On 22 April 2019, a group of 16 exhilarated children began their journey with two teachers – Ms. Sarabjit Lall and Ms. Purnima Raheja- to Bourg Saint Maurice in the Rhône Alps region of France for the exchange programme with the school - Cité Scolaire Saint Exupéry.
The students landed at Geneva airport in Switzerland where they received a warm welcome by their French host families and immediately proceeded for a picnic beside the picturesque Lake Annecy. As the school was closed during the first week, the students were made comfortable in the French homes and experienced the local traditions, habits and routine. On the first day a surprise awaited them in the form of an Easter egg hunt which thrilled them thoroughly. They saw many breathtaking mountains and ski resorts like Les Arcs and Val d’Isere. Sledging, skiing and spontaneous snow fights along with the striking view made these activities extremely memorable. They also visited the various French cities of Annecy, Chambery and Lyon to enhance their knowledge of French culture and history. Spending time with the host families, visiting supermarkets and interacting with various tourist guides served as a pleasurable and novel experience for the students to improve their French communication skills.
The Indian students had the opportunity to experience French student life after school reopened in the second week. A visit to the local primary school-La Petite Planete- invigorated them as they interacted with the young students who were eager to learn more about India. The Indian students also presented an upbeat Bollywood number and sang peppy songs, which enthralled the little ones. In the high school, Indian students learnt about the history and geography of the Savaii region and attended absorbing lessons with their partners. Their competitive spirit was further kindled by the engrossing treasure hunt planned by their French counterparts in the town center as they enthusiastically searched for the treats awaiting them.
During their stay, they were introduced to new French dishes every day and learnt more and more about French cuisine, different cheeses and local favorites. To bolster their understanding of French cuisine and regional craft industries, they visited a local chevrerie- a goat breeding and cheese making farm- in Villaroger. Keeping the sporty spirit alive, the Indian students, along with their French counterparts, went rafting on the Isere River. When the exchange came to an end, as all good things sadly must, the students celebrated a cultural soirée showcasing Indian and French culture through traditional songs, dances, presentations and heartfelt speeches. Various articles about the visit were covered in the local print media, which served to enhance interest about the exchange.
After the bittersweet departure from Lyon, students set off for a four-day sojourn in Paris. They discovered that history was etched in every street and every building in Paris- from le Musée de Louvre which houses the enigmatically-smiling Mona Lisa to Café de Flore which served as a haunt to intellectuals such as Pablo Picasso and Jean Paul Sartre. The Eiffel Tower, Palais des Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, Champs Elysées, Disneyland - each place was more awe-inspiring than the previous.
The exchange was a unique learning opportunity which taught students essential life skills along with enhanced cultural sensitivity. The exchange concluded with yet another group of new friends having formed bonds for a long time to come.