Our first day in Normandy

Written by Windsor Warlick ’19 (March 5, 2018)

Bright and early this morning, all the students woke up and prepared for a long day exploring the history of Normandy. Although we were all excited for the day, France’s 7:30 am still felt like our 1:30 am so getting out of bed was difficult. After trying to shake the jet lag off, all of us finally managed to make it downstairs for breakfast. Most of us were surprised to learn that the French often drink their tea/coffee out of a bowl. Satisfied from our bowl beverages and breads with spreads, we loaded up onto our tour bus and headed to our first destination: Musée de la Paix.

Every sign and caption we saw provided explanations in French, English, and German. To fully immerse ourselves, we tried to ignore the English despite how tempting it was. After walking through the exhibit with all things pre-war titled “avant 1945”, we met up again for lunch. After several years of hearing about the classic “un sandwich de jambon” in French class, we were finally able to try this authentic French cuisine ourselves. Following lunch, we watched a short twenty minute film depicting the too-often-forgotten months of fighting after the initial invasion on the beaches of Normandy. Since D-Day is usually the most advertised part of the liberation, it was interesting for us to learn more about the efforts that lead to France’s release from the bloody Nazi rule. After that, students were permitted to view any other part of the museum that hadn’t seen yet. The German bunker seemed to be the most popular. All well versed on D-Day and the battles that followed, we were ready to go and see the real thing.

We met up with our guide, Claire, and ventured to Point du Hoc where we were able to walk in an actual bunker used by the Germans on D-Day. Claire prompted us to try and decipher if the divots in the ground were from air raids or shot from the battle ships, round versus oval respectively. We marveled at how the beautiful crystal blue water was juxtaposed with the tragic events that occurred there over seven decades ago.

Prior to our trip, Dr. Rezelman gave us some background on the infantry division who stormed the Omaha beach. When we stood on the edge of the bluff looking down on the beach, we could not believe that the tragedies we read and heard about really happened right where we were standing.

Our final destination in Normandy was the American Military Cemetery which was by far the most moving place we saw—9,386 marble graves dispersed across the vast field. Although a majority of them were crosses, there were 500 Stars of David. We were also interested about the four women whom the guide said were buried there: one was an American Red Cross worker, and three were postal workers who designed a system of using a soldier’s dog tag number to ensure that he received the correct letter.

We said “au revoir” to our guide and headed back to the youth hostel where we were treated to a delicious dinner of soup, fish and rice, local cheese and bread, and apple pie for dessert.

Group prepares for spring break departure

Our 2017-2018 Short-Term French Exchange group is gearing up for their upcoming departure for Paris! The group met on Thursday, February 15 to craft some “Group Goals” and “Daily Leadership Roles” for their upcoming experience abroad:

Group Goals:

  1. Speak French! (commit to speaking at least 30 min/day with NA friends on top of communicating in French with St. Do friends and hosts)
  2. Try new things/Get out of comfort zone (eat new foods)
  3. Improve photography skills (Rob)
  4. Meet new people (open up to NA classmates; connect with corres and host family)
  5. Focus on being present (End snapchat streaks!)
  6. Document and reflect on experience throughout (photos; daily journal)
  7. Become a better and more confident traveler

Daily Student Leadership Roles:

  1. Leader of the Day
  2. Caboose
  3. Navigator
  4. Scribe/Blogger
  5. Camel
  6. “Mute” Button / Crowd Control
  7. Photographer
  8. Tweeter
  9. Translator

Follow along on their adventure abroad March 3-18 here on the blog and on our International Programs Twitter feed!

Boating on the Seine and a Visit to Montmartre

Written by Mary Alice Russell ’18 to recount Thursday, March 16, 2017:

It is almost impossible to say that Paris was anything but fantastic today! We started our morning with an unexpected stop at one of the most beautiful places to see the Eiffel Tower: Trocadéro. When we got there I was shocked to see Eiffel Tower before me with a beautiful blue sky as the back drop. Then we continued on this picturesque tour of Paris when we went on our boat ride on the Seine! For over an hour and a half we took beautiful water view photos of Paris including some photos of the most famous sites: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, and many, many bridges. We also got to see lots of other tourists trying to take their best pictures with their selfie sticks waiting for the perfect moment to snap a photo. It was very romantic and beautiful to be on the water on such a lovely day! We saw lots of couples getting their wedding photos taken which made it even more romantic.

After this lovely boat ride we made are way to the subway and eventually to the Sacré Coeur and Montmartre. What a unique part of Paris! Had we not been able to see the Eiffel Tower from a distance we would have thought that were not in Paris, but another beautiful European town. Montmartre has so many incredible elements. It is home to famous Parisian movies and stars, a vineyard, a wonderful shopping area, a long term artist hotspot, and a religious centre for Saint Denis. Everything was so incredible because Montmartre is up higher than the rest of Paris so when you go you can look down at the rest of the famous city. So today was the perfect day for beautiful pictures of this wonderful place we have learned to love with all our hearts.

La Tour Eiffel!

Written by Scarlett Baughman ’19 to recount Tuesday, March 14, 2017:


Today we went to la Tour Eiffel, and it was amazing!! We arrived early so we were able to have some free time to wander just beneath the tower. Most people bought gifts or little souvenirs, I, on the other hand, bought french fries and hot chocolate (along with Faith), and who needs a mini Eiffel Tower, when you can eat?! Once we regrouped we entered and went though the millionth security check, we went up the tower in the elevator. When we got to the top, the view was from another world. It was so gorgeous; I can’t think of anything even remotely comparable. Any and every time I see a view of Paris, I’m stunned by the beautiful old buildings and many narrow alleys. It was windy and kind of cold, but the view and the atmosphere up there makes it all worth it. When we went down, a few of us waited in the line for the lift (including myself), while the rest went down the stairs. When we got downstairs (before the walkers, just in case you were wondering), I bought more fries and hot chocolate as it was cold, and I’m always hungry. Plus, they were genuinely the most amazing french fries I have ever eaten. So should you find yourself under the Eiffel Tower, get some fries!! You can thank me later.

A Visit to Palais Garnier and Le Louvre

Written by Tucker Pruden ’18 to recount Monday, March 13, 2017:

This morning, our French Exchange group visited the Opera house in Paris, often referred to as the Palais Garnier for its architect Charles Garnier. The Opera house quickly grabs one’s attention with its stunning views and intricate designs. The balconies and the beautiful stairwell were used for the wealthy to show off their elaborate dresses as a show before the show. The  opera was all about class differences and one showing his or her wealth usually accompanied by a partner. The main theatre isn’t given the same respect as the stairwell as the people showing off their beauty was of higher importance after the mid-1800s in Paris. The ballroom was incredible as well as its walls are covered floor to ceiling in gold work and art work.

Written by Payton Stredler ’18 to recount Monday afternoon, March 13, 2017:

After lunch, we walked to the Louvre and began our hour tour of the most famous art museum in the world. The glass diamonds sticking out of the ground in front of the old palace contrasted new and old art, incorporating art into basically every part of the museum, even before the entrance. We first visited the Da Vinci exhibit. Foremost, we saw the Mona Lisa. It was much smaller than I thought it would be! Our tour guide informed us about the history of many of the pieces throughout the museum, pointing out details about the paintings and statues that I would have otherwise not noticed. One of my favorite pieces was The Winged Victory of Samothrace, a 2nd century BC marble statue. It stood tall in its own hallway, surrounded by people imitating its pose. I admired the Liberty Leading the People, a famous revolutionary painting, and also the cover of the Coldplay album Viva la Vida. The Venus de Milo caught my eye in the ancient Greek exhibit. It is one of the most famous pieces of ancient Greek art. It, too, was surrounded by a wall of tourists imitating it. We did not see that much of the museum, only the main masterpieces among a few notable others. I really enjoyed touring the Louvre and seeing all these magnificent works of art in real life.

A Visit to Disneyland Paris

This post, written by Lawson Montgomery ’18, to recount his weekend visit to Disneyland Paris:

The excitement for Disneyland Paris brought out my inner child as I had not been to such a park since I was about 5. For breakfast, we decided to eat chocolate cereal and drink some juice to help fuel us for the trip to Chessy, France, where Disneyland Paris is located. We left the house as a group of four: myself, Joshua (a Swedish exchange student who lives at the house), Vincent (my St. Do host student), and his sister Mary Alice. We strolled down the street to the local train station to make our way to the massive La Défense station. We had a 45 minute trip on a double-decker train to Chessy. We talked about life in our three countries and how our lives differ and how they are similar.

Once we arrived at Disneyland Paris, it felt like I was a part of a great migration as almost the entire train departed once we arrived at the park. Once through the gates, we were greeted with an amazing pink structure that could have passed as the park’s castle; however, this building only held the ticket office. Once we scanned our tickets, then the real fun began. As we walked down Main Street U.S.A. towards Sleeping Beauty’s pink castle, which was the park’s true castle, we saw ice cream stores, hot dogs that were a foot in length, and many other foreign tourists like us.

Our first attraction was Big Thunder Mountain which was a great ride and was worth the 80 minute wait. Our next choice of ride, Phantom Manor, did not meet our expectations for a haunted house. We then returned back to Main Street U.S.A. and took a break to eat and let our bodies rest. We then walked under the grand castle of Sleeping Beauty and then decided to ride Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups. We had a lot of fun on this ride. Eventually, we decided that it was best to return home and rest before a party later that night. We rode back on the metro and tried to solve riddles the entire ride home. Once we returned home, we listened to music and discussed the day. Finally, we left for the party close to the school, and we spent the evening eating pizza, chips, and soda with the others who had gone to Disney that day.

Versailles and a French Market: A Weekend in Paris

This post, written by Tori Walker ’18, recounts her weekend experience with her host family:

This weekend, in particular, is an opportunity for all of the students on the exchange to spend individual time with their host families and do something outside of our pre-planned agenda. Personally, my host family made plans for us to spend our Sunday in Versailles, France. Waking up early isn’t part of their routine, especially on weekends, so this morning was full of rapid preparation for our drive to Versailles, since they wanted us to arrive early enough before the attractions filled with crowds.

The cars here, as you may know, are usually very small, so squeezing into their car was quite an experience this morning as we were rushing out of Neuilly. My host family had discussed with me the roads in Paris before, but I hadn’t actually driven out of the city before today. We took the circular highway to Versailles that revolves around all of Paris, containing different exits here and there for a myriad of other cities. The apartments throughout Versailles were built during Louis XIV’s reign, so none of them reached or surpassed the height of his castles. We realized the weather was much nicer than the entire previous week of wind and rain. The sun gradually peeked out behind the dreariness as we began to walk through the gardens of Louis XIV behind his golden, Roman/Greek-inspired castle. The gold-plated fountains and gates that surround the property, along with the embellishments of Louis’s face with sun rays around it represent the name he used to carry: “The King of the Sun”. His court used to pay him almost too much attention throughout his daily life, because of how much he was worshipped by his people. In fact, they used to watch him eat, sleep, and wake up each day. In his castle, his rooms, or apartments, are plastered with murals from the time period, some of which are based on various Greek myths or gods. For example, there are rooms designed for certain goddesses such as Venus and Diana. One of the most stunning rooms in the castle was the Hall of Mirrors, which was filled with reflective glass and big windows looking onto the gardens; the mirrors helped the light reflect and fill the room as it entered from the back.

Once we were done walking through the castle, we drove to a famous, nearby market where we bought fresh, organic food for our upcoming lunch. The markets are very different here than from ones we have at home. They are very loud and filled to the brim with people, and they have just about any fresh food you are looking for. My host family is very fond of French cheese, so I tried a few different kinds, some of which smelled better than others. The sellers here were all constantly yelling and publicizing their own produce as if there was a competition between each other. Meanwhile, my senses were competing between smelling the various foods, listening to the voices filling the city, and holding onto Lise’s arm so that I didn’t fall behind in the market maze. When our list was finally checked off, we returned to Neuilly to enjoy our upcoming, delicious lunch.

Friday in Paris: Sainte Chapelle, Conciergerie, and Classes at St. Do

Written by Mary Alice Russell ’18 and Naomi Mitchell ’18 to recount Friday, March 10, 2017:

(Mary Alice Russell:) Saint Chapelle and Conciergerie are two of the most beautiful places we have seen on this wonderful adventure so far. The moment you see Saint Chapelle you know that you are in for a treat because even the outside is lovely! You can see all of the outlines of the rose window and small gargoyles protecting the intricate chapel. Our tour guide told us that the most important thing to keep in mind with this masterpiece is that it is a royal chapel commissioned by Louis IX and not just another church payed for by wealthy donors. In this church there are also two distinct levels: one for the common man and another for the royals. The common floor is covered with fleur-de-lis done intricately in gold leafing. For those of you that do not know, fleur-de-lis was the symbol of the French monarchy. Also in the commoners part of the chapel there are small little castles that are supposed to represent the castles from Spain that Louis IX’s mother lived in because she was a Spanish Princess. The gold leafing on that floor is so intricate and amazing that if you had not already seen the outlines of the stained glass from the outside you would have no idea that it could be any more beautiful. Then you reach the royal floor and immediately you are surrounded by the beautiful colors of the stained glass. All of the large panels tell the books of the Bible except for the final section which tells the story of the rediscovery of Jesus’ cross and then the cross’ journey to France. These panels are so large that there is not really a wall to support the ceiling. The architect of this building decided for these reasons to create an intricate ceiling structure that would allow for these beautiful panels to be protected. Anther beautiful piece of the second floor is the rose window which explains one of the most horrifying ideas of the time: the Apocalypse. All of these elements make for the most amazing place we have seen so far!

(Naomi Mitchell:) After our visit to Le Sainte-Chapelle, we went to the Conciergerie. The Conciergerie, formerly a prison, used to be a part of the Palais de La Cité, along with Le Sainte-Chapelle and Le Palais de Justice. Our tour guide explained the significance of the Reign of Terror created by Robespierre and how it caused an influx of prisoners to be held in the Conciergerie. Most notably Marie Antoinette was held within its walls until her execution at the guillotine in October 1793. Once the Reign of Terror ended and a king was back on the throne, Royalists converted Marie Antoinette’s cell into a shrine dedicated to her memory. When the building was restored in the mid 19th century, they created a replica of her cell and placed it in a different part of the Conciergerie. Although the building was restored, there are still many Gothic elements present found in places like the Hall of the Guards, one of the largest surviving pieces from the Middle Ages. The experience at both Le Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie was one of the most exciting things for me because the French History was my favorite topic from MEH. The connection that I was able to make between the knowledge I had prior to the visit and what I saw in person was truly amazing.

(Mary Alice Russell:) After visiting Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie we had the opportunity to go to some classes at St. Do. We all really love learning about their teaching style which in some ways is very different than ours and then in others very similar. Similarly to Norfolk Academy students talk about pieces they have read in class and at home. However, the formatting is entirely different. The students all stay with the same group all day and their teachers come to their room to teach. In my opinion, I like the freedom of being able to walk to all of my classes more than just staying in the same place. Similarly they share their books with the person sitting next to them which is something we do only if someone does not have something in the United States. They also have these magical erasing pens which are different than our traditional white-out.

A Day in Paris: Musee d’Orsay and a Bus Tour

Written by Faith Phillips ’18 to recount Thursday, March 9, 2017:

Today we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe first and stopped for pictures. After, we walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to get to the Musee d’Orsay and passed cool stores like Louis Vuitton along the way. It was interesting to see the avenue so early because most stores were closed and the sidewalks were not crowded. When we got to the Musee d’Orsay, we met our tour guide and started listening to the history of the art. The art was truly spectacular and we spent the most time looking at Impressionists and Post-Impressionists! We saw the works of Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, and more. It was an amazing opportunity to see my favorite paintings up close and was by far the highlight of my trip so far. After our tour, we left the museum and ate lunch in a park outside.

The second part of our day consisted of a 2-hour bus tour of Paris. For the first time, we got to see the Eiffel Tower up close, and we were able to learn about the history of Paris as we looked at the city. We drove down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and were able to see it when it was full of life.

Today was outstanding, and we all enjoyed seeing the culture and art that lives in this amazing city.

First day at St. Do: Chapel, Classes, and a walking tour of Le Marais

Written by Eleanor Lilly ’18 to recount Wednesday, March 8, 2017:

Today was our first full day at St. Dominique! The day started in the Chapel where we introduced ourselves to the sophomores at St. Do. At first, there weren’t many nervous among

The chapel at St. Do

us because it didn’t seem like a big deal, but then we got to the school. The chapel was an actual catholic chapel, complete with stain glass windows and pews. So when we had to introduce ourselves, there might have been a bit more of an audience than just the students!! I’m laughing as I’m writing this, and don’t worry- no one messed up!

We had two hours of classes- I got to sit in on math and English with Carissa. Math was quite easy to follow because it was basically just a review of what we learned last year. For their English class, they had to present their thoughts

A class with Madame Thibault

about a poster advocating for action against climate change. After each presentation their teacher would turn around and confer with Carissa and me, asking us what we thought, if we could understand it, etc. The teacher seemed very cool to us, but she pushes her students quite hard and I would be nervous about her class if I were a student at St. Do! We each obviously have different insights about the French classroom versus the American one, so I speak for myself when I say that the most apparent one was the difference in the relationships between students and teachers.

We had lunch in the cafeteria at St. Do, and then we headed to the metro. We met a guide for a beautiful walking tour of Le Marais! She was so knowledgeable about the history of all the architecture. She lead us through the narrow roads that existed long before the wide avenues and boulevards, pointing out the “good” street art- the ones that would fade and not leave permanent marks on the walls. After a few hours we made it back to St. Do and waited in the student lounge for our friends. We all had dinner with our host families and enjoyed an end to our second day in Paris!!

A tour of the Marais