By Tim Leeds
Members of the Havre High School French Club said the club's final excursion, a trip to France, was well worth the effort.
"It was overwhelming. I think I got a lot more out of it than I expected," said Dallas Crossley, who will be a senior next fall. "You don't really know how big the world is 'til you do something like that."
The group, 17 student club members, group leader and Havre High French teacher Kitten McLain, a chaperone and three adult participants, left Havre June 1. They spent a week touring Paris, then traveled to the north of France for a second week. The group left France June 13.
"The whole experience was really great," said Alicia Rundquist, who will be a junior next fall. "It's neat to hear about all the things you can see over there and really see them."
The club prepared for the trip for two years, planning the tour and doing fund-raisers. With next fall's elimination of the French program at the high school as part of the restructuring of Havre Public Schools, the trip was the last official activity of the club.
McLain said that during the planning the members of the tour made up lists of the sites they wanted to see. She submitted those to the tour company, which returned three possible itineraries. The people going on the tour then voted on which to follow.
Some of the sights the Havrites saw in Paris included the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb and Musee D'Orsay, a railroad station converted into an art museum. They also toured Versailles Palace, ate dinner at the Eiffel Tower and took an evening boat cruise down the River Seine.
The second week, on the Normandy Coast, some of the cultural and historical sites they visited included Havre's namesake, port city Le Havre; the Normandy beaches where the Allied invasion occurred in World War II and the memorials and cemetery there; and Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. They visited a goat farm and ate with the owners, tasting ice cream, cheese and chocolates made at the farm.
"I really liked northern France," said Gwen Courtney, who will be a junior next year. "I liked the beaches, the port cities. Also seeing the Mona Lisa, the stuff people talk about."
The last day the group was in France, it spent the evening at the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris.
One high point of the trip was at Montmartre in Paris, an area where artists try to sell their work to people walking by, said Christi Bradbury, who will be a junior next fall. A variety of artists pursued the group from Havre, asking to be allowed to sketch their portraits. Bradbury had hers done. She had to hold still for a half-hour while the artist sketched her portrait, and she bought it once it was done and brought it home.
"It was really nice," she said.
Crossley said he had heard that French people don't like American tourists very much, but found the opposite was true. He said most of the people they met were "some of the most hospitable."
That hospitality might have been because of the group's attitude, he added, "because we respected them and weren't totally oblivious to their culture."
"Part of the reason this group did so well," Kitten McLain said, "was they used what language they could. Even the lowest level using please and thank you is very important in that culture."
The students' level of expertise in the French language varied greatly. For example, Crossley has studied the language for six years, starting in seventh-grade at Salt Lake City, while Rundquist has only had a year of French.
The small-town values the students took with them to France also helped them get along, she added.
"It's important, I think, to be humble, and this group was humble and polite," she said. "Not all Americans are humble. We saw why some give us a bad name."
Crossley said the tour the group took was intended to give them an in-depth understanding of French culture "and we definitely got that." He said the tour guide they met in Paris had histories of the places the group would be visiting, and talked to them and gave them quizzes about the locations.
Rundquist said members of the group interacted well most of the time they were on the tour. Courtney said while all of the students knew each other, spending every day together for two weeks let them get to know each other better.
"It was really neat, the way everyone got along," McLain said.
By the end of the two weeks, the 23 people in the tour had developed all of the dynamics of a family, she added. There were highs and lows, but the members of the group worked together to enjoy the tour.
Just as in a family, the group had some dissension by the end of the trip.
"On the plane home, I think everybody wanted to kill each other," Bradbury said.
They were all very tired by that time, McLain said. She added that while the trip to France wasn't too bad, everyone had horrible jetlag by the end of the flight home. It took a week or more for some to recover, she said.
Bradbury said the students were grateful for the support the people in the Havre area gave them getting ready for the trip.
The club had concession stands at events, sold hamburgers at the parking lot of Gary & Leo's IGA, and used the coupon donation program at Gary & Leo's. McLain said area businesses were very helpful with fund-raising.
Although the French program will not be offered at the high school in the future, McLain said she plans to conduct another tour next summer. With the elimination of her teaching job, she is moving to take another job in California, but will return for the tour, she said.
McLain hopes to go through the middle of France, spend some time in Paris and possibly go south to the Mediterranean region, around Nice. Adults and students are all welcome for next year's tour, she said. People interested in the tour can contact her at 265-8144 or 265-2050.
McLain said that with the growing Hispanic population in the United States, there seems to be a national trend to eliminate French and concentrate on Spanish in schools. She called that choice unfortunate. In today's mobile society, students will go on to travel to countries where languages other than Spanish are spoken, and limiting their learning options to one language is unrealistic, she said.
Rundquist said she had planned to take a second year of French this coming school year.
"It's definitely going to affect me," she said. "I was going to get two years for college. Now I can't."
McLain said Marie Deegen is offering an accelerated Spanish class at Havre High next year, teaching the material covered in Spanish I and Spanish II in one year. Deegen developed that class to help the French students who still need language credits, she said.
Enough concepts translate from French to Spanish that students with one year of French should be able to learn Spanish on the accelerated schedule, McLain added.
Crossley said he had considered pursuing French as his college major, but had changed his mind with the elimination of the French program in Havre. Spending two weeks in France is making him rethink that decision.
"It was really inspiring," Rundquist said.