Presentation Secondary school, Castleisland, recently joined up with the Sainte Famille High School in Amiens in the North of France for a language and cultural exchange programme. After many months of preparation by the teachers, parents and students on both sides, the programme kicked off on the 5th February when the Irish contingent left the school grounds at 7am on Sunday morning to catch the Cork Paris flight. No sign of tearful farewells to parents, as excitement was the order of the day! Our French counterparts met us with a welcome banner in Charles de Gaulle airport and that was only the start of the warm welcome we received throughout our stay. The girls spent the first evening with their exchange partners getting to know each other and their new environment. We were very proud of their adventurous spirit in tasting the new “cuisine” and making the most of this new experience. Despite the new culinary adventure nobody went hungry during the week! The culture shock began on Monday morning with school starting at 8am and some making the journey by commuter train! The Irish students participated in a variety of classes including Biology, French, English and PE French style which included assessments in step aerobics and Olympic handball. Lunch at the school canteen (a self-service restaurant!) with another 1000 students or so became a much enjoyed social gathering where both nationalities mixed. However, it wasn`t all work as our hosts ensured we experienced plenty of local culture and heritage with guided visits of Amiens, the city of Lille, the battlegrounds & museum of the Battle of the Somme (World War 1) and of course the highlight, Paris. Our local guide “Anthony” lead us expertly through the boulevards, cobblestone streets and metro to feast our eyes on the monuments of this wonderful city: the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral (and it`s resident pigeons!) and the Louvre Museum. A leisurely cruise on the Seine finished off the tour where we braved the cool temperatures to make the most of the view. The McDonalds and bowling party on the final evening was a bitter-sweet affair of last minute camaraderie and fun prior to our departure the following morning.
Our students were a credit to their parents, their school and the whole community as their behaviour throughout the entire trip was commendable. They were polite and charming to everyone and most of all, embraced the experience, realising what a wonderful unique opportunity it was to be immersed in the culture of one of our closest European Neighbours. No doubt a new tradition has been established between the two schools. Vive la France!