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France Language & Leadership 2017

July 6-7, 2017
It’s the first day in France and boy has it been exhausting! We all took different flights to the JFK Airport, and naturally we all showed up at different times, leaving some waiting for hours before the 7pm flight. But that’s OK. As more people showed up, more talk happened, and the hours of waiting evaporated away with shy conversation. Maybe you thought we’d have talked enough by the time we boarded the plane, but that wasn’t the case, or at least for me. many campers tossed and turned in attempts to catch a few winks of sleep, but some of us just couldn’t get comfortable enough. The lack of sleep didn’t dampen the excitement as, that morning, we landed in Paris though. . .until we got caught in a snail paced long line to get a single tiny stamp on our passports, but finally we got through! Luggage in hand, we took a bus to our sleeping quarters at l’Hermitage in Versailles for a few ice breaker games and to lay down the rules. We then took a stroll in the blazing sun to the Palace of Versailles where the true effects of lack of sleep harnessed us in. Half way through the self tours of the gardens, some of us decided to rest our poor feet and give our sleep deprived bodies a much needed nap. To wrap our day up, we joined together in the cooling glow of the evening for a dinner of rice, fish, and a little salad. then everyone parted their ways, hopefully to finish catching up on sleep!
– Terra

July 8, 2017
Today the group and I went to the Chateau de Versailles. In school this year, I wrote a five page paper about King Louis XIV. It was cool when I went to the Chateau. I had heard things I already knew but learned new things about the kings descendants such as his grandson King Louis XVI. The palace was filled with amazing and extremely detailed paintings and sculptures. It is gigantic and filled with gold. The Chateau de Versailles truly fit for un Roi. After the palace we hung out with boy and girl scouts of a nearby town called Elancourt. I made friends with Armand and Elliot. I showed them some American music, they really liked September by Earth, Wind and Fire. The group and our new friends talked, played games and fed the ducks. They taught me some new french words such as chasser and pont. We also learned a bunch of new words through a charades type game that they call “Times Up” which we played in French and English, if the card was in English we described in English and  vice  versa for French. Inside joke with the group, pont does not mean Portugal 🙂
-Chris D.R.

Note from Jake K., trip leader:
After dinner with did a quick reflection to sum up the day by saying up to 3 words. These will  be fun reminder of more inside jokes to the participants for when they get back from the trip.
Où sont les autres? Pas trop chaud. Trop de gens. Almost caught duck. Armand et Elliot. It was fun. Amusant. Magestic. Hall of mirrors. Great Weather. Exciting. Informative. Paintings. Interesting; Fun. Portugal.

July 9, 2017

Today we took a bus from Versailles to Paris to get to the Gare de Lyon to catch our train to Grenoble! We got a nice glimpse of some of the city’s greatest sites, which got us excited for later in our trip! After a fairly long train ride among farms, fields, and little villages, we got to Grenoble to take another bus ride to Mizoën, in the French Alps. We also met Anne and Pascale (and Jalie, the dog), who run the gîte, the lodge where we’re staying here, and ate a delicious dinner of local dishes. Des pâtes dauphinées and a salade with lardon, nuts, followed by a pear pie baked home made by Anne et Pascale.
– Mags/ Eva K.
Inside jokes for later avec chloe, maggie, terrra, mags et julia: aujourdhui = Beaucoup de train, voyage, des vaches, oh la vache, oui. La vache qui rit ?

July 10, 2017

Today, we went whitewater rafting at a place near Venosc and Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans when it was still cold outside, so we were all joking about getting hypothermia. Luckily, it didn’t happen to any of us, and the rafting itself was actually quite fun sans the cold. The wetsuits were a struggle to take off and put on, but once we were settled, we got to enjoy the views of the mountains and trees all around us from our spots on the rafts. We took a small break to float down the river, which would’ve been more enjoyable had the water been warmer, but it was still quite fun. The coldest part of the whole ordeal was the waterfall, where we walked against the force of the water and had to stay put for pictures. The overall experience was quite amusing, however, and the people who worked for Eaux Vives, the company who gave us the gear and guided our rowing, were very nice. After lunch at the gîte, we met Laurent and Fabrice, who led us to Le Freney-d’Oisans. There, we cleared rocks off the mountain paths and sawed a few branches, and afterwards, we got to hike around and view the rivers, mountains, and villages below. For dinner, we had extremely good chicken and gratin dauphinois made by Anne and Pascale. Later, during our reflection meeting, we ended up creating the job of “Secret Emotional Support Mom”, which we’ll start using tomorrow. Hopefully, everyone gets to shower tonight, and we’ll get to see who gets the job tomorrow morning (. or !, the period makes it too sad, but the explanation point makes it too exciting/ childish)
(comic sans!!)

3 word summaries of the day: Jolies montagnes vertes, breathtaking, à couper le souffle, cold, beautiful, nice, worth the hike, supercold/fun, new experiences, rafting, mountain, spikey, cold feet, rafting, trail, beautiful, don’t push me, amusant mais fatiguant, adventurous, fun and beautiful, adventure and scenic, freezing, hardworking, nature, waterfall+hiking=tired, wet, exciting.

July 11, 2017
Today, we continued our work at the service site called Puy le haut. We were rebuilding hiking trails that had started falling apart by widening the trails, making the walls sturdier, and removing brush and trees that were blocking the way. We worked alongside Laurent, Fabrice, Xavier, and Pierre. They are native to the region we are working in (Isere) and know a lot about the native plants and animals. We learned the names of the tools we used such as, a pick ax is “la pioche.” At one point, we got hit by a giant patch of rain and took a break in the house of a nice local named Phillipe. We all tried some saucisson (salami/sausage) and some terrine and baguette. We sent some people back to our gîte to get more layers as it got much colder. While that was happening, we played a game we learned from the scouts we met earlier. We also did a language activity interviewing the locals who accompanied us working on the trail. When we returned to the gîte, we had a delicious dinner made by Anne (owner of the gîte). We enjoyed Crosiflette which was pasta with bacon, onions, and cheese accompanied by salad and bread. For dessert, we had une tarte myrtille (bluberry) which was amazing! Today, was a fun day of service and our last service day until Carcassone!
Announcement from Trip Leader Jake – We will be heading up into the plateau d’emparis, above our normal wifi/cell range and therefore out of communication until Friday evening for a quick pit stop at our hotel, then our to see fireworks and celebrate the 14th of July. Bastille Day.
Then off to Carcassonne!

July 12, 2017
Today we hiked up to the Plateau d’Emparis. After a quick breakfast of toast and blueberry jelly, Fabrice introduced us to our other mountain guide, who was also named Fabrice. We started hiking from the door of the gîte in Mizöen around 9:30 up a small trail that was steep before flattening out. After a few minutes the trail ended in a road that we followed to the village of Aymes. We walked through Aymes and continued up the trail. Fabrice showed us an avalanche detector that warns cars on the road below. It took a few long hours, but we finally arrived at a “refuge” (cabin) halfway to our destination. We took a nice break and had a small snack. The second half of the hike was much steeper, and we eventually split into a few groups who climbed at different paces. During the short breaks, everyone pulled out their cameras to take photos of the breathtaking view: towering mountains, blue sky, and tumbling waterfalls. We stopped 2/3 of the way to the plateau to have lunch above a large waterfall. Some of us in the group refused to sit down because we found a larges spider in the grass nearby. More hiking finally brought us to the end of the steep mountain. After a grueling day we reached the “Refuge des Mouterres” where we will be staying for two nights. Many of us exclaimed in dismay when we realised we could’ve driven, but we decided the unique views along the trail and rewarding feeling afterwards were worth the long hike.

July 13, 2017
I hope that in the future I won’t ever forget this day. Our bonded and strong group woke up wearly in the morning to start on our community service project. We got to sand and polish the very place that hosted our sty at the refuge des mouterres in the plateau d’Emparis. Even though we worked hard to enhance the already beautiful living space, we all still managed to further strengthen our union within the group by playing 20 questions in French and jumping around the rocks. Afterwards, we were given the opportunity to explore even more French culture, whether that opportunity came in the form of collecting wild edible plans to cook our own homemade meal or going out to discover a “squid”J in a glacial lake in the alps. Despite some of us not loving the meal prepared by the group or being exhausted from the mini hike to the lake, we all pulled together once more at the end of the night to look at the stars above us and discuss the origin of the universe. Actually, I know I won’t forget this day.
– Paola
Addition by leader Jake: ( I was so proud of the meal that picking and cooking group was able to produce. Our menu was as follows
– Amuse-bouche: pesto à l’achilles mille feulle sur du pain artisanal made by the manager of the lodge.
– Soupe à l’ail, impratoire, fenouil et carvi.
– Galette friee avec épinards et carvi
– Oreille d’âne- (crêpe and vegetable « lasagna ») with wild spinach picked just meters from our lodge.
– Dessert- galette aux myrtilles home made (fait maison) by the other lodge manager Stéphanie.

July 14, 2017
[Disclaimer: this post is LONG because I, (Jake: group leader) nerd out hard when learning about French culture and want to share as much as I can with you!]

Friday morning the group was able to get up slightly faster than yesterday morning (apparently a 5 hour hike makes you tired, who knew!) The group had their petit déjeuner which consisted once again bread baked locally in Mizoen by the lodge caretake Rafael, local made honey, as well as the typical components of jam, granola, milk, orange juice tea and coffee, (and left over cake from Chloe’s birthday!)

We had one more layer of varnish to apply to the lodge railings and steps, and sometime students cleaned up after the group and recorded descriptions of our service project in French and English (typed up or pictured below.) We said au revoir to Stéphanie and Rafael who gracious thanked us for helping maintain le Refuge des Mouterres, and headed out, but this down a different path. Lead by our ever knowledgeable guide Fabrice, and trailed by our experienced mountain Guide Fabrice (2) we began descending towards Fabrice’s hometown, Besse.  Just like he did on the way up and during the edible plant picking, he would stop from time to time and slowly address the group in his nice, easy French followed by translation by him or group members.  He stood by an odd cart and cable spool and explained how it was used to sling bales of hay down to  Besse to feed livestock during the winter. Further down we could make out these large blotches 100 yards wide spotting the hills. They were where sheep are penned up overnight to graze and sleep. The 3rd thing he pointed out were the terraces in the opposing mountain sides where people cultivated the land up until the 1st and 2nd world wars. Since Besse is where Fabrice (pictured below serving our homemade wild spinach and cream casserole) currently lives with his wife and 2 young children, he could tell us the history of the area as well.  During the 1st and 2nd world war, many men went off to war, with few returning. Consequently, those who remained struggled to keep up the fields without the workforce  or main d’oeuvre and therefore the town population dropped from 1,500 to its current population of 80 full time residents as they sought work in the nearby cities such as Grenoble.

After a few hours of downhill hiking, we stopped to eat packed lunches at a campground by Besse and enjoyed the reaction of our teen participants as they learned for the first time what Turkish toilets were. Fabrice walked us through his hometown village with its mini network of “streets” that not even a small French car could fit through. He explained how the roofs are fairly flat so that snow doesn’t slide down into the “streets” blocking the pedestrian access. He explained that the architecture of this town is protected and that the same flat stones that make up the walls must be used in all repairs and renovations.  We stopped for ice cream and swung by and eco-tourism museum on the life “alpage” “alpine pastures” ( to take a look around and get a souvenir.
Finally, around 5pm we walked up the mini mountain lane leading to our previous lodge, le gite de Mizöen, took that long desired shower, relaxed, had dinner (melon avec jambon cru et mozzarella, Colombo de poisson et du riz, and l’ile flotante.)

We ended our stay in the alps with an evening  visit to a mini “station de ski” called Auris en Oisans.  There the group enjoyed their first ever French Bastille Day fireworks display, met some local teens, danced in a bubble storm and some of us were lucky enough to learn some dane moves from Paola, Chris and Clotilde 🙂

Au revoir les Alpes. Vous allez nous manquer énormément.
– Jake K., GW Leader

July 15, 2017
Our last day in the Alps was bittersweet as we packed our bags and soaked in the our last glimpses of the mountains. We thanked Anne and Pascal (gite owners) and their dog Jalie for their hospitality and headed off on our five hour bus ride to our next adventure – Carcassonne. We stopped on the way to swim beneath a 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct and braved the wind for a picnic lunch. After a long day of travel we finally met our new french families. the group said our goodbyes and headed for our first night in the homestay.

– Victoria

July 16, 2017
Sunday my roommate Maggie and I spent entirely with our host families started off at 10am since our family, the Isernes, had let us sleep in. After a very French breakfast of croissants, Johann, the dad, took Maggie and I into the old part of the town where he showed us the old chateau of Villemoustaussou and the old church across from it. I was also able to buy des timbres (stamps) at a “tabac” in town. When I returned home, I was able to tell the stories behind the many postcards to Thomas, the resident 6 year old, when he taught me worlds like “un calamar” or, squid. I spent the afternoon at a local lake where Maggie and I taught Thomas and his 9 year old brother, Clément, how to play Marco Polo. Our dinner at home was Cassoulet, a specialty of the region made by the mother, Audré; which consisted of of beans, duck and sausage. Finally, we all headed to the nearby chateau where we were able to shop and take in all the views of Carcassonne.
– Jill

July 17, 2017
Our second morning with our homestay family began with chocolate croissants for breakfast. We practiced our language skills while we admire the beautiful French countryside from the terrace! After meeting up with the group we traveled back in time to tour the medieval castle of Carcassonne where we completed a French treasure hunt. We ate our lunch by a river and then met with the mayor of Cabrespine to learn about our service work. We visited a cave “le Gouffre Géant” on the way home and then enjoyed an evening of cooking with our host families.

– Anne

July 18, 2017
At around 8:45am the group gathered in a parking lot ready to go to the service work area,. We took two vans and headed off to Cabrespine, listening to pop and rap music. Once we arrived we immediately started working. Our work consisted of shoveling dirty into buckets, take them down the stairs and dumping them into the raised garden beds, which started out empty. The day before, we draped black paper around the garden sections in order to control the plants growth rates. We took turns in each station. Some of us shoveled dirt into buckets, took the buckets half the distance, and dumping them into the garden boxes. The truck that brought dirt for us would occasionally have to go get more dirt. So we had 15 minute breaks. We spent the breaks doing French speaking activities or just chilling. we headed off for lunch around 12pm. Jake and Clotilde drove us to the river bank where we had lunch yesterday, higher up the hameau de Laval. We had a rather lengthy lunch. Some people chose to skip rocks to pass the time while others talked to Théo, a 16 year local who volunteered at the town hall. Through Théo we managed to learn some new French slang. After lunch, we talked about the game plan for tomorrow’s activities at the summer camp, then we went back to work.
* 1 group that didn’t tour the upper hameau of Laval yesterday got to do so and visit the village’s ancient water irrigation system of “béals” or Canals and metal sliding doors that direct fresh water from the mountain river that run past homes and gardens in the town, several of which are still being used: It took us about 3 hours after lunch to fill all of the garden sections. The mayor of Cabrespine celebrated our hard work by throwing us a mini party/ banquet. We ate donuts and Macaron and drank orange, peach juice. Afterwards, we took a picture with the mayor and his friend’s and employee’s at the town’s historical water pump.
We developed a method of filling the buckets faster, called Jakebucket, 1 person scooped with the bucket while the other pushed dirt into the bucket which only took around 5 seconds per bucket.
– Sherwin

July 19, 2017
The active nature of the past few days continued today as we conquered a high ropes course, the likes of which I’d never seen before. (02 Aventures, Lac de la Cavayere  The course included a series of ziplines (Tyroliennes) over the lake, and other obstacles which as we advanced further, increased both in difficulty and in heights. The course finished with a long zipline past group members who awaited with loaded water guns. It was, admittedly, a relief after the long hours of climbing in the heat. Our exhausted group then made its way over to a picnic area where we admired the view of the lake . After a relaxing break, we recommenced activities, joining the children from the “centre aéré” for some afternoon games. Despite the camp directors having forgotten that we were coming, our time spent with the French kids (age -12) was fun. We exchanged hand games like “patty cake” and “pikachu” and aided in a scavenger hunt. We tried to engage them and make a good impression as this was the first with Americans for many of them. The feedback, in the end, was all positive. We had some down time to explore before leaving at 5pm. The rainy car ride to rejoin the host families was far from the usual, chaotic scenario which features loud music and lots of dancing. The day had drained the group’s energy, and we returned to spend a restful evening with our host families.
– Liz S.

July 20, 2017
Today was our last day of service work which seemed appropriate because the group has been getting tired from their evenings in a new home, pressed to use French to communicate with their home stay families, and packed days of manual labor to restore local historical sites, playing games with little French kids, and a demanding ropes course an zip-line session!

So, we got in our two 8-person vans, and drive East through villages vineyards and hills on the D610 to Bize Minervois where ‘une association” a non profit called Bize Patrimoine  ( meets weekly at a  40,000 year old historical site in their village to restore the “traces” of their “anciens” and “ancêtres.” In July when many of these retirees are on vacation we were still honored with the presence of several of them, including their president, Vincent (green shorts) Claude, Michel, Daniel and 1-2 more. These retiree’s were already 1 hour into their work, restoring a stone wall built over one hundred years ago to allow for tiered farming.  Above these terraces is a medieval tour, the tour de Boussecos. We had quick pep talk on how, no matter if you’re tired, acknowledge that today’s the last service work day, and we joined Vincent for a quick walking tour that explained the sites historical significance: Site of prehistorical man, 40,000 and 4,000 years ago followed by evidence of roman occupation, medieval occupation and more recent agriculturist. Four years ago the site was covered in forest and brush, but now, after interviews in French (and a little English) our GW participants learned about their desire to “remettre en valeur” (a french expression that does NOT translate easily. (glorify/ showcase) their local “patrimoine” cultural history. We broke into 2 groups for the day’s work, 1 group with Clotilde and Vincent deconstructed a wall of earth and ruins of walls from a previous time, in preparation to restore to it’s original form and style.  The other group lead by Jake, Daniel and Claude worked to rebuild a collapsed wall in its original form.  It was slow going as these guys were much more particular about how best to build a long lasting stone wall, but by the afternoon Daniel was carefully explaining to our kids, one at a time in French how to construct, sprinkled with words of his basic English vocabulary.

One local, Claude, walked the group down a path past a “Capitelle” to a lunch spot in the basin of a river surrounded by interesting rock formations and the constant buzz of an almost deafening population of cicadas “cigalles”. Some of us sun bathed, 1-2 napped, climbed rocks, waded through water. We had to remind the local retirees, that no, they may not in fact service rosé to our teenagers, and yes, we DO realize that the rosé they brought in their cooler is indeed part of their culture, history an “patrimoine” but unfortunately not allowed to  be consumed by 17 year old Americans. We drove home, relieved to be done with all physical labor, haha, and eager for tomorrow’s beach day in Collioure.
– Jake K., GW Leader

July 21, 2017

Today we took the vans to Collioure for a beach day! It was so cool to see all the beautiful villages and homes as we drove through the south of France. When we arrived, the town was full of cute little cafés and shops. We had some free time in the beginning so Katie, Jill, Maggie, Chris, Liz, Paola, Sherwin and I had nutella crêpes at one of the cafés; my first crêpe in France and it was delicious! After that we walked through the streets of the town and looked in all the shops. We later had lunch by the beach with the whole group and then migrated onto the crowded pebbly beach. My friends forced me to go swimming and the water was cold at first, but it was really worth it in the end. We all swam onto the dock in the water and I managed to be the only one no one pushed off. After swimming back to shore and changing into my clothes I walked around town with Katie, Jill and Maggie. We got really good gelato and Katie and Maggie bought these really pretty paintings from a street artist. The day ended with Katie and I driving back to our host family and having a calm dinner with them before we got ready for our last day together.
– Sophia V.

July 22, 2017
I woke up at 11am. It was my last day with my host family and I was reflecting on my experiences, both the positives like eating out in the medieval city, and negatives such as boredom as the house.  I was sad that my time in the homestay was coming to an end and was determined to end that day with no regrets.
I dillydallied for a while and started to work on the thank you letter that was supposed to be finished yesterday at the beach. I grabbed my host dad’s laptop and used google translate (since I only have 2 years of French down) and worked on the letter. I asked my host brother Hugo to look at it and then completed some of my summer French work which consisted of asking a French person 5 questions.

I took a break from my work to play a ball game with my host family. The objective of the game was to throw a ball as close to the goal as possible. There was the team of France and the team of the United States. My team (US) ended up losing 2-15. After the game, I finished my work and went on a jog through the countryside with my host family and with the two dogs. The younger dog kept wandering off into the fields and I fell onto the side of the road while on a bike. I took a shower after the jog and then went to the supermarket ( Carrefour ) to buy saucisson for the lake party in the evening. The lake party was pretty chill and I got to meet all the host families again. I took a final picture with my host Dad and went back home. When I got home, I played a dice game about probability and deceit with my family until midnight. At midnight, I read my thank you letter to host daddy. It was a very touching moment and it led to a discussion about the meaning of life. We came to the conclusion that it was about the way of life and doing the things that you love doing and to be accepting of other people. I went to bed proud that I ended the day with no regrets.

– Sherwin H.

July 23, 2017

Disclaimer from leader, Jake: the following post is written to be funny and sarcastic.  Everyone on this trip is definitely having an awesome time!

Today we said goodbye to our host families, it was terrible everyone was crying and boarded a public train for Paris, it was really hot and gross.  The whole time I couldn’t stop thinking about how the french manage to build trains that go 200 mph but forgot the AC. (Insert by Jake; there is AC but it wasn’t working well.) After six hours of travel we all were really sweaty and disgusting. My leg fell asleep and when I tried to stand I basically broke my ankle (Insert by Clotilde; Very funny Gray! I swear his ankle is fine!) We reached our hostel and caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower…it was crazy. We took the metro to the Sacre Cœur church overlooking the city it was really old and uncomfortable because we tourists invaded an active service but whatevs. In the evening we met up with our scout friends for dinner at a restaurant it was okay. I guess you can’t win them all. Lol.
-Victoria, Anne, and Gray

July 24, 2017

Today was our first full day in Paris! We started the day with breakfast at the hostel. After breakfast, we walked a few blocks to the metro and hoped on for a short ride to the Louvre. It was super interesting to walk around and see all of the art and take some great photos. We even saw the Mona Lisa! For lunch we went to les jardins de Tuileries where started to rain during lunch, so when we finished we all put on our rain jackets and headed over to the Champs Elysées to go shopping. My friends and I went into a bunch of cute boutiques and shops. My favorite was one Sophia took me to called Maje. On our way back we stopped at a little stand to get rolled ice cream. Next, the group headed over to the Arc D’Triomphe to snap a few photos and climb to the top. On the walk to dinner I bought a box of fresh strawberries for my friends and I to share. For dinner Maggie, Jill, Paula, Liz, Chris, Sophia and I split off in our own group and went to a french restaurant. Afterwards we all walked to get gelato at Amorino on Rue Cler. They shape the ice cream on the cones to look like a rose and put a macaroon in the middle making for a perfect picture. At around 8:30 the group met up and walked over to the Eiffel Tower Together. We all took pictures in front of the tower and then started up the stairs to the second level. It was quite the workout but the view was worth it! We took the elevator to the top but didn’t stay long because it was really cold. We finally arrived back at the hostel just after midnight that night.
– Katie E.

July 25, 2017

For our final day in France, the group was treated to a tour of Paris by the father of our very own group leader, Clotilde. We learned about the architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral’s exterior, and did a walking tour through the streets with a focus on the little-known aspects of Parisian history. Then, after a brief group reflection meeting, we split between two activities: half of us chose to visit the Musée d’Orsay with Jake, while the other half explored some of the favorite shopping areas of Clotilde, a local Parisian. We re-grouped at a nice restaurant for our final dinner followed by some ice cream (a group favorite). We enjoyed a surprise boat tour along the Seine, and caught a final glimpse of the city’s highlights. At the end of the boat tour, the announcer joined in as we all wished a happy birthday to our group leader, Jake. Out of desperation to prolong the trip, the group managed to maintain its usual high energy level despite the long day of walking–I can say with confidence that not a single person on this trip would change a thing about it.
– Liz S.