Our latest junior group arrived on a cold, dark Saturday evening in the final week of October. Having spent the last few week weeks preparing for their arrival, I was excited to finally meet them. The 23 tired teenagers tumbled off their coach, grabbing their suitcases on the way.
The group had departed from the north of France around 9 hours previously. They had taken the ferry to Portsmouth, travelling from there to the Lewis School of English by coach to meet their homestay hosts.
The hosts, who had been waiting at the school with me, quickly whisked away their new charges, but not before I had instructed the students to meet me back at the school at 10.30 am the next morning for the first stage of our jam-packed week of adventures.
For our first trip on Sunday we were blessed with beautiful weather. The pervasive rain which had been hammering Southampton in recent weeks had finally given way to a cold crisp morning, warmed only slightly by a weak winter sun.
The students arrived, well-rested and buzzing with excitement for the trip. We headed down to the train station, taking just a quick break to take several hundred photos of what was (apparently) a very exciting squirrel.
Our destination was Winchester, a beautiful medieval city, just a 15-minute train ride from Southampton. Our first stop in the city was the impressive Great Hall, which is the only remaining section of Winchester Castle.
It was here that I got the first impression of what kind of group this one would be as the students excitedly headed straight for the box of dressing up clothes. Within minutes, one of the older students, dressed as a king, was knighting another dressed as a knight and I had to break up a sword fight between two of the younger boys dressed as princesses.
After leaving the Great Hall, we explored the old town and parks, stopping to eat our packed lunches in front of Winchester’s magnificent gothic cathedral.
For the last hour, the group enjoyed some free time in the shops, before heading back to Southampton, where the students spent the evening with their homestay hosts.
The full-day trip to London on the Tuesday was a source of much excitement for the students. Although some of them had visited the city before, for others it was their first time in the country’s vibrant capital. We took the train again, but this time with a slightly longer journey of an hour and a half.
We arrived at Waterloo and from there ambled along beside the Thames, on our way to visit some of London’s most iconic tourist attractions. We took many breaks to admire the impressive views of the London Eye, framed by the Houses of Parliament, and to watch the entertaining street performers along the way.
We crossed Westminster Bridge and headed to Parliament Square, where the students had the opportunity for a cultural experience as we passed a small Brexit protest outside the Houses of Parliament.
After taking many more photos of Westminster Abbey, we headed to the green paradise that is St James’s Park. Here the presence of pelicans and many, many squirrels proved to be too much for some of the students and the group, once again, ground to a halt.
From the park we walked to Buckingham Palace, always an impressive sight made even more exciting by the flying of the Royal Standard above the palace, signalling that the queen was home.
From the palace, we headed along The Mall to Trafalgar Square. At this point, we decided to split the group into four, each with its own teacher, so that we could better explore the area. I gave my group of six young students the challenge of choosing where they wanted to go and to navigate the journey themselves.
Unperturbed, my little group took me on a fun tour of M&M’s World, a giant souvenir shop, a Harry Potter merchandise store, Primark and finally, for a splash of culture, the National Gallery. We used the remaining time to hunt down Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, before joining the rest of the group back at Trafalgar Square, where the fountains were now lit up in beautiful colours and a fire-breather was entertaining a large crowd.
After a meal at McDonald’s, we headed to the station to catch the train back to Southampton. The journey home was a lot quieter than on the way there and many of the now exhausted students slept the journey away.
Alongside the trips, the students also took part in various activities throughout the week. These included both academic trips to museums, as well as more leisure-based activities. These included a scavenger hunt, bowling, a Halloween party and a session at a sports hall. The most popular of these events were without a doubt the Halloween party and the sports.
The visit of this young French group happened to fall on the 31st of October, Halloween. This was a great opportunity for the students to experience an old-school British children’s Halloween Party, complete with the classic games of apple bobbing and wrap the mummy.
Any worries that I’d had about the games being too childish for the students fell quickly away as everyone embraced the activities with huge levels of energy. This enthusiasm became apparent from the very first activity, which was the challenge of creating the best ghoulish (non-alcoholic) cocktail. The students went to huge lengths to make the tastiest, most creative cocktail for me to judge.
After an evening of games, sweets and drinks, the only thing left to be done was to start the karaoke. This was received with the same extreme levels of excitement as everything else and the teenagers spent the remaining hour of the party belting out French rap and 80’s pop songs.
For the sports, we walked up to the Solent University sports facilities, which are just up the road from the Lewis School. Here we had access to a giant sports hall and whatever sports equipment the group desired.
The first half hour was pretty spontaneous. With access to basketballs, footballs and rugby balls, the students grabbed whatever they wanted and began to play. One of the girls asked for some mats, and we soon had a mini gymnastic class set up in the corner. One of the younger boys, who was an avid rugby fan, taught me and a couple of the other students how to throw a rugby ball properly and we passed the ball around happily for a while.
Once the students had expelled a little energy, I organised them into two teams and we played their game of choice, basketball. What ensued was a fast-paced, energetic match with members from both teams exhibiting a surprising amount of skill.
Between the activities and trips, the young learners also squeezed in 15 hours of English language tuition. The group were split into two classes for their lessons – one older, one younger. The classes were taught entirely in English and the students were expected to speak as much English as possible, even to each other. This meant that by the end of the week the call ‘SPEAK ENGLISH PLEASE’, mimicked from the teachers, was repeated often by the students, causing much hilarity amongst themselves.
The group didn’t follow a particular programme but their teachers aimed to tie the lessons in with the free time programme. For example, before going to the Tudor House Museum, the students learnt all about the Tudors, whilst using the sentence construction ‘used to…’ and before the sports session, the students researched a different sport in pairs and had to explain the rules to their classmates.
Throughout the week, the students also worked on presentations about their visit to Southampton. They gave the presentations during the award ceremony at the beginning of the week. My favourite of these presentations was one made in the style of TV talk show, in which the charismatic young host introduced three different guests. As they only had three people in the group, they had decided that the only way to achieve this was to dress one of the boys as a woman and he happily switched between his own character and that of his female counterpart.
This was the first group for whom I’d had to coordinate and carry out the activities myself and I have to say that they were an amazing first group to have. The teenagers approached everything with a great attitude and were always incredibly enthusiastic and energetic, which made my job all the more enjoyable.
I don’t speak French, or at least not much more than asking for a baguette, which meant that the only way of communicating with the students was through English. They, fortunately, rose to the challenge and made a huge effort to talk to me and practice their English. It was wonderful to see their confidence increase throughout the week and to attempt increasingly complex conversations.