L’Accrobranches 24 June 2015

by Ian Kelly

The day started as most do for us here in Caen—the early sunrise thrusting us out of our beds and the late time rushing us through our doors and onto the streets. As the clock nears 8:45, more and more of our small group from West Roxbury pour into the university building. Earbuds, one by one, gradually fall to our pockets. Smiles break from the morning faces that seem to plaster each of us in the early hours and conversations about various topics begin to bubble from silence.

Class begins and some choose the elevator to "cut down on the time" as others climb those two mountainous flights of stairs. Today, Wednesday, we finished stories about soldiers who we created showcasing both the Roxbury Latin boys’ sense of creativity and our comprehensive grasp of the language. In the afternoon, we learned a long list of French phrases, sayings, mannerisms, most notably touching upon onomatopoeia.

After a hearty lunch, for which a large number of us consisted of Bolognese lasagna, we made our way to our primary meeting area in the front of the University. From here we play games with the frisbee, soccer ball, and hackie sack that travel with us everywhere. Then the bus arrived, allowing the sprawled out throng to line up and rush to make our transportation.

Thirty minutes of busing and walking, and we finally arrived at the high ropes course where our afternoon would be spent. I love this stuff. Making our way through the woods, we could quickly see how truly large this place was. First off, the employees of the park—along with their small bear-sized dogs—greeted us warmly and they instructed us how to properly use the carabiner system. In the beginning, the course continued along for ten to fifteen obstacles slowly increasing in height to around 15-20 feet. Soon enough, however, we were laughing and enjoying the more difficult and higher up courses (reaching 25-35 feet). Leaping, swinging, and zip lining over larger and larger distances, many of the kids were having a blast. Then, we made it to the "black course," supposedly the "expert" track at this park. With the group beside me I remember this being the most challenging part by far. Not only were we now traversing at nearly 60 feet, but those obstacles became distinctively difficult. From a 20-foot set of monkey bars, to a log we crawled under, to multiple rope challenges that pushed my wrists to their limits, by the end of the final phase, I was ready to call it a day. The group who finished the "black course" was rewarded with a spectacular zip line that stretched almost a football field through the woods. Once we returned to the city by bus, I was able to work in a run with a few other kids and top off the evening with a nice smoothie.

The ropes course gave me interesting insight into our travels here in France. What I love about theses courses are not necessarily the slide-like zip lines (although those are amazing), but more the obstacles themselves. Requiring much attention and focus, the courses offer both extreme physical and mental challenges, as one must plan and figure out how to progress through each step. It is tough to do these and succeed, but the difficulty can be enjoyable and the experiences are always rewarding with a slide to return to the ground.

This trip has been similar in many ways. Day by day, we have struggled (and continue to), in terms of being placed into a land surrounded by foreign language, culture, and people. But as we work our way though, and have some fun with our peers traveling the Normandy coast, the rewards are incredibly beneficial. And being a group of sophomores when we left, returning and landing back on the ground, our home, some challenges we face may not seem as daunting after experiencing the immersion in Caen, France.

From the classroom to our daily adventures, Caen has treated us well and I’ll be sad leaving here soon.


Canoeing in Pont d’Ouilly 23 June 2015

by James Hurley

Today, we started off the with classes at the University. We had one class where we worked on our fake personas from a soldier in World War II, and in the second class we worked more on our phonetics. After our classes we went to lunch and then met up to take a bus for our afternoon event. In the afternoon we went canoeing in a river about an hour or so away. We got in boats in pairs of two and I paired up with Hamilton to try and get down the river. At first we were terrible, we were 5 minutes behind everyone else and we couldn’t row in a straight line. We never got particularly better although every once in a while we wouldn’t be crashing into a tree or the river bank. As a group we went down a few rapids and we got to use a slide where we went down in groups of 2 or 4, or more and ride in our canoes into the water. Almost everyone capsized their boat twice. Once we finished using the canoe slide we started to head back to the dock. Hamilton and I were behind again, 3rd to last but we were instructed to stop for a minute so everyone could catch up and we took that as an opportunity to hop in front and we ended up getting back second despite not having much of a handle on the canoe. After we got everything sorted, we waited for the bus by playing a game of frisbee. After a bus ride back to Caen, everyone went home and had dinner with their families.

The Beaches of D-Day and T. J.’s Birthday 20 June 2015

by T. J. Silva

Today was a jam-packed day. We started out by waking up at the normal time and meeting at 9 o’clock to take the bus. Our first stop outside of Caen was at Arromanches. At this place, our history teacher, Pierrette, taught us about how the English built an artificial port used for provisioning the Allies at the time of the invasion. There were remains of the port wall in the sea and we were able to see these at this stop.

We then proceeded to take a bus ride to a place where there were remains of German bunkers from World War II. Here, we were able to enter these bunkers and see what it was like to be behind the guns and cannons. The bunkers were small spaces but efficient enough so that the Germans could see and hit targets coming in from the sea. Some kids even managed to jump onto the roofs of these bunkers, but James decided to try an alternate route through the barbed wire (which did not work).

Next was a trip to a beach where there were remains of what seemed like ships and big metal objects. It was fascinating to see these enormous things washed up and rusty on the beach and to think that one day these things were used as transportation and weapons was very interesting.

Then it was lunch time. We went to a nice little town (Port-en-Bessin) right on the water where we could see lots of fishermen and fishing boats that came in and out of the port. Some kids went into the city to eat, while a group of us found a nice pier to sit and eat our lunch. This was truly a beautiful spot as we could see both the high and ominous cliffs and the beautiful water. There was even a coming sense to this place provided by the constant sound of the waves hitting the cliffs. I know at least for me this was one of the best meals I’ve eaten in France (and the food wasn’t even that good).

After lunch we proceeded to the main part of our trip which was the United States Memorial for those who had lost their lives fighting in the war. This place was really beautiful as even the landscaping was terrific. We started by entering a museum which was actually really interesting. The museum gave us lots of background on the war and especially D-Day. There were a lot of cool things in this museum, but one thing that stood out to me was the amount of preparation that went into D-Day. Every little thing from the tides to the moon cycle had to be factored in as nothing could have been left to chance. Also, there was the fact that if D-Day had not worked for whatever reason, the world would be completely different today, but that is why the men gave their lives.

Then a group of us went down to Omaha Beach. The beach was really pretty. The sand felt really good between your toes, and the water was cold but really nice. But that wasn’t what made this beach special. On this beach, the Allies brought their troops and invaded the German occupied territory on D-Day. The fact that people had certainly died right where we were standing was horrifying. To think of your friends being shot left and right and the Germans firing bullets at you is terrifying and I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to have been there. But that is why these men were so courageous. They knew what they were getting into and they didn’t quit so that we could have what we have today. So, although it was terrible to think about what had happened on that beach, their courage still resonates today.

Finally we got to see the cemetery. This was no ordinary cemetery. There were over 9,000 Americans who were laid to rest there. We got to walk around and really appreciate what these men had done. Each man had a marble tombstone that was either a cross or a Star of David, depending on their religion. It was an unbelievable site, but as I mentioned earlier, it was because of these men that we have what we have today.

Next we got to see the Point du Hoc site. At this site, a group of men climbed up the cliff side to break through the German defenses and gain the allies some territory. But many men died in attempting to climb up or were just shot down once they made it up the cliff. However, thanks again to the leadership and bravery of a few men, they did eventually break through the defenses and lead the Allies to victory.

As we reached the bus to leave this site, Pierrette had us wait outside the bus for a minute. She proceeded to teach us a little Norman folk dance which I had not seen before. Everyone tried it out and it seemed pretty stupid to me until the song was over and everyone started singing "Joyeux Anniversaire" or "Happy Birthday" in English. I was completely caught off guard as I had no idea this was going to happen. It was my birthday and they had all surprised me with a little cake and some goodies to eat. Then Ryan came forward with a gift saying it was from the whole class. At first, it seemed like just a regular shirt, a souvenir from Normandy, but on the back side there was a lot of writing from the class. Although the shirt was really funny (and pretty inappropriate), there were lots of really nice notes on it from all my classmates and teachers who had signed it. This was an extremely kind gesture which my classmates cared enough to do for me and I couldn’t have been more thankful. I will remember that shirt forever.

The day was not over though. Our last stop was to see the German Memorial for their troops who had fallen, and theirs was a lot different than ours. It was very bland as it just had tombstones on the ground with two names on every one.

When we finally returned back to Caen, a group of kids took me out to dinner for my birthday. The meal was pretty good, but the fact that I was with all my friends sharing some laughs made it even more memorable. I had a great birthday, and it will go down as one of the best I’ve ever had.

Wrapping up Week 2 19 June 2015

by Hamilton Coiscou

Wrapping up the second week of visiting Caen, we started off with the usual classes, but with the absence of Mr. Diop, who took his family to Paris where we will meet him again, and the presence of a new teacher, one that everyone seemed to really like. She brought with her an exciting and upbeat tempo to the class by having us speak about french words that we didn’t like and splitting us up into small groups to make skits using words that we put on the board. These skits were definitely the highlight of the day with a lot of comedy and paying homage to the RL legend Jon Luc.

After classes, we went down to the local high school to meet up with the high schoolers again for what we thought would be an intense game of basketball. We had prepared a starting five and had custom made uniforms, ripping the sleeves off of the t-shirts that the university had given us and using the ripped off sleeves as headbands. We were ready to represent the homeland proudly. But once we came out of the locker room, and looked around at the room filled with girls in questionable gym clothes and very few guys, we knew that we were not about to have an intense game of France vs. USA.

We formed into groups of two, consisting of one of the high schoolers and one of us. We were all surprised when we were told that we were going to be doing basically a middle-aged woman’s workout of abs and cardio. There was a wide range of people doing the workout, barely doing it, and people not doing it at all. After the grueling workout, we split off to brutal games of badminton and card games. And then after all the organized activities, we finally got to have a 5-minute basketball game amongst ourselves that was far from the intense game we geared up for.

Before ending our visit, we took a group photo with the high schoolers, showing off our jerseys. We then had free time until dinner with our families where kids went off to do various things and prepare for the next day.

An Afternoon in Rouen 18 June 2015

by Nick Schiciano

In the morning, instead of having our usual class from 8:45 to 10:00, the entire group talked with our teachers about how we were adjusting, cultural differences we see, and situations when we were outside of our comfort zones. The most difficult times seem to be when the French families brought someone to a party or dinner with other French people. During the second session of class we worked on our pronunciation.
In the afternoon, we went to Rouen, the capital of upper Normandy. We all started in a beautiful cathedral in the center of the city. After, we were given a packet of locations and a map to help us see the important sites around the city. Many groups used the packet as a starting point and then got food and/or played hackie sack, soccer or frisbee. One group almost completely followed the packet. While we were playing frisbee, someone threw the frisbee into a small pond in the middle of the park. It was too far from our end of the pond for us to reach it. Then Ian climbed down a small rock face and using a stick brought the frisbee back to us.
After the free time we met up at the place where Jeanne D’Arc was burned, also known as the Old Market. For dinner we ate at a restaurant in that area and had a Caprese salad and a steak. For dessert there was a delicious apple pastry with strawberries around it called "feuilletée aux pommes." Afterwards, we got back to Caen around 10:30.

Musée du Mémorial 17 June 2015

by Aazer Siddiqui

In the morning today, we all finished our skits and performed them for each other. They were all pretty funny, and I’m glad that I got to see them all. In the afternoon, we went to the war memorial. It was a really well designed museum, with a snaking path that led you to each facet of the war, including the pre- and post-war eras. The museum included a lot of artifacts as well, and also a good deal of video footage. It was really surprising to learn that the Chinese lost the most in the war in terms of civilian casualties, around 20 million people. The movie afterwards was not a huge success with its confusing format, but all in all, it was an enlightening experience.

Walking in Another’s Footsteps 16 June 2015

by Andrew Song

Having finally grown accustomed to Caen, we spent another day exploring and enjoying the various attractions of the city. As usual, I woke up around 7 o’clock in the morning (no later than a regular RL day) to find some classic French bread and yaourt (yogurt) waiting for me at breakfast. After finishing such a delicious meal, my mom brought me to the university where the whole class participated in a game of hacky-sack (a game where you use your legs and feet to keep a small, soft "sack" in the air) before our classes started. In the first half of class, Prof. Laurent asked us to create imaginary scenes between our made-up characters who had supposedly fought in WWII. We were to pretend that our characters had had conversations in a camp before "D-Day" when the Americans stormed the beaches of Normandy. Our group’s (Devin, Chris, Nick, and I) character, "Malik Jean-Claude," (6’9" 285 lbs) spoke deeply about his concerns and his fears about the intense, brutal combat that was sure to happen in the coming battle. Once the groups had finished their abstract conversations, we all practiced how we would them act them out. We then decided to present them to each other on the following day and proceeded to the next part of class.

In the second part of class, we moved on to talk about various events and experiences from WWII. We focused on the pain and suffering that the war had caused on everyone, especially on the French and on their children. We discussed the war’s great influence on daily life, showing that clearly no one would have been able to lead an ordinary life during those times. By acquainting ourselves with the severe circumstances of WWII, we continued to deepen our understanding of the importance of "D-Day" as well as to preview our trip this Saturday to the beach where the battle took place.

After eating lunch at the university restaurant, we watched "Saving Private Ryan" in French with French subtitles. Although it was difficult at first to get used to Tom Hanks, Vin Diesel, and Matt Damon speaking in foreign voices, we eventually managed and appreciated the film greatly. Through Spielberg’s adaptation of "D-Day," we were able to obtain a better sense of the atrocities and the sacrifices that occurred on the beach that day. As a class, we understood the movie pretty well, although at some points the characters used expressions that were completely unknown to us.

Once we finished the film, we had a lot of free time before we had to be home for dinner. Part of the group went into the center of town to look through the plethora of little shops and cafés. The other group (Hamilton, Chris, Devin, Ryan, and I) finally found a gym after a long search through the city. Everyone returned home exhausted having spent a long day filled with activities. I think I speak for the whole group when I say that both speaking and understanding the language have become much easier as we spend more time in France. We are all having less trouble speaking to our parents and to strangers, as we do not just simply nod or say "oui" to everything they say. Our goal now is to perfect the voice inflection which the French use so effortlessly. We look forward to spending another few weeks enjoying the exquisite culture in France.