Teacher says ‘travel is the only thing that makes you richer’ as students prepare for Normandy

By Joli Scheidler-Benns

From L to R: Shaun Soutar, Alison Smith, Emma Bartley, Reece Eason, Rebecca James

Several students gathered over a free lunch at Fenelon Falls Secondary School recently to enthusiastically discuss a 10-day trip to Normandy next year – and they got a chance to network with students who have already travelled internationally.

Julie Rocheleau, a teacher at the high school, has been organizing these international trips with her students for several years.

Rocheleau says, “I’ve been taking kids out-of-country pretty much every year since I started teaching, whether it be for sports or an immersive experience. Travel is the only thing that makes you richer.”

The students seemed to agree. The coming trip to Normandy in France is a 75-year celebration of the coming-of-age battle of Canadian troops and their allies in Normandy which was pivotal during the Second World War. Canada’s participation in this battle helped to secure the victory for allied forces. Rocheleau explains that she has used Explorica since 2009 to help arrange the trips, the largest Canadian student touring company.

Alison Smith and Shaun Soutar were among the first students to arrive and had already experienced their international travels in 2018 to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy.

Smith describes her experience as “a wonderful way to travel to different parts of the world and experience different cultures.” She adds that “although the Italians seemed abrupt,” they “display affection and love” more openly.

Soutar says he loved being immersed in the different cultures and enjoyed seeing so many historical sites.

“The people seemed to take time for living life — not just rushing through things.”

Smith and Soutar noted that they also enjoyed the narrow roads and the vineyards along the road. Their bus driver was Hungarian and shared many stories which added to their experience.

Amelia Austin, a former international traveller and secondary school student, describes her experience as “amazing.” She notes that she didn’t speak the languages, but it wasn’t a problem as there was a US teacher that travelled with their group and knew a bit of German.

Rocheleau says that students may receive optional language training before they go for basic phrases.

Emma Bartley travelled two years ago for the 2017 Vimy 100-year experience which included places such as the Netherlands, France and Belgium. She says the experience has made her “a lot more outgoing and confident.” She learned to speak to audiences, too, in order to share her experiences with other students and community members.

Reese Eason travelled with the group in 2018. She said there were so many takeaways from the experience from “culture to housing and seeing the old castles.” She also notes that the experience changed her and now she wants to pursue an international post-secondary school eventually. Eason says during her travels, she felt “welcomed, accepted and part of the community.”

Rebecca James also went on the most recent trip in 2018. She says that she “always wanted to travel, experience diverse cultures and varieties of food.” James is also a Disney fan and enjoyed seeing where some of the movies were made. She was “intrigued with the languages” and found her cell phone translator very helpful. A friend of the family also gave her a dictionary.

James says that she would “100 per cent go again and it was go-go-go while we were there.” Sleeping on the tour bus was helpful and she warned that public bathrooms were an issue some of the time.

“Often you had to pay to use public bathrooms,” so bringing your purse or wallet is important.

James also notes that she wasn’t sure that she would be able to go on the trip. The cost is about $3,400 plus lunches and spending money. The rest of the trip, including flights, motels, and the bus is included in the main fee. James lives with a hard-working, single mom who simply told her that “we’ll make it work” — and they did. James says that she is “so thankful” to her mom for giving her this opportunity.

Three students The Lindsay Advocate spoke to hadn’t been on a trip yet, but were excited about the prospect of going on the upcoming trip in 2019 to Normandy.

Ashleigh Picard wants to go next year as her family “was involved in D-Day although they don’t want to talk about it.” She wonders what it was like and wants to see where the battle happened. She plans on working two jobs over the summer to pay for half of the costs and her family has agreed to pay the other half.

Lilia Gibson also wants to go in 2019. Gibson says that she always “wanted to see Paris and likes learning about history and war.” She also says that her parents are paying for half of the costs and she will “do babysitting and yard work to raise the rest of the money.” Gibson’s grandpa always wanted to go to Normandy and she looks forward to sharing her photos and travel memories with him, especially, when she returns.

Leah Lai also hopes to go on the next trip. Lai says that “she has never even been out of Ontario,” and “the obstacle is money.” Lai says that “it will take good planning” to go and she “cuts grass now” but hopes to get a job over the summer to start saving.

Rocheleau explains that “we rely heavily on our community for support in order to fund our bus and tips while on tour.”

“Any and all support is welcome. The legion, lions club and Mayor (Andy Letham) of the City of Kawartha Lakes have been very supportive. We currently have students looking for help with next year’s tour and would be very interested in being a voice for someone who cannot attend.”

Other secondary school teachers across Kawartha Lakes are involved in annual international travel events, including Darren Burbidge at LCVI and Julie Hendren at I.E. Weldon S.S. For more information, Roceleau says they post photos daily and full summaries of their travels on the school’s Facebook page #FFSStravel.

(Second photo: L top: Lilia Gibson, L bottom: Asleigh Picard, R: Leah Lai)

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