Adventures in Guadeloupe with the 7th Grade French Language Acquisition Class
By Emilie Berger, French Language Acquisition Teacher
& Richard Brownstone, Director of Middle School
This year, the French Language Acquisition class traveled to the French islands of Guadeloupe for the first time in ISB history! While visiting this beautiful archipelago, students attended language classes, stayed with host families, and went on incredible local excursions for an unforgettable French immersion experience.
We arrived in the afternoon at the Centre Caribéen de Langues in Saint Anne and were welcomed by the director of the center, the students’ host families, and delicious homemade cakes! It has been raining on and off with the typical tropical summer showers. Nature is lush, green, and abundant here. You can hear birds and roosters all over, and the breeze is dreamy. After our arrival, the students went back with their host families to enjoy their evenings and meals together.
“Our host family was really nice! Frances played soccer with us, and Claire showed us a secret beach and took us to the best crêperie in town! They had papaya, melon, coconut, and avocado trees growing right in their backyard. We ate delicious food for dinner, like jerk chicken and potatoes, rice and shrimp, and freshly caught crabs. Our host families only spoke in French with us. I probably doubled my language skills. It was surprising how much I improved in just a week. We spoke in French so much, even in our spare time. I was speaking in so much French that when I got back to New York and went to order a sandwich at the deli, I started ordering in French!” -Walker
From the climate to the roads to the animals to the shops to the people, everything in Guadeloupe is so different from what we experience in Brooklyn. The students spent the morning at the language center, working with two teachers, Joel and Natasha. The director, Joel, first spent some time talking to the group to assess the students’ respective French levels. He then decided that the best path was just to push them to converse. It was great fun listening to the kids let go of their classroom inhibitions and just speak in French — about anything and everything — with a native speaker whom they didn’t know. This is, of course, one of the biggest goals for a trip like this: to create an immersion experience that doesn’t end as soon as the classroom bell rings.
At lunchtime, we walked to the marketplace in Saint Anne, where the students did some shopping, chatted with locals, and ordered food at local eateries.
Afterwards, we returned to the language center for another French conversation session. Finally, after a packed day of using their language skills, the students got a well-deserved trip to the beach and had a glorious time swimming in the blue, blue water.
“I got to use my French more in conversations with people one on one, and being in Guadeloupe really helped me understand French more. It was good to hear a variety of accents and hear how it is spoken in everyday conversation – for example, people often say “ouai” instead of “oui.” –Valentina
We gathered at 9:00am at the language center, where our bus driver met us for the drive to The Memorial ACTe Slavery Museum. The museum is a large, strikingly modern complex, replete with moving, immersive exhibits that take the viewer on a trip through the history of the transatlantic slave trade, the forces that drove its creation and perpetuated its existence, the Middle Passage, the life of a slave, and so much more. While our students are a bit young to take in all of that, we know that some of the experiential learning will stay with them and also come back to them over time.
We ate lunch by the water, and then the bus whisked us away on a ride through winding, tropical jungle roads. (The students were gradually learning to accept that air conditioning is not all that common here — in schools, in homes, or, in this case, in buses —- regardless of the humidity!). On the western beach, we chose our fins, masks, jackets, and snorkels, and we boarded the boat for our scuba adventure. Our scuba instructor gave us a crash course in scuba safety and then took us to three dive locations around the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve, where we saw a myriad of fish, glorious coral villages on the ocean floor, and finally, a large turtle! As some of the students noted, seeing that turtle was worth all the mini-jellyfish stings we had to endure while searching for it! We were proud of the students; each one of them tried some snorkeling! We look forward to returning to the language center for more French instruction and a lunchtime walk to another marketplace (if the humidity allows it!).
“The trip was great! My favorite part was the beaches – all of the beaches we went to were awesome! I also feel much more comfortable having a conversation in French now. We spoke with our host families a lot every day, and they understood me which felt pretty good!” – Simran
We had a quieter day, as the students spent most of their time at the language center. We gathered at 9:00am for three hours of conversations and activities. Joel, the teacher and director of the center, has been telling me how impressed he is with the level of our group. Our students are fearless and open to making mistakes and trying, and it’s been a pleasure to see them interact with local people. We took a break for lunch, a siesta, and ice cream. The rest of the afternoon was really fun; for two hours, we got to explore the world of Guadeloupean seeds and drill holes in them to create jewelry. Tiphaine was a wonderful instructor and really challenged everyone to speak French.
“I really liked the language center. The director and teachers were really nice. Our teachers told us that this trip wouldn’t be like a vacation, but it felt like a vacation because after class we did so many fun activities!” -Noah
We ended our Guadeloupe adventure with a pretty spectacular event – a canyoning, hiking, swimming, and rappelling trip through the Basse Terre rainforest!
We boarded our bus at 8:00am at the language center for an 80-minute drive to Bouilliante, on the other wing of this butterfly-shaped island. There we met Rico, our canyoning instructor. He was taking us on a very serious trek, he was speaking in very serious French, and the students had to listen! We donned our gear, including helmets, harnesses, carabiners, and wetsuits. Then Rico led us on a tough hike through the jungle. We clutched vines and branches and giant leaves as we made our way up the steep climb. Well, it seemed steep until we arrived at our first rappelling spot — a 90-degree cliff face, straight down for 40 feet! Not kidding. But there was something about Rico’s manner that seemed to prepare all of us. He simply expected us all to descend the cliff. So we did! Clutching our rope lines, leaning back with our upper bodies, looking up at Rico, with our feet flat against the cliff face, we descended straight down! There were more cliffs after that — one of them a waterfall. A couple of the drops required free jumping into the water without ropes. Truly, the adventure was exhilarating. We were all so proud of ourselves — and proud of one another — for taking risks and enjoying watching one another take those risks. It was glorious.
After we made it back to the canyoning office, we collected our bags and our packed lunches and headed to the beach, where we ate in the shade and enjoyed one last swim in the Caribbean water. But it turned out it wasn’t our last swim! Our bus driver surprised us on the way home by stopping at another waterfall. We jumped and dove and splashed in the cold water, enjoying the pounding of the torrential water on our heads.
The kids sang on the bus on the entire ride home, everything from Queen to Hamilton to The Greatest Showman to Dear Evan Hansen to “In the Jungle”, which seemed appropriate given our day. The students even named themselves “The Frenchatonics!”
“Going canyoning was my favorite part! The nature was amazing and exotic, there were all of these big leaves and vines — you felt like you were in Jurassic Park!” -Joaquin
This was a truly amazing trip, and we know that the learning experiences and adventures the students had in Guadeloupe have not only strengthened their French but also created memories that will stay with them forever. We’re so pleased that we were able to watch this group adapt to and appreciate another culture.