Surfing, sun and subjunctives – the Year 10 French Exchange
9 May 2016
Report by Phoebe Penfold and Katy Ellis, Year 10
Saint Jean de Luz is a traditional Basque town on the South West coast of France, roughly equidistant from the Spanish border and Biarritz. When 20 Year 10s got off the plane in Biarritz airport, looking forward to meeting the exchange partners who we had last seen in drizzly Cambridge in December, we definitely felt that we had got the better end of the bargain as we saw the sunshine, blue skies and sandy beaches. On the short bus journey to the school, it finally hit us that we had committed to speaking French for a week.
As we arrived on the Friday evening, the stay started with a weekend spent all doing different things with our exchanges and their families. Some of us went across the border to go shopping in San Sebastian, others went surfing, out for meals or horse riding. A highlight for several of us was a hike up La Rhune, a 905 metre mountain on the border between France and Spain. The landscape was breathtaking, with views all along the Atlantic coast and the Pyrenees. Most people got to the beach on at least one evening to watch the ‘coucher du soleil’ over the sea.
Monday to Wednesday was split between being in lessons in the French school and outings. The favourite lesson was English, where we did question and answer sessions and helped the French pupils develop their conversation skills. On Monday our outing was a boat trip across the border from Hendaye to the medieval town of Fontarrabie, made amusing by our tour guide who spoke very little English but refused to be helped in either French or Spanish.
The next day brought a day trip to Bordeaux (in train carriages curiously reminiscent of the Hogwarts Express) where we looked round the ‘Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux’ and walked across the ‘miroir d’eau’. On Wednesday morning we had a tour of Saint Jean de Luz and a few more lessons before meeting up with our partners, who never have lessons on Wednesday afternoons. We went back for lunch with enormous plates of strawberries and cream before spending the afternoon chatting on the beach, sunbathing or surfing, happily thinking of the double physics lessons that our classmates were enduring back at The Perse.
School was closed on Thursday because it was a bank holiday, so we spent the day with our partners. It was the hottest day so far and the best day of the trip for the majority of us. Personally, we spent the morning in Biarritz, admiring the view and shopping, before returning to Saint Jean de Luz for a quick lunch. The afternoon gave us a chance to try Bouée Tractée – being pulled very fast behind a speedboat whilst clinging on to an inflatable disc. It was a challenge to stay on the disc – as four people proved by falling off accidentally – however the high temperatures meant everyone decided to drop into the water on the count of 3 to join them. The water was quite cold, but very refreshing and we warmed up quickly afterwards. A quick swim from the beach was followed by a stressful sprint across town in our swimming stuff to try to catch the bus home. There was a party in the evening for some of us, whilst others spent the last night eating pizza on the beach.
Friday morning was very gloomy as we realised that we only had a few hours left before returning to cold, beach-free Cambridge. Some people made the most of it by having one last surf, whilst others stayed in bed, still tired from the party the previous night. Everyone was very sad when we had to say au revoir at the airport.
Although we were there for only a week, it’s amazing how much our French has improved. But more importantly, we’ve experienced moments of cultural differences and similarities between England and France that you wouldn’t notice if you were just on holiday; the critical social etiquette regarding ‘la bise’ and the hug, the horror of the French partners when we all rushed down to go paddling in the sea in the evenings as they still considered it to be much too cold, and a hilarious evening discovering the impossibility of playing familiar board games in a foreign language. Everyone would agree that the highlights were the weather, the food (especially the very large number of ice creams consumed) and most of all the hospitality from our exchanges.