2019 marks the 10th year since the first teacher from Arras, France, visited Castlemaine and our school to investigate and discuss the possibility of us forming a sister school exchange arrangement and was suitably impressed by the beautiful school surrounds and the streets of Castlemaine which he likened to the streets in a Western movie.
The first student visit then followed with eight students visiting Paris and staying with host families and attending school at Lycee Baudimont in Arras. Since that time we have hosted 16 students and two teachers from the High School in Arras every two years; and every two years French students from years 10 & 11 have made the return trip to explore, experience and enjoy the culture and the language of the French people. This amounts to five incoming tours and six groups of our Castlemaine Secondary College students going to France. Many of the friendships are enduring lifelong relationships between students from Castlemaine and a number of students have gone back to France to stay with their original host families. The French exchanges have also helped students appreciate the language and gain experience in speaking and listening.
Most recently, the group of students and teachers from Arras came and stayed with Castlemaine families, who are always ready and willing to ensure their French guests feel warmly welcomed and have the Australian experience. Some families have generously hosted multiple times. Many families treat their French guests to visits to the Grampians, trips down the coast, an AFL match, local sports events and various other tastes of Australiana. Seeing kangaroos hop down the street is definitely a highlight for our overseas visitors!
Each year the school also provides excursions to see the sights of Melbourne, wildlife parks, surfing lessons and welcome students into their classes.
For our students, their time in France is a combination of a four-day whirlwind tour of Paris, visiting such well-known French icons as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the river Seine, Champs Elysees, the Louvre. Then it’s up North in the Very Fast Train to Arras where they are welcomed by their host families and participate in the school program for two weeks. While there, Lycee Baudimont organizes local and international excursions. The students have a rich experience of the lasting connection between France and Australia that was born on the battlefields around Arras in WW1. One year they even visited the grave of a Castlemaine WW1 doctor who is buried there.
Students visit the lovely historic walled city of Bruges in Belgium - where the chocolate museum is no doubt the highlight - and do a cruise along the canals. They visit various towns and cities in the north of France, famous cathedrals, and the Channel coast amongst other things.
The exchange to France takes off again in September with 13 students under the supervision of Mark Johansson, who has taken over from Jane Macdonald who initiated the exchange and has coordinated it for the past ten years.
What a fabulous and enriching experience for our students and our town.