Last week, a former student sent me a tweet asking if I’d be at Emerson College’s graduation. When I told her I was leading a group of students to Aix-en-Provence instead, she offered this sage advice: “Tell your students to have fun — but not too much fun.”
And so I did, to start our first in-country meeting. It probably was my best advice of the day. The last students trickled in at 7 p.m. on Saturday, four hours, one airplane mechanical problem and a few missed turns on foot late. But it didn’t dampen their spirits. By 9, all 11 of us were eating outdoors at a Turkish-Libyan restaurant in Place des Cardeurs and raising a glass in honor of our arrival. When I headed back at 11:15, most of them stayed out (sleep? who needs sleep?). But they heeded that former student’s advice. I wasn’t jarred awake at 4 or 5 a.m. by a phone call. Everyone made the bus the next morning. All have been gamers, young adults excited to be in France and running on a seemingly endless stream of adrenalin.
Today, however, the real work begins. Five hours of conversational French daily. Dinner with host families who may or may not speak English but who should, in any case, encourage the students to use and expand on whatever little French they have. Our visit is designed to be both intensive and immersive.
But a little fun? C’est necessaire aussi. So yesterday we took a whirlwind trip around towns to the west — the Sunday market at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where you can buy anything from an antique knife to a kilo of cherries; the village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, source of the Sorgue River, which in wetter winter bubbles up in torrents from a cave’s floor; and Gordes, an ancient village that’s become a bit too chichi for my tastes but which nonetheless is perched high on a Luberon hillside and holds some of the most dramatic views of Provence.
On our return, we met our host families (I, too, decided to live with one and so managed two hours of French conversation with the warm and friendly couple with whom I’m staying before going out for an even later dinner and collapsing into bed about 11:30).