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Tuesday, 14 April 2015
This year, the French Exchange between Bolton School and Le Collège Saint-Benoît celebrates its thirtieth anniversary! Since 1985, pupils in Years 9 and 10 from both schools have been paired up before travelling across the Channel to stay with their exchange partners and experience a week of foreign culture.
Saint-Benoît is an independent mixed Catholic school in Moulins, central France. The link between the schools was originally set up by former Girls’ Division French teacher Mrs Anne-Marie Hutchings, whose home-town of Mâcon is less than 150 Km from Moulins. Boys’ Division Head of French Mr Carl Robson has been involved in organising the exchange since 1993, and arranged the trip this year alongside Girls’ Division French teacher Mr Christophe Fico.
The Bolton School pupils are traditionally the first to experience their host-families’ hospitality, travelling out to France during the Easter holidays.
It was with an air of excitement that the 30th French Exchange set off from School early on the last day of term. The Boys’ and Girls’ Division pupils were already looking forward to learning first-hand about French family life, practising their conversational French, and getting to know their exchange partner. They were also eager to take part in the various trips and visits the School had planned for them, designed to give them a flavour of the history and culture of France, and in particular the Auvergne region.
On the outward trip, the Exchange stayed overnight in Amiens in northern France. On their first morning in France, pupils took a guided tour of the Amiens Cathedral and Belfry, which is one of the largest Gothic churches of the 13th Century, before travelling on to Moulins to meet their exchange partners for the first time.
In Moulins itself, pupils were given a grand tour of the Town Hall and learned more about French civil wedding ceremonies and how the council is run. The boys and girls also visited the Town Hall’s reception room and met the Mayor of Moulins in honour of the 30th Anniversary of the Exchange!
There was a visit to the late 19th Century mansion La Maison Mantin, which has been restored to show the lifestyle of the bourgeois around 1905. The School also arranged a trip to the Centre National du Costume de Scène (CNCS), a museum showcasing costumes and sets from opera, theatre, ballet, circus and various other productions, some dating back to the 19th Century! The pupils really enjoyed the Rudolf Nureyev collection, which features an exhibition about the famous Russian ballet dancer’s works. They also went on a guided tour of the current exhibition ‘L’Opéra-Comique et Ses Trésors’, revealing the 300-year history of Parisian opera company Opéra Comique and showcasing around 100 of its finest costumes.
Pupils enjoyed a trip to the town of Beaune in the Burgundy region, where they were given a tour of the Hôtel-Dieu, also known as the Hospices de Beaune: a former almshouse founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor. A visit to Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the Auvergne region, saw pupils visiting the Michelin tyre museum to find out more about aeronautics, the role of railways in Michelin’s development, the character Bibendum and his use in advertising, and the science behind tyre manufacture. In Vichy, pupils were able to look at the thermal springs and take a historical walking tour which explained the town’s role in the Second World War, when it was the headquarters of the Pétain regime.
On the last day of the Exchange, pupils bid their host-families farewell and began the long journey back to Bolton. They split the trip with a break at the Thiepval Visitor Centre on the Somme Battlefields, where pupils visited the memorial to the missing of the Somme. At the Visitor Centre, they found out more about this key battle in the First World War and looked at the exhibits and artefacts on display.
Their experiences in France gave those on the exchange a fantastic overview of French history and culture from the 19th Century to the present, and allowed them to experience modern French life first-hand. It also gave them plenty of opportunities to use and improve their French skills by talking to native speakers!
Bolton School pupils are now looking forward to welcoming their exchange partners into their own homes when the French students travel to Bolton in a few weeks.
The activities lined up for the Saint-Benoît pupils include a tour of the Etihad Stadium and Bolton Wanderers club facilities and a walking tour of the historical centre of Manchester, taking in the Town Hall, St Anne’s Square and Manchester Cathedral. They will also visit the Lowry Favourites exhibition and the Imperial War Museum North at Salford Quays, and the Beatles Museum and the Albert Dock in Liverpool. Further afield, they will take a trip to the Brontë Parsonage museum, starting with a history walk around the village. In Bolton, the focus will be on the history of the town’s Indian community. Saint-Benoît pupils will take a guided tour of one of the town’s oldest Hindu temples, Veda Mandir (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), and observe a religious ritual there. They will visit an authentic Indian superstore where there will be a Saree demonstration and food demonstrations and tastings.
There will also be the opportunity to eat traditional British fish and chips!
For thirty years, the French Exchange and the links of friendship between Bolton School and Saint-Benoît have helped pupils on both sides of the Channel to improve their foreign language skills and learn more about a different culture by experiencing it for themselves. Hopefully it will continue to do so for many more years to come.
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