There is no doubt, our lives have changed dramatically since we left England on 24 July, 2015, to move to France… Gone are the early morning starts (5.30 am for me!) and daily slog in horrendous traffic to the office but, although has taken us a while to get used to the fact that we are semi-retired, we are now earning a crust by hosting English immersion Sejours for French students during their school holidays – who would have thought it?!
Still, that’s how it has panned out and after the last week’s group, it seems we are doing pretty well at it…..
A Typical Sejour
We’ve conducted 9 weeks of Sejours to date, usually with 3 students for each week, and we have become wiser and gained loads of experience along the way. Each week is different, even if the overall programme is the same – the time of year and the dynamics of each group both play a part. Over time, we have both become more relaxed and being well prepared beforehand pays dividends!
So for last week’s Sejour, we started a few days before the students arrived, preparing the rooms, cleaning the house and doing lots of cooking and baking!
The students were 12 and 13 years old, so Edward knew roughly what his morning lessons would need to cover. We planned a programme of activities for the afternoons and evenings, checking opening times of different venues, and downloaded all the details for each student (including contact details, medical history, interests, likes and dislikes and parental agreement). Finally, we checked when the students were to arrive – this week, we had twins that were being brought by their mother, and another student who was arriving on the train in Le Mans, whom Edward was going to collect in the afternoon.
Our week went as follows:
Sunday afternoon – Edward left around 1pm to collect Timothée from the station at Le Mans. I prepared for the arrival of the twins, Claire and Théo – cups and saucers, tea plates, napkins, etc. all at the ready for English ‘high tea’, which we usually provide as a welcome. Orange layer cake and a selection of tray bakes were on offer to our new arrivals….. Edward and Timothée arrived soon after Claire and Théo, so after a cup of tea and cake, we all went for a tour around the house, giving the children chance to find their bearings and their mother chance to be reassured they would be comfortable for the week ahead!
After goodbyes were made, we gave the children chance to unpack and settle in, then it was time to get to know each other a little. We thought they’d like to make up the biscuits I’d made previously into ‘jammy dodgers’, which were to be this evening’s desserts – it went down very well and it was obvious they were looking forward to eating them!!
The first meal of the week was English Breakfast (bacon, eggs, beans and sauté potatoes), followed by the jammy dodgers for dessert 🙂
To finish off the evening, we played cards, teaching them how to play ‘Stop the Bus’ – a real life-saver during the Sejours, as the kids love it and it fills in odd gaps in the day and keeps them busy! Then it was bedtime at 9.30 pm for the children while Edward prepared his lesson for the morning and I set the table ready for breakfast….
Monday – We’re up for 7.30am, and have time for a cup of tea to start the day before we prepare for the day ahead and wake the children at 8.45. Breakfast is at 9am and usually consists of cereals, toast, jams, juice and tea…. this week’s group were quite young and liked to have hot chocolate with their breakfast too….
An hour between breakfast and their lesson gives them time to have a wash and get ready for the day ahead, while Edward makes final preparations for his lesson and I clear away things breakfast things and get ready for the morning break and lunch.
Lunch at 12.30 is cheese and ham toasted sandwiches with salad and crisps, with fruit salad pots for dessert. I have to be careful because Claire has an intolerance to melted cheese and foods containing cheese…. Something I must remember for all the week’s meals…
After lunch we get ready to go out for our first afternoon activity – a trip to St Suzanne and the Château and museum… We spend quite some time exploring the grounds and climbing the stairway up to the top of the keep. Inside the château, we take time to look at all the interactive exhibits about natural history, watch a film about the Mayenne department and look at an exhibition on ironworks in the Mayenne – Claire even completes a quiz about the exhibits 🙂
Back outside and we take a little stroll around the outside of the castle walls before heading back to the car for a gout (taster/snack) and a drink before driving back home. They enjoyed the trip but were tired on the drive home!!
Back home, and it’s time for them to do their homework, ready for tomorrow’s lesson, then Edward keeps them entertained while I make the evening meal – sausages and mash with onion gravy, with pancakes for dessert….
After dinner, it’s time for the evening activity – today it’s making peppermint creams….
After showing them how to handle the ‘cream’ and roll it out, I more or less leave them to it but it’s a challenge keeping an eye on all three at the same time!! They want to squash it, roll it and poke it as flat as possible so they’re not going to turn out that ‘creamy’ in the middle! But, they love cutting out the different shapes and placing them on the parchment ready to set…. The kitchen looks like it’s been hit by a snow storm by the time they have finished, but, it’s a nice activity and tomorrow they will bag up the sweets, ready to take home at the end of the week…
Then, it’s bed time!! Ready to start preparing for tomorrow all over again, and, if there’s time, watch an episode of our favourite serial to wind down….. zzzzzzz
So, a pattern is forming:
7.3o am – We get up, washed and have a cup of tea; 8.45 am – we wake up the children for breakfast; 9.00 am – Breakfast; 10.30 am – Morning lesson with half-way break
12.30 pm – Lunch: Cornish pasties and salad; jam ‘pasties’ for dessert
Afternoon activity today is Bowling at Alençon, followed by dinner at Mc Donald’s! Edward takes them on this trip, while I send out newsletters and photos to the families, to let them know the children are well and happy. This time also gives me chance to get some ironing done and check on the bathroom and bedrooms…..
7.00 pm – They’re back! This evenings activity is ‘film night with popcorn’. They choose ‘Men in Black II’ and we put on English subtitles 🙂
9.30 pm – bed time!
The morning goes as above but during his lesson, Edward asks the students to complete a questionnaire about their stay with us, which I then send to the company, English For Success, for their records – happily we get a good review!
12.30 pm – Lunch: Egg rolls and salad with crisps; fruit salad pots
The afternoon activity today is ice-skating at Alençon. We’re there for opening and they spend a happy couple of hours on the rink, while I look after coats on the side lines!
Back home and while they do their homework, it’s time for me to get dinner ready: Cottage pie with vegetables and gravy, with fruit crumble and crème Anglaise for dessert.
This evening’s activity was going to be board games but they started to watch ‘Avatar’ last night, so saw the end of that instead, plus ‘Sherlock Holmes’…. I made little cones for their popcorn so it felt like they were at the cinema – seemed like a fun idea at the time but Edward said they spilt them all over the sofa and I’m still picking out sticky bits from the sofa cushions some days later, so don’t think we’ll be doing that again!!
9.30 pm – Bed time!
As above, the usual morning schedule. During the lesson, I send more newsletters and photos to the parents and reply to any emails they may have sent us.
12.30 pm – Lunch: Home made egg fried rice; peach slices and ice cream with raspberry sauce for dessert
Today we spend the afternoon in and around La Biochère and the activity is printmaking! While I get the things we need ready, Edward takes them for a little stroll up the lane and into the fields to see the view and any wildlife. They seem to enjoy using the binoculars and are especially thrilled that Mouse comes on the walk too!!
When they get back, the kitchen table is ready with pencils, paper, lino, cutters and lots of other bits and pieces for making lino prints. They spend some time drawing out their designs, which they are going to make into Easter cards. Next, I demonstrate how to cut the lino, safely! It’s always a bit nerve-wracking because some children are more dextrous than others but I use safety blades, which help reduce the chance of cutting themselves badly and I keep an eagle eye on them, all the while they are using the blades….. Plates cut and inking up next – not bad for a first ever attempt at printmaking (and no cut fingers, yey!!)….
Then it’s time for homework and I prepare dinner. Edward keeps them entertained when they come downstairs after homework – we’re a well-oiled machine!!
7 pm – Dinner: Beef burger pie and potato wedges; chocolate brownies and crème Anglaise for dessert.
The evening activity is baking – butter biscuits, which they will decorate ready for tomorrow’s last day ‘party’. While they wait for the biscuits to cool, they help Edward decorate the kitchen with paper garlands and other such things to create a party atmosphere for tomorrow – Claire seems to enjoy this more than the boys!!
And this takes up right up to bed time!!
The last full day…..
Instead of a lesson, they have a test today, covering all the subjects they have discussed and worked through over the week…. They all seem to do really well and are happy with their results, which is very rewarding.
The test takes about an hour and so afterwards we make the prints they designed yesterday into Easter cards – it’s a consuming business as they decorate their cards with colour pens and write out who they are to in their best English 🙂
12.30 pm – Lunch: Bacon and egg toasted sandwiches; blackberry and apple tart….
After lunch Edward takes them for their last afternoon activity – swimming at Evron…. We were all going together until we discovered the middle seatbelt in the back seat won’t work! There always seems to be something to fix! So, I’m left behind to get things ready for the evening party…..
Three and a half hours later and they’re back, time to pack their cases before the raclette party…. It’s lovely to see their faces when they come back down to see the table set and the raclette grill ready to cook cheese and meats….
They finish off every last morsel before I bring out the Swiss roll and the biscuits they decorated yesterday evening – a very well received meal!!
After dinner their certificates are awarded (one each with some comments from Edward on their progress, as their teacher). Then, we set them up with pirate hats, ready for the indoor treasure hunt. In the summer months, we have a treasure hunt outside but the wet weather and shorter days mean we can’t do that at this time of year. However, they really seem to enjoy it as they get used to the rhyming clues – the first one goes:
‘I take your clothes for quite a spin
First they get wet, that’s how I begin’
It takes them a little while to work it out, then they are all rushing through to the laundry room to find the next clue stuck to the door of the washing machine! It’s fun to do this with them – they each get chance to read out the clues in their good English accents and they generally puzzle out the answers with minimal help from us. The last clues are found upstairs as we hear shrieks from their bedroom when they find them hidden in their pillow or on the back of the alarm clock! Finally, they find the map and the last clue:
This group works out where they might find the treasure and gamely sing ‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest….’ several times over before they plunder the treasure!
It’s been a fun week and they all went to bed happy!!
It’s an earlier start for breakfast today as Edward has to take Timothée back to the train station at Le Mans – they are gone by 9.15 am. Claire and Théo finish their packing and bring all their cases and bags down into the kitchen. I do a last check of the rooms and bathrooms then we play cards while we wait for their mother to arrive. She comes quite early as they are going onto Le Mont St Michel for a few days holiday together. She is very happy to see the children again after their first holiday away on their own. However, it is clear they have spoken to each other regularly during the week and she tells me that they have been very happy and that Claire asked that if they do another Sejour, could they come back to the Family North! I don’t suppose we could have asked for a better response than that! Soon they were on their way but not before giving us a bottle of champagne and a lovely rose flower arrangement to say thank you – how kind and thoughtful….
The next day we received an email from Timothée’s parents, thanking us for all the things with did with the children and for the good balance we’d made between the academic work and the fun activities. Apparently, while he had not been very confident at speaking English before the sejour, Timothée had since been speaking English with his father and told him how much he had enjoyed the week. His father told us they had 5 sons and it’s likely that they will also be coming to stay with us in the not too distant future!! Furthermore, another email arrived from Claire and Théo’s mother, after their short break, to tell us that they will likely return next April! So, looks like we’re doing something right – a hat trick this week!