CASTINE, Maine — Nous allons vers la France!
If you’re a seventh- or eighth-grade student at the Adams School in Castine, you know that means “We’re going to France!”
And they are.
The students will leave on April 3 for a trip to the Bern region of France as part of an ongoing exchange with their sister school in the village of St. Castin, birthplace of the 17th century French baron who lived and traded in the area that now bears his name.
This is the second trip to St. Castin by students from Castine. One group traveled to France in 2008, and last year American students hosted their French friends in Castine.
“This is the start of a new cycle,” said Principal Todd Nelson. “This has truly become an exchange.”
And it has become not only a student event, but one that has involved the communities in both countries. The formal village reception for the students in St. Castin this year has drawn 130 reservations in the small town.
“This really has captured the imagination of both towns,” Nelson said.
The school visits highlight a renewed interest in the local history of the French in the New World. The connection between the two towns began with communications between the historical societies in the two towns. That correspondence spread to the school where the students have been corresponding to French pen pals for several years now.
“I’m going to see my pen pal,” said eighth-grader Charlotte Gelinas. “I’m looking forward to staying with her.”
In addition to their letters, students have been using Skype technology to speak through computers with their friends across the ocean. The students have studied French for almost three years now and have developed a certain amount of confidence about being able to communicate in French with their friends.
“I’m confident about understanding,” said Madison Koos, an eighth-grader. “But not so confident about the speaking. I’m going to be doing a lot of pointing.”
Eighth-grader Gordon Lemeyer said it has helped being the second group to travel to France and to see how the French students adapted to the language difference when they visited Castine last year.
“They were able to adjust,” he said. “We know what it was like for them.”
The students have a packed agenda for their one-week stay that will include a hike in the Pyrenees, a visit to a cooking school where they expect to make pastries, followed by a visit to a local patisserie, a local cheese maker, a chateaux where Henry IV was born, along with time in l’ecole de St. Castin (the local school) and a day with their host families.
This is not entirely a pleasure trip. Each student is working on a project based on one of the places they are visiting. Charlotte Gelinas noted that her report focuses on the chateaux.
“They kept changing it, so there’s a section from the Renaissance, and from the Middle Ages,” she said. “Seeing all those different rooms is going to be fun.”
France, of course, has a reputation for its cuisine and that has not been lost on the young travelers.
While seventh-grader Sawyer Houghton was interested in the food, he said it was more than that.
“I’ve always heard that in France, they take longer with their meals,” he said. “I’m hoping that we have the chance to sit down to at least one French dinner.”
The students will bring gifts to their French friends including a photo book, created using computer technology, that chronicles the visit of the French students to Castine and a jib sail donated by Maine Maritime Academy. The sail will feature the flags of both countries and signatures from the students. They will finish preparing the gift when they get to France by adding their hand prints along with the prints from their French counterparts.
The student exchange trips highlight the historical links between the two countries, a fact that the students understand.
“Baron Castin was the first adventurer, he went back and forth,” said Sawyer Houghton. “Now we’re the adventurers going back and forth like Castin.”