European Enrichment

MHS classes use spring break as a time for cultural enrichment and exploration

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  • Over spring break, a group of French students took a school trip to Paris, France, where they spent the week sightseeing and immersing themselves in the culture of the country. “When this opportunity came up, I was extremely excited and knew I couldn’t pass it up,” Peyton Cusick, junior, said.

  • The group of travelers walked miles around the city each day and visited several areas with different small shops and bakeries. The Eiffel Tower is visible from most parts of the city and lights up in the evening both with a circulating spotlight and individual sparkling lights that cover the entirety of the outside of the structure.

  • On the second day, the group ate a picnic lunch in the garden next to the Eiffel Tower. The view from the top of the monument stretches in all directions and many other famous monuments can be seen from it such as l’Arc de Triomphe.

  • The third day of the trip, the group visited various food establishments around Paris on a “foodie tour” and sampled food such as macarons, olive oil and pastries.

  • The group visited the Louvre art museum and competed in a group scavenger hunt to take photographs with famous art pieces such as the “Mona Lisa,” the “Venus de Milo” and “Liberty Leading the People.”

  • The group took a nighttime river boat tour of the Seine River where they saw many famous monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame. The boat tour offered an audio guide in several different languages and pointed out the various sights along the way.

  • The Eiffel Tower was one of the monuments that could be seen on the river boat cruise. Every night the monument lights up with both a circulating spotlight at the top, and for 10 minutes every hour, the whole tower sparkles.

  • During the course of the trip, the group visited a number of churches to admire their ornate and historical structures.

  • On the fifth day of the trip, the group visited the Catacombs, an underground historic burial site, and walked over a mile underground to view the bones.

  • Several times during the week, the group visited the Garden of Luxembourg either to stop for a group picnic or simply wander through and admire the scenery. “I think it was a very cool experience and I hope to go back someday,” Peyton Cusick, junior, said.

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Resting peacefully on a bench, disturbed only by a light breeze, junior Silvia Garcia took in the ambiance of her surroundings as she “people watched.” The backdrop to such a peaceful moment: L’Arc de Triomphe. 

A group of French students and two teachers traveled to Paris, France, over spring break. This trip had been delayed two years as a result of COVID-19 and travel restrictions.

“I’ve traveled to other countries before but never with a group like this one or with the school,” Garcia said. “Traveling with a group is definitely different and more fun though because you get to talk and spend time with your friends.”

The group started every morning with a language class before spending the afternoon sightseeing and further immersing themselves in French culture. They did activities such as taking cooking classes, eating a meal with a French family, completing a scavenger hunt in the Louvre, visiting the Eiffel Tower and walking through the Catacombs.

Though the 9-hour flight through time zones left the group feeling groggy on the first day, Garcia said they were quick to recuperate and begin learning more about the culture of the city.

Garcia said as the students spoke primarily French all week at school, restaurants and in stores, they were quick to pick up on cultural differences and nuances in the language.

“By the end of the trip, I think my vocabulary had increased by a lot, and I could understand what most people were saying most of the time,” Garcia said. “There were times, though, that I heard so much French that my head would start to hurt and my brain was exhausted.”


Cultural Comprehension

While so much exposure can be tiring, Dr. Elizabeth Allen, French Professor at Washington University, said it is also the best way to continue learning the language.

“Until you go over there, you can’t really understand,” Dr. Allen said

Dr. Allen said the learning of the culture and the learning of a language itself complement each other. They often serve as a motivator to continue studying as students get intrigued and excited when hearing about the cultural differences.

“Sometimes students get stuck for a really long time at a certain plateau and going abroad will make it go up,” Dr. Allen said. “You may have a headache and it may be hard, and you may be nervous and anxious and sweating about it but it’ll make your language ability go up just by the immersion experience and it’ll bring that whole pleasure aspect into it, which will make all the difference in the world.”

The learning experience on the trip to France extended past just the language, however, as students such as junior Peyton Cusick found passion in exhibits that showcased her ideal future career: forensics.

“My favorite part of the trip was visiting the Catacombs under the city,” Cusick said. “It amazes me how they were able to build them.”

The group toured the underground graveyard that features more than a mile of bones arranged into a pathway with inscriptions on the walls. 


Orchestra Travels

The MHS Orchestra also traveled to European countries over spring break.

Performing in Budapest, Vienna and Prague, James Nacy, orchestra teacher, said they were able to experience the deep musical history wherever they traveled. With history came cultural differences that extended past currency and language and into the music world.

“At the end of our performance in Budapest, the audience started clapping in unison in a rhythmic pulse. I asked our translator, ‘What does this mean?’”  Nacy said. “I asked kind of panicked because I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. ‘This,’ she shouted, ‘is the Hungarian way!’  It meant they liked us and wanted us to play more.”

The orchestra visited sites throughout Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

“Our history buffs on the trip really got a lot of information handed to them,” Nacy said. “This trip represented the most countries we’ve ever gone to in one trip, with the greatest variety of cultures.”

Liyoung Martin, senior, said they had several tour guides who took them around the cities where they were able to admire the architecture before eating dinner together at the end of every day.

“The biggest cultural difference I observed was the amount of art and architecture dedicated to religion, specifically Christianity. Christianity has played a big role in American culture as well, but in Europe, you can physically see the effect that Christianity had in the formation of European culture almost everywhere you go,” Martin said.

Martin said he practiced quite a bit on his own in addition to the rehearsals during Ac Lab that orchestra held for months before the trip in preparation. 

“Each of our three performances was at some large, magnificent, venerable location, and each time I look back, I can’t believe some high school orchestra from Chesterfield, Missouri, got to perform in them,” Martin said. “[The performances] were all good, but we were especially proud of the last one, and it was a great way to finish off the trip.”

Although the entire orchestra was not able to attend, Martin said there was still a large number of students who created a full sound while playing and made for an enjoyable experience.

“My favorite part about the trip was getting to talk and understand my friends in ways that wouldn’t normally have been possible in the mundane, repetitive environment of school,” Martin said. “I had talks with friends about religion and what their deepest thoughts are. I formed deeper connections with peers I’d only talked to a few times while in school.”