of time on phonetics (learning the International Phonetic Alphabet, studying how different sounds are articulated, and highlighting differences between French and English that are difficult for learners) but last week we moved on to morphology.  The students did really well breaking words into morphemes and drawing trees!  Linguistics may seem foreign and strange to some, but this group has had a great attitude from the get go and is very open to new things.  I was quite impressed with them.


Lastly, we had our beach excursion on Friday at Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.  I am particularly fond of our castle excursion because it is so typical of this region, but the beach excursion is the most laid-back.  You just can’t beat a day at the beach.  Like when we went to Normandie, the forecast did not look good leading up to the excursion but we ended up being very lucky and having a warm, sunny day.  We found a nice park to sit and eat lunch and spent a little time exploring the city.  Then we found a spot on the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, sunbathing, and getting treats on the boardwalk.  The water was warm, and there were lots of places to get ice cream!


Seth got these awesome Moana floaties as a funny gift.


Being conscious of sun exposure.



There was a little article about the group on a news site.  It’s in French, but here’s the link if you want to check it out!

That’s all I have for now!  I can’t wait to share photos of the Farewell Show with you all.  We have a lot of songs, dances, and sketches.  It’s definitely going to be a great show.

I hope you enjoyed this update.  Thanks for reading!


Excursion 2: Normandy

Hello friends and family!

It is really hard to believe how fast our time in Saumur is flying by!  The Normandy excursion always feels like a kind of turning point.  It’s when the students are finally feeling really comfortable, both with the culture and the language, but the end starts creeping up on us.  Things get really crazy really fast as we’re preparing the site magazine and the farewell show.  The show is already next Thursday!

This week has been mostly dedicated to preparations, but we also had an optional outing to the bowling alley and our beach excursion so I’ll have some more pictures for of that for you soon.  For now, let me catch you all up on our time in Normandy.

The excursion is two days, and it works out so that we have one really fun day and one more serious day when we visit all of the WWII sites.

Day 1 : Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel, overnight in Lion-Sur-Mer.

We had quite a bit of ground to cover, so we hit the road bright and early.  We stopped for lunch in Saint-Malo, a picturesque little medieval walled city on the coast. It’s actually one of my favorite cities in France, so I was happy to stop by, even if it was only for an hour and a half to eat and walk around a bit.

We picked a nice grassy spot outside the city wall to eat our sack lunches before exploring a little bit.  The families always send so much food!  Our students are certainly not going hungry.

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The town is very quaint inside the walls.  The students all went directly up on the wall to soak in the view.  After that I went to a bakery near the entrance where we told the students they could go to get Kouign-Amann, a buttery specialty of the region, and I set up camp there expecting the groups to show up, but they all apparently found different bakeries!

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The view from the top of the wall.

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My favorite place to get Kouign-Amann.

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After our lovely lunch break we hopped back on the bus and headed for Mont-Saint-Michel.  The Abbey is perched on a hill that is an island at high tide but not at low tide, so you have to park further away and take a shuttle to get there.  There is one narrow road that spirals up the hill which is lined with shops and cafés. We made our way up to the Abbey together, and then they split into groups of three to visit the Abbey and make their way back down to the entrance at their own leisure.  The students got treats at the many cafés and souvenirs and gifts in the many shops.  Once everyone was reunited at the entrance, I took a quick group photo before we got back on the shuttle, and as soon as I took the picture it started raining!  We originally were expecting near constant rain for both days of this excursion, but the weather ended up being lovely for the most part, and when it did rain we kept getting lucky and missing it.

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A very packed shuttle!
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We arrived at low tide.

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The path up to the Abbey really is narrow!
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There are lots of stairs.  It’s a bit of a workout.

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You have to stop in the gift shop!

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And a sheep pencil?

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At least it didn’t rain earlier!
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Emma hiding from the rain.

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We stayed the night in a hostel in Lion-Sur-Mer.  We were particularly lucky this year and got the manor all to ourselves because there was a group of British students staying in the other buildings.  We arrived with enough time for everyone to get settled in and then had dinner there (chicken in a mushroom cream sauce served with pasta).  There is a beach only a block away, but we didn’t think we were going to be able to go because it rained pretty hard all through dinner, but it started to let up and we decided we didn’t want to miss the beach over a little rain.  It ended up stopping by the time we got there, and the students had a great time!  The water was pretty chilly, but that didn’t stop a lot of the students (or me!) from swimming.

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Just arrived!

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Those little dots are the students.  It was low tide so we had lots of beach to explore.

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A lot of the students enjoyed looking for shells and things.
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Like tiny crabs!

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We enjoy the beach too!

After getting back from the beach the students still had a couple hours before lights out.  They love staying in the hostel and getting to spend some quality time together outside of school.  We had a group playing cards downstairs, and a girls’ night going on upstairs, complete with snacks and facials.

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The hostel called this ‘the castle.’ I’d say it’s a manor, but whatever you call it we were pretty lucky to have it all to ourselves.

Day 2 : The American Cemetery and Omaha Beach, the Pointe du Hoc, and the Memorial in Caen.

The second day of the Normandy excursion is much more solemn, but it is really the entire reason for the excursion.  They had just gone over WWII in their culture class with Laura, so it was all fresh in their minds, and coming face to face with the reality of it all can be a very emotional experience.  The instructors were all very impressed with the level of maturity the group showed.  All of the students were very respectful and understood the importance of these sites, and some were visibly very moved by the experience.

It was a very busy day, so we got out early and went to the American Cemetery.  It is a very somber experience, and the moment when the reality of the war really hits you.  The trek down to Omaha Beach from the cemetery takes a bit longer than usual when the direct path is closed, but Kelly led those who wanted to go down another path to the beach for a few minutes.

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The view of the beach from the cemetery.

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Kelly leading the group down to Omaha Beach.

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Our next stop was the Pointe du Hoc, a cliff top location in between Omaha beach and Utah beach was heavily fortified by the Germans with bunkers and turrets, and taking it out on D-Day was absolutely imperative.  Here the students could explore the bunkers and stand inside of craters that are still terrifyingly impressive after so many years.

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There are sheep so that the grass doesn’t have to be mowed!
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A turret once stood here.

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I snuck up on some of the students in one of the main bunkers.

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Our last visit for this excursion was the Memorial in Caen, a city that was basically destroyed during the Battle of Normandy and is now home to this incredible memorial and museum.  We got sack lunches before going in, and then we started with a movie.  The movie is made of real footage from WWII and it goes through the Invasion of Normandy chronologically.  The students then visited the museum in their small groups.  We planned for plenty of time here so that the students could take their time with the visit and also have plenty of time to check out the gift shop and get snack and drinks at the café.  The group from Saint-Brieuc was actually at the Memorial at the same time, so lots of the students ran into friends!

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It is a long two days… we had some tired stagiaires on our hands!
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Running into the group from Saint-Brieuc.

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Once we were in the museum I saw lots of serious faces.

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A piece of the Berlin wall from one of the post-WWII exhibits.
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The gift shop.
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The café.

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In front of the memorial.
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We brought snacks for everyone for the long ride back to Saumur.

It was a long couple of days but a wonderful excursion.  I still remember the first time I visited Normandy at their age and how moving of an experience it was for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity share this experience with my students.

This week was much calmer, but it’s the calm before the storm!  Next week is the end of classes, the farewell show, and then we’re off to Paris, but in the meantime I have some pictures from the beach and from bowling this week that I’ll get up shortly.

Until then, thanks for reading!


Getting busy!

Hello friends and family!

I’d like to start by apologizing for this post being late.  I intended to put up a post before we went to Normandie on Thursday, but it turned out to be a crazy day and things just got away from me.  This post is going to cover Monday through Wednesday of last week, and then I will put up a Normandie post a.s.a.p.!

We had our Soirée Discothèque on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we had sports and a surprise ceremony promoting them to the status of squires.

First, I have quite a few pictures of our Soirée Discothèque.  This optional activity is always a lot of fun, and most of the students come and stay for the duration of the event.  The students bring snacks and drinks and we put together a playlist of French music.  It was a bit warm in the amphitheater, but that didn’t stop the students from having a great time dancing and hanging out outside of school hours.  Madison’s Mom is a dance instructor, and towards the end she showed up and taught the group the Bachata.  Within 15 minutes she had them doing spins!

Getting a little fresh air outside.


The students were very excited about finding this snail.


Laura being the DJ.


Some host siblings also joined in the festivities!

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Thanks Agnès for the dance lessons!


Here I just thought I’d throw in some pictures of them at lunch.  This day they had kebabs and every single person (instructors included) had one.  We are certainly well fed at the HJS!


When we got back from lunch we had a little surprise ceremony planned to promote them to squires.  We had a lot of fun with it, and I think it went really well and the students enjoyed it.  We went through their quests and picked one ‘reason’ for each student to move on to being a squire.  Some of them were really funny, like asking a waiter if a drink was non alcoholic.  We wrote out a little speech in old-timey, flowery language, printed it up in a very fancy font and rolled it up like a scroll.  Each student came down when their name was called, was dubbed a squire with my fan and got a goblet of sparkling juice for a toast.  Everyone was laughing and having fun, and it was a memorable moment on their path to knighthood!


Trying not to laugh…


We had quite a selection of juices for them to choose from.


Emma took advantage of this time to take pictures of the stagiaires for her magazine entry. 


Later in the day we had sports, and we decided to take full advantage of the gym.  We had volleyball, badminton, indoor soccer, basketball, and tumbling.  They always enjoy having sports because they really get to just have fun and spend some time together.


Volleyball moves very fast so I don’t have as many good pictures of this group, but I can assure you that they really got into it!


Abigail led some informal lessons on tumbling and cartwheels.
Kaitlyn maintained this face throughout an entire cartwheel without breaking eye contact. It made me laugh later when I went through my pictures!
Maddie celebrating Seth’s cartwheel progress with her usual enthusiasm.

IMG_1293IMG_1324IMG_1414IMG_1433IMG_1495IMG_1528IMG_1608IMG_1652That is all I have for the first part of this past week!  I have a lot of pictures from our Normandy trip that I will share with you soon.  It went very smoothly and the students seemed to really appreciate the excursion.

This week we have an optional outing to the bowling alley on Wednesday, a trip to the beach on Friday, and our 4th of July picnic on Sunday.  The time is just flying by so fast!

I hope you all enjoyed this belated post, and I’ll be back soon.


Community engagement and more.

Bonjour friends and family!

I am happy to report that the heat has finally broken.  The last few days have been warm and sunny, but nowhere near what we had in the beginning of the week.  Now we’re just hoping that this lovely weather will continue.  It looks like we might have some rain for our Normandy excursion, but it wouldn’t really be Normandy without a little rain!

Since the last post, the main event was our Community Engagement excursion to the Retirement Home in Fontevraud, but first I have a few miscellaneous photos to share with you.

Maddie had a very special moment with a butterfly during lunch on Thursday.  It flew in the window and she managed to gently catch it.  It then proceeded to eat fruit out of her hand, and it didn’t leave until we had to go back to school!  She named it Nom Nom.



It really enjoyed the watermelon!
A picture I took during an evening walk.  Saumur really is a beautiful city.


Before we left for Fontevraud on Friday, someone took to drawing the stagiaires on the board.  Everyone got their own little stick figure, and I just thought it was so darn cute that I had to share it with you.



Seth’s name in French sounds like the number 7.  It’s the base of quite a few puns.



In the afternoon, we were off to Fontevraud to spend some time with the residents of the Retirement Home there.  It is a lovely little town, recognized as a ‘village fleuri’ or ‘village in bloom.’  You can smell the flowers before you even get into the town!




The Retirement Home graciously offered to provide lunch for us, and they had a lovely set up outside.  It was really quite a treat!  They had several different starters, and then for the main course we had mussels and fries.  Several of the students were apprehensive at first, but in the end they were a real hit.



The starters.


Figuring out how to eat mussels.


For dessert: cherries, apricots, and fruit compote topped with whipped cream.


A lovely photo op in the garden.
One of the residents had never seen a dollar before.


After lunch, I said a quick word of thanks to the Retirement Home for having us, and Laura led the group in singing the national anthems of the USA and France (complete with harmonies!).  Several of the residents then shared a few songs with us as well.




After all the singing, the students got to mingle with the residents and hear about their lives.  They spent two and a half hours talking to them, and really brightened their days.  My team and I were quite impressed with their behavior and how well they represented their country.



This gentleman called Ben over right away because he liked his hat.


Our musician friends were quite fond of Camdyn and taught him songs.


Communication can be tricky at times, but they didn’t let themselves get frustrated!



After having done so incredibly well at the Retirement Home, we had some time left over before the bus came and the stagiaires were able to get some well-deserved patisseries and ice-cream.



Also a quick game of ninja.


That’s it for last week!  This weekend was the vintage bike festival, so I expect lots of the students will have gone out with their families, either just to see the little fair with food stands, antiques, etc., or to go bike riding!  I strolled through the stands a bit this afternoon.


Lots and lots of bikes.


This week we have our soirée discothèque, which is a fun, optional evening where the students can dance and just have a good time.  Then, on Thursday and Friday, we’re going to Normandie!  I’ll be back before then, but for now thanks for reading!


Feeling the heat!

Bonjour friends and families!

So far this week we’ve just had regular school days, but the heat wave affecting France right now is anything but ordinary.  It’s been a bit of an adventure, especially given how rare air conditioning is here, but we’re doing what we can to make it easier on the stagiaires and they’re handling it pretty well.  The school agreed to let us use two rooms with air conditioning, so we take turns using them throughout the day.  The stagiaires have been playing a little less frisbee, but they have no trouble entertaining themselves inside!

Working on homework in between classes.
Playing milles bornes.
A quick rest!


On Monday theater and choir both met in the new rooms.  In theater the students played a whose line is it anyway game where they had to come up with scenarios and act them out for the others to guess.  They are really coming out of their shells, and there were some pretty fun ones.  In choir the group voted on their final song list, ran through the national anthems again, and started practicing the words of the new songs.



Here we have a father, a baby in a stroller, a dog, and a child.  It was pretty fantastic.


Parent and child at the beach.
And now she’s riding a dolphin.  Everyone had a good laugh!


Learning the words to la Vie en Rose.


On Tuesday we had small groups, and I am honestly quite impressed with the students’ level of enthusiasm and the progress they have made already in preparation for the site magazine and the farewell show.  We have songs, sketches, dancing, and more!

Working on a drawing for the magazine.
Writing a sketch for the farewell show.


This group is writing their own song!


On Wednesday we had sports in the afternoon, but it was 100 degrees so there was no way we were going to force everyone to be outside.  We gave them lots of options both indoors and outdoors, and everyone seemed pretty pleased.  A brave few played frisbee and soccer outside, while the rest of the group played cards and pictionary in the comfort of our air conditioned rooms.


It’s tiring to play outside in the heat!
Kelly made sure to bring them lots of water!


It was a pretty heated game of pictionary.


The teachers joined in as well!


That’s all for today!  On Friday we’re going to the nursing home in Fontevraud to do some volunteering, but besides that this is a particularly calm week for us.  We’re just enjoying Saumur, making progress in our classes, and surviving the heat wave together.

Thanks for reading!


Bonjour friends and family!

Our first week was very full, but the stagiaires were enthusiastic and easy-going as usual.  After having a few regular days on Monday and Tuesday,  we had our visit to the city hall on Wednesday.  There is always a nice group from the Mayor’s office there to great us, including the Deputy Mayor, and it is a lovely reception.  We had three brave  stagiaires volunteer to say a few words about their experiences so far (Helen, Elizabeth, and Sarah), and the Deputy Mayor had them do a little mock debate to give them a taste of the democratic process in Saumur.  It was a bit of a surprise, but they were troopers!

Silly group photo in from of the city hall.
Kiah and I were twins!
Camdyn happened to sit in the Mayor’s seat, so he had to be the Mayor in the debate!
Ben was selected to be the opposition.
My three brave volunteers.

After all of the excitement, we ended the visit with a little apéritif, including fruit juice and cookies.  I took this opportunity to get lots of pictures of the students all dressed up!


Some pictures are goofier than others.

I also snapped some photos of what the students do during break.  Some stay inside and play cards, some brave the heat and play frisbee or soccer.


The main event this week was our first excursion!  On Friday we visited three well-known castles in the region: the Clos Lucé, Chenonceau, and Chambord. The Clos Lucé is the manor where Leonardo da Vinci lived before his death. We accompanied the students through the house and then sent them out into the grounds in groups where they could see and play with many of his inventions.

Navigating the windy, narrow streets of Amboise on our way to the Clos Lucé.


Taking lots of pictures on the grounds.


Especially Maddie.


They had a lot of fun with this swing thing.


And playground equipment meant for much smaller humans.


We had lunch before going into our next castle, Chenonceau.  Their host families always send a ton of food for them, so they don’t go hungry!  All of the picnic tables were taken, but the stagiaires happily ate on the grass.


Tiny pineapple!


Taking lots and lots of pictures.


Abigail was the first of her group to make it to the middle of the maze!


Our last stop for the day was Chambord, a particularly impressive castle built by François 1er just to go hunting!


The view from the bottom of the double helix staircase.
Kaitlyn peering down.
Sarah from across the staircase.


The roof is also really cool.


It was a very long day, from 8am to 8pm, but the students didn’t seem to be bothered at all.  They were just happy to be there!  It was a really great day, and we were really lucky to have such great weather for our first excursion.  I’m including the links to the websites for the castles in case you want to take a look.

That brings this weeks update post to an end.  It is an absolute pleasure for me to get to share these photos and experiences with you all, and I hope you have enjoyed this peek into the program.  Thanks for reading!

Until next time,


Settling in.

Hello friends and families!

We are now two days into our first regular week, and it’s pretty amazing how quickly everyone settles into their new routines.  We are already having our visit to the city hall tomorrow and our first excursion to see a few of the region’s wonderful castles.  First, I thought I’d share with you a lovely photo of the church we pass by every day on our way to and from lunch.


We’re in the middle of a heat wave so it has been rather hot and humid so far, but the stagiaires have been troopers and we are rewarded with lovely sunsets and great photo ops!

The first two days of class went wonderfully.  This group is very easy-going and willing to participate, even in linguistics!  They are in three classes, so with this size of a group the classes are quite small and they get lots of attention and opportunities to speak and practice their French. We gave the classes mascots that go with our site vision of the knights.  We chose animals that are commonly associated with the Loire valley castles.


The Salamanders
The Boars
The Hedgehogs

We continue to feed them very well!  They always have several choices for main dishes, starters, and desserts, and they seem pretty pleased so far.


We also had our first afternoon activities.  Laura is leading the choir and Michael is leading theater.  Laura is an awesome choir director, and already has them doing harmonies! For the first day Michael had them work on improvisation and confidence by making up stories together.


Today we had little groups, but I was running around having so much fun listening to their ideas that I forgot to take pictures! They spent the afternoon brainstorming ideas for what they want to do for the site magazine and for the farewell show.  They were really getting excited and coming up with fantastic ideas, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they put together!

I hope you have enjoyed this peek into our new routine, and I’ll be back soon with pictures of our visit to the city hall and the castles!

Merci beaucoup!


First three days, with pictures!

Hello friends and families!

Here are some pictures of our first three days, as promised.  I have quite a few of the group at the airport.  Right from the beginning they were getting along splendidly, and they were all so excited!


Laura and I were super excited too!

We stopped on the road for coffee, tea, and pastries.  They seemed pretty impressed by the selection, and filled up on croissants and pains au chocolat.

IMG_8489IMG_8491IMG_8493IMG_8495IMG_8499When we got in we had lunch at Crescendo.  They had the choice of chicken or a hamburger, and there was chocolate cake to celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday! IMG_8506IMG_8509IMG_8517IMG_8521IMG_8522

In the afternoon we took it easy and had the students work on their personal crests and hang them up next to our slogan, the French translation for ‘all for one, and one for all.’


Then we waited for the host families to arrive!


We got to enjoy a little music while we waited.


The next day the students completed their exams in the morning, and in the afternoon they were rewarded with a tour of the city center.


First view of the castle.


La Place Saint Pierre.
It was a long trek up to the castle!


The first three days were great, and I’m sure that the students are enjoying the weekend, getting to know their families, and catching up on sleep! Next week we start regular classes, and we are having our visit to the town hall on Wednesday and the castle excursion on Friday, so I’ll be back soon with lots of pictures!



First days in France!

Hello friends and family!

First and foremost, I am happy to report that the first two days have gone splendidly.  It was a long trip, of course, but we are all safe, sound, and settled in, and the students seem surprisingly peppy after getting some sleep!  Second, I apologize for not getting a post up last night! I know you were all eagerly checking in.  When I finally had time after the whirlwind of traveling and getting everyone settled I ran into some unexpected technical difficulties.  Unfortunately, I also won’t be able to upload any pictures to this post, but I will get it all worked out this evening and there shouldn’t be any issues after that.

The flights both went smoothly, no lost luggage or anything like that, and the students were an absolute pleasure to travel with.  I can already tell that this is a great group, and I am very much looking forward to the next six weeks with them.

We got in earlier than expected, but our beloved bus driver Thierry was already there and waiting for us, along with Michael and Kelly.  We made sure to plan an easy first day for them, so as to not wear them out too much.  Many of the students slept in the bus, but they all perked up when we were close to Saumur.  We had a lovely lunch (complete with cake to celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday!), and some easy activities in the afternoon, and then they finally got to meet their host families.  These students are real troopers, but they were definitely ready to go home and get some rest.  This morning they were all here on time, ready to go, with big smiles on their faces, even though they’re taking an exam right now!

After the exams this morning we will have our first lunch together, and then we’ll take a little tour of Saumur.  They will get to see the river, the castle, and start learning their way around.  I know I love Saumur, and I know that they will too.  I can’t wait to share this wonderful city with them, and I’ll be sure to point out some of my favorite cafés!

I hope you enjoyed this first little update, and I promise that there will be pictures shortly!