Students at UNIS study French or Spanish from kindergarten, and in 8th grade they get the chance to do a 10 day trip/homestay. I was fortunate enough to join them in Montpelier, France this May. After studying French from 1997-2001, I was so excited to finally get to France and feeling rusty about my French skills.
First, France was an amazing place to visit and a great host. Montpelier was so enjoyable from sunrise to lights out. Beautiful, walkable streets – this huge plaza used to be a traffic roundabout but is now full of life and people.
Every part of every meal was so thoughtful, fresh and delicious. Locals were friendly, easy-going and warm.
As for speaking French, I was thrust right back in the frustration and triumph of being a student. My French did come back a bit thanks to many patient teachers and a growth mindset. Growth mindset has transformed my approach to learning – I just shift my awareness from frustration to small moments of accomplishment, confident that these will add up in the big picture.
Finally, in addition to the many great activities we did (Street Art tour, Roquefort Cheese cave tour, language classes, etc.), the students and teachers went to an adventure park on the last day. This was a fun day for all, and reminded me of all the challenge-by-choice learning I did at Project Adventure. In the U.S., challenges are often heavily facilitated and guided by the instructor, with students waiting most of the time as students go one-by-one. In France, students received a brief, effective lesson on using the safety harness system, and then guide themselves through courses at their own pace and in their own way. Courses were even labeled in difficulty, a la color-coded ski slopes. Whaaaa? This is exactly the type of independence that 8th graders need. They still need to be harnessed into a safety system, but navigate their own problems in their own way.
The entire trip was really a blast, especially working with a leader who was on top of everything (Anne Lhullier) and a great team of chaperones.