I have a good friend who lives about half an hour from Brighton. She is now retired and is very active in local activities. I had been thinking that it would be good for some of my adult students to be in a situation where they could practice their English. Since I had been able to organize school exchanges while I was teaching in a French lycée, I thought it might be possible to do the same thing for adults.
I discussed it with my friend and she asked around to find out who would want to participate in an exchange with a few French people who were learning English. There was a good response and one of her friends came to us in March. A couple in my Thursday group hosted her and the three of them got along very well. So she took back a glowing report about her welcome and the Lot and Garonne area.
Last Saturday I went to Toulouse with five adult students to take the plane to England. Three were kindergarten teachers who have been studying English with me for almost three years. The other two were a retired couple who used English when they were living abroad but had had few or no formal lessons until this year. It is a very pleasant group and I was looking forward to our trip.
We arrived late Saturday and found our hosts at Gatwick airport waiting for us. Sunday everyone was able to sleep in and get acquainted with their English hosts. I was staying with my friend, so we were able to talk about our favorite author, Ursula K. Le Guin and get caught up. We took a walk around the village and met up with some of my students and their hosts. I was able to see that everyone was enjoying themselves. What about the infamous British weather? It was glorious throughout our stay, prompting our hosts to say that we had brought it with us.
That evening all the hosts and their guests came to have drinks and snacks and we enjoyed pleasant small talk. Whereas my friend had been expecting little clusters, it turned out that everyone spontaneously moved the chairs so that we were all included in a general conversation, all in English, with my students carrying their weight. I saw that we were off to a good start.
On Monday, some went to Brighton and others explored the local area. During the afternoon my friend took me to a nice tea shop where I had a giant scone and clotted cream. I couldn't possibly finish the scone, so we asked for a doggy bag, which is acceptable in England but not in France. That evening we were all invited to one of the hosts' home for a typical English meal: a curry takeout. It was delicious and again the conversation was relaxed and general and all in English.
Tuesday morning the teachers and I were given a tour of the local primary school. They were very interested in seeing how the school was organized and comparing it to the French system. The headmaster gave us the tour himself and then took us to the staff room and offered us tea and coffee. Some of the students went to Brighton during the afternoon and others hiked and went to the tea shop that served giant scones.
In the evening we met in the local pub and sampled typical British pub food. It was very good and my students will be now be able to defend British cuisine in France. Then there were lots of hugs and good-byes, since it was our last evening in England. But my students are all counting on being able to host their new British friends in the near future.
Some of our kind hosts got up at three the next morning so that they could drive us to Gatwick in time for our plane. And by eleven we were back in France. Each of my students told me more than once that they had had a wonderful time and thanked me. I felt that I had done little more than get the ball rolling, since the English hosts had done such a great job of making us feel welcome. I'm not sure how often, or even if, this kind of trip can be duplicated, but it was definitely worthwhile. More than anything else, I enjoyed hearing my students speak up and express themselves, stating their ideas, thoughts and feelings on a variety of subjects. This is what every language teacher hopes to see some day.