Thursday afternoons, I go to elementary school. I don’t take the tests that my high school class takes every Thursday, so I get to spend a few hours with 8- to 10-year-olds.
The idea behind this is I’ll learn French in lower-level classes, that it will be easier to understand.
That is the case, but also it’s fun to be in 3rd grade again. It makes me want to go to class with the little kids all week — they’re so excited and interested by school — and in me.
Last week, when I walked into the recess area I was surrounded by a flurry of little girls, jumping up and down, asking questions at the same time. They want to hear my Alaska stories, especially the ones involving animals. When I mentioned the word “ours,” French for “bear,” they all gasped
One asked me very seriously if they take our picnic baskets. I said that yes, it’s possible, but the bears are nice and normally take our trash instead of our picnic baskets.
I answered their questions about animals in Alaska for an hour and a half, and made lots of new friends. I stayed a little after class to listen to the school practice singing “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France. They would be performing at the Armistice Day ceremony Sunday. All of the little voices singing together in French was adorable! The teachers said they need to slow down a lot, but I thought it was great.
Nov. 11 was a rainy and gray day in Cholet. I was forced to use an umbrella. I’m not very skilled in using “parapluies” because in Juneau, I think they’re solely for the tourists. Therefore, I hit lots of other umbrellas and a few people in the head during the crowded ceremony.
It was held in front of the memorial to World War I soldiers from Cholet, at the train station. My elementary school friends were there, singing the song they had practiced, along with a band from May-sur-Evre (a town close to Cholet).
There were also a bunch of uniformed officers there, representing different schools, and branches of the French military. About 300 people attended the ceremony, along with the mayor of Cholet. Students from a middle school in Cholet recited poems about the war in English, with good English accents.
One hundred years doesn’t seem that long ago, when it’s just a number. But when we reviewed the war in class because of the centennial, it made me think about how much has changed in 100 years. I’m really glad Cholet, and France, had important ceremonies to commemorate the centennial, because it brings the some of the things we learn about in textbooks into reality.
We talked to people who have relatives that fought for France, and stand out in the rain to put flowers on the monument. After the portion at the train station, a mass was held in a very old, beautiful church in downtown Cholet. I went to the beginning, to see the students from military schools walk in, with their elaborate uniforms. I found some humorous, with big, floppy feathers hanging off a hat in front of their faces.
• Bridget McTague is a Juneau-Douglas High School student who is spending her junior year abroad in Cholet, France, as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange. Follow along with her travel adventures by reading her bimonthly column “Bridget Abroad” in the Juneau Empire.