French Exchange

by Vincent Raymond-Barker

This was the year I got caught out. Normally it’s peaceful and pleasant outside WGS on the Compton Road pavement from half past midnight until half one as I stand with my several bits of luggage and wait for the Savenay coach, greeting students and parents as they arrive to join me. This year, for the first time, it rains. Students wait in their cars, but I came by taxi and have no such shelter. My Johnstone keeps me company and we share coffee from a thermos with rain mixed in.

The coach is even more welcome than usual, and off to Savenay we set. A few coach hours and a ferry crossing later, we arrive at Savenay in time for supper. As always we are welcomed warmly and treated to a rich programme of activities. It’s hard to select the most enjoyable or valuable. On Friday we visit the superb Escal ‘Atlantic liner museum at Saint Nazaire, being sure to include plenty of shopping time as well-Ashley and Natasha are the brightest, shiniest shoppers I’ve seen on the exchange! Saturday morning is Guérande market where, as it is my last exchange before retirement, I take the chance to buy a proper béret basque. Monday is lessons at the collège, international football and Tépacap, Tuesday is Pornic, bread-making and the coast. The wind is excessive for sand-yachting, so we stroll around Pornic and visit possibly the best boulangerie-patisserie in Loire Atlantique-apart from Thierry’s. We get to the Petite Maison to find that Thierry has hurt his hand and has lunch customers who have turned up a little late. No problem, we wait on the clients while he talks to our students. After all, we’re part of the family. There is a great moment when Alice Holden, daughter of one of my first-ever 1988 pupils at WGS, presents Thierry with produce from the UK’s greatest brewery-Holden’s. Next day we visit Branféré animal park and later stage the talent show for the parents…all these things are unique. But most valuable of all, as every year, is the time students spend with their French families, building friendship and extending and consolidating their French. As our coach nears Wolverhampton and students present me with thank you gifts as I retire from being Head of French and the exchange, I know that I have many people to thank: my colleagues in Savenay and at WGS, all the families who took part including the “host-only” families, and especially the students themselves: this year they were Natasha, Andrew, Raajan, Ashley, George, Josh, Elysia, Jemima, Jenna, Alex (for the fourth time!), Lisa, Alice, Ellie, Emily and Imogen.

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