A chaperone in France
"Courchevel, France" the most eastern resort of the Three Valleys, the biggest connected ski area in the world. It is renowned for its excellent lift system which is virtually queue free, even at the busiest of times. It is most famous for its highest resort, the exclusive village of Courchevel 1850. Named the St. Tropez of winter sports. That's the class trip this year, the teacher says to me, as a send off to grade 5 and a big hello to grade 6, the school does a class trip. Wow I'm thinking - but acting cool, that's great our daughter will be so pleased. "The principal has asked if you'd join us as a chaperone"?! WHAT "bien sure" first of all you DO NOT say no to invites from the principal, she is the boss, commands respect and gets it like no other woman I've seen in a long time! I'm so pumped I can barely get through my English class to come home and tell my hubby about this (hubby THE skier of this family will lose it). I get home explain the situation and my husband is instantly furious (in a good way) and oh so jealous. I get a week of free skiing in one of the most beautiful and luxurious ski resorts in the world! BUT i'm there to supervise kids so while I am excited I don't know what's ahead of me and have to remember that there will be 150 kids aged 7-12 on this trip too. First things first, ask our daughter if she doesn't mind. See a grade 5 trip is a big deal, no parents are normally allowed but since I teach English to this class the principal felt it would be a great opportunity for the class to learn English outside the classroom. The school outlines that this is a chance for kids to be independent of their parents, miss them a bit and grow from the experience of being with their peers for a week She said yes, she doesn't care either way if I go or not! YES, i'm so excited... I think.
The day has come, we are all packed and ready to go, we show up to school, say our goodbyes and we're off. A short 90 minute drive takes us to this magical land of snow and glitz and I mean glitz. There are boutiques selling anything from gold covered Macarons to high-end clothing shops I wouldn't even dare to enter. We get settled into our accommodations which are nothing like I read, we are staying in a city run frat house with 4 floors, main lodge for eating and ski shop. It will do for a week, it's clean, spacious and the staff are great and do this often so they are a fine tuned machine.
My job - follow the teachers, help the kids with their equipment, make sure they have everything they need, walk them to the main area for their ski classes and then I got to ski for free for 2.5 hours in the morning, then bring the kids back to the lodge for lunch and then back to ski class afterwards and ski another 2.5 hours in the afternoon or roam around this luxurious town. After dinner the kids have planned activities with the animators so I am free and I am sore from all the skiing! So I take advantage of this time to read by myself and enjoy the solitude. The week flies by and the kids are enjoying their time so much. Some kids got sick from the change in their diet and the stress of learning to ski etc but overall nobody got hurt which was a blessing. Speaking of meals, the food was excellent, classic French dishes with wonderful ingredients, cheeses, meats, beautiful fresh salads every evening and all served family style - really great. I need to mention that we had plenty of wine flowing in the evenings but I held off as I wanted to avoid any issues such as a dehydration or a hangover - the teachers looked at me funny and didn't really understand why I wouldn't drink! The end of the week came quickly and the team organized a "BOUM" which is French for a party for the last night. What a zoo that was, such a blast to see the kids dancing up a storm, laughing and really enjoying themselves even my own daughter was dancing which she never does.
We headed back home with goggle tans and sore legs and I managed to grab a few souvenirs along the way. This is what I learned from going on this trip.
1- French teachers are really tough. The education system here is severe, kids have greater expectations placed on them to behave and teachers don't hold back when it comes to discipline. They don't beat them that's not what I mean, but I have been in class when they are yelling at kids or speaking in a very harsh tone and I've felt uncomfortable. Sickness is not really tolerated. If you are sick you just deal with it and move on. The percentage of children in France that have been diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than 0.5%. This is largely because French doctors don’t consider ADHD a biological disorder with biological causes, but rather a medical condition caused by psycho-social and situational factors. Once a French psychiatrist diagnoses their patient with ADHD, they hone in on the behavioral problems by searching for the underlying causes. That's not for me to decide if right or wrong but I do know that a trip such as this one would have been way more complicated in Canada. North American teachers have a great deal of pressure to soften everything for kids and to not necessarily reprimand.
2- Allergies. On this trip we all ate together in one large room with tables of 12. At each table were 10 children with 1 sometimes 2 adults. Meal times were easy, the main difference in kids here is that there is a large part of the group that are Muslim that do not eat pork so they are served chicken instead or vegetable options. There are no allergies, it's so bizarre to see. I kept thinking - how would you feed all of these kids in Canada with all the allergies that we have, there would be 9 different meals. Why don't we have so many allergies here? Less environment factors, cleaner food? I don't have the answer but it's certainly interesting.
3- French parents really do let go. In North America I think this trip would be more difficult for parents. We had the option to receive letters from parents for the kids but not many of them got letters - they really did let them disconnect which I felt was great (of course I was there so what can I say really!). I would have written a letter to our daughter for sure if I wasn't part of this. I'm sure they missed their kids but I know that the children were just fine, not many got homesick at all surprisingly.
This was a tremendous opportunity for both my daughter and myself to experience this beautiful place and I am so grateful to have been invited. I only hope that they ask me again next year, but by then my daughter will not be in that class, will that make a difference? Not much - I loved every minute of it - skiing in fresh white powder snow up to your knees helps too and then lugging your skis past these ultra glamorous boutiques and seeing the magnificent display is pretty cool. There's a lot we can learn from the French and vice versa but one thing I know is when you have such a beautiful place such as Courchevel just around the corner from you it's important to expose children to environments such as this one.