D’Arc, Ardeche, South of France.
This year’s San Andrea Senior School French Exchange started off with the Airmalta airbus having to make a retour soon after take-off due to a suspected bird strike in the engine featuring in the morning news. However, this incident was soon a thing of the past thanks to the week’s eventful and fun events in the picturesque town of Vallon Pont d’Arc situated in the “les gorges de l’Ardèche” (the Ardèche canyon) in the Ardèche region in the South of France. In turn, the French students of the school Henri Ageron of Vallon Pont d’Arc, visited our island in order to improve their English language skills whilst learning more about a new country.
This student exchange which lasted for a week in France aims at exposing students to the French language in a more natural setting whilst learning more about the French culture, visiting the school and at the same time widening one’s experience and knowledge. In addition, spending a week with a family, both the Maltese and French students learn how to be independent, develop their social skills and to deal with and adapt to new situations apart from experiencing Maltese and French habits and daily life in a foreign country.
The French students first visited our island in the last week of March. Blessed with beautiful weather both the French and Maltese students spent a lovely day on the sister island of Gozo. First, they visited the Unesco World Heritage site of the Neolithic megalithic temples of Ggantija. Walking through the temple the students were taken back to the prehistoric times thanks to the thorough knowledge imparted by the guide. Then the students walked through the winding roads of the historic fortified city of Cittadella and admired the breath-taking views of Gozo from its fortified walls. We ended the day with lunch at Ramla Bay after visiting the magnificent Azure Window and the inland sea in Dwejra. During the rest of the week, the French students could see what school life is like at San Andrea School. They also visited the silent city of Mdina and the Malta Knights Museum. Last but not least, was the visit to the capital city of Valletta. At the capital city, the students visited St. John’s Co-Cathedral followed by a stroll around the main streets of Republic Street and Merchant Street with a short break at the Upper Baracca. Finally, they watched the newly introduced Malta 5D which proved to be a wonderful and interesting experience.
The following week, the Maltese students together with the French students flew to France. Here, our students, visited various places of historical significance, and did activities typical of the region. On their first day, the students visited the busier town of Nîmes, where the students had the opportunity to relive the Roman gladiator combats in the very well-preserved Roman Theatre Arena. They then walked through the city till they reached the garden which is built on a natural spring whilst respecting the original Roman settlement. This garden hosts a Roman Tower. Students walked to the top of the tower where they could enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the town of Nîmes.
Ardèche boasts of a beautiful countryside with the Ardèche River and its streams flowing through the vineyards, olive groves and plains of green fields. A hike through the French countryside and up the mountains allowed the students to enjoy and take in the beautiful surroundings and views of this region. Ardèche is also well known for its caves. We had the opportunity to visit the cave of Aven D’ Ognac which ranks among the grandest caves of the world, an underground space of discovery and conservation which dates back to the Ice Age. The route covers 500 metres. The students walked down 700 hundred steps leading down 120 metres whilst admiring nature’s imposing chambers. The cave is a world where multitudes of crystallisations combine the delicate with the gigantic. One cannot leave Vallon Pont d’Arc without a visit to the natural arch the Pont D’ Arc carved out by the Ardèche River similar to our Azure Window. Students had the opportunity to view the natural arch closely by kayaking on the Ardèche River through the rapids and finally kayaking under the arch itself.
Opportunities such as these have proven to be a true learning experience for the students. Learning moves beyond the four walls of the classroom away from the traditional ways of teaching a language through writing and lists of written grammar rules. Every educator should always put themselves in the learner’s thoughts – “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
The group was accompanied on this educational trip by Marielouise Kara teacher of French and Lara Muscat teacher of English at San Andrea School.