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Student Blog: Diary from the French Riviera

25 September 2019

“A new door to the French world…”

On Thursday the 12th of September, three Advanced French Surval students departed with Madame Hily and Ms Wells for their long-awaited French Immersion experience. Liza and Nastya (G12, Russia) and Faith (G12, South Africa) spent a long weekend in the Principality of Monaco, on the beautiful French Riviera. The girls stayed with French families, attended a French school, and had the opportunity to discover the local nature and culture. The trip provided the students with the chance to be truly immersed in a French-speaking environment - though all three were already strong French speakers, the girls often felt shy about speaking French; as you will discover in Liza and Nastya's trip journals below, by the time they returned, they were not only confident in speaking French - but "looking forward" to the "joys and happiness" that speaking French gives them.

On Monday September 23rd, Liza and Nastya led an assembly on their French Immersion experience, delivering it in both English and French. As both girls had very little English when they joined Surval, both deliveries were equally impressive! A proud Madame Hily, who organised the trip, expressed her satisfaction at its success, showing heartfelt pride in her students' development: “I am really pleased with what the girls have learnt and achieved over the five days in Monaco. It definitely allowed them to bring their French skills to the next level and I am absolutely proud of them!” 

Read on to experience the trip through the eyes of the girls themselves - in Liza and Nastya's "Trip Diary" - a wonderfully detailed, thoughtful, appreciative and humorous account of a long weekend living and learning in the South of France...


Day One

The day we were crossing days out to in the calendar finally arrived! At 4:30 in the morning, Nastya’s alarm went off. 40 minutes later, Liza jumped out of her bed thinking that she has already missed the plane, last-minute packing in panic. At 5:30 a.m. we were out of the school heading off to the airport ready for the “voyage”! 

Trouble with the credit card, yummy breakfast, greeting card for our family, delayed plane and we were decisively on board! After thirty-five minutes that lasted as five, we arrived back in the summer and saw the palms and the beach out of the side window – there was Nice. Sadly, all of our conversations in plane can be described as “teachers speaking French but getting responses in English” - our usual tradition! Until… we had a transfer to Monaco, where we met our French family. From then on, we had no other choice but to start speaking French.

From the first moment of meeting our Monégasque mother, she enveloped us with care and warmth. Mme Hily’s words, “elles parlent très bien francais”, made us freak out and we blushed. And soon we were left alone with Marie-Hélène (our “mother”) and her three charming cats: two girls and a boy. She kindly showed us around the house and neighbourhood, whereupon we headed off to our school for the trip, popping into a café on our way to have lunch.

At the beginning of our lesson, we did not dare to say a single word in French; “bonjour” was the limit of our courage. However, in three hours’ time, we walked out of the school and willingly spoke French to Mme Hily. The time that we spent with our new family and in class without any possibility to speak any other language apart from French helped us to try and express ourselves in French with our dear teachers: Mme Hily and Mlle Wells.

With happy souls from our first successful steps, we then visited the oceanographic museum. There was a humongous aquarium with sharks, turtles and cramp-fish. We were so lucky that we had a chance to observe a male seahorse giving birth! Besides we met sea stars, octopus, sea urchin, nemo, jelly-fish and so many other marine inhabitants. It was a fascinating experience, because all of them were sometimes scary, but always interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, a challenge was awaiting us at home. Nastya’s task was to cut tomatoes in perfectly circled slices and make a Burrata salad. Liza had to fry the Milan Cotoletta. Both of us did a decent job, but while we were busy cooking dinner, our Monégasque “father” suddenly appeared in the corridor. We were a little bit surprised, but very happy, because our family was reunited and we had a great dinner together! After such a delightful dinner, our mother took us on a tour around Monaco at 10 o’clock at night. We were walking around the city, gazing at the beautiful view from the sea shore. By the time we came back home, it had already passed midnight and we were exhausted, but overjoyed. We went to sleep at one o’clock in the morning, looking forward to the next day and improving our oral skills in French. Bonne nuit!


Day Two

An early wake-up call began our day before the sunrise. It is an indescribable feeling of waking up to a breath-taking view of the seaside from the terrace, then getting ready for a new day and new adventures. At 7:15, there was a typical French breakfast prepared for us by our mama. At 8 o’clock sharp, we were on our way to school, taking photos of the amazing view of the port from above.

After having learnt the words for all types of boats, French dishes, sea creatures, titles of the medieval monarchy and lots of other vocabulary, we left school at midday with our knowledge-loaded heads. Luckily, we got to have two hours of free time to have lunch. We found a very nice restaurant with exceptional service and decoration of dishes.

After an astonishing meal, we happily joined our teachers at 14:00 and hit the well-known road to the Prince’s Palais up on the hill of Monaco. There we had an excursion in French and we were impressed by the beauty of the old part of the Palais.

Next, we rushed to the Exotic Garden to get there before it closed. Once there, we were amazed by giant cactuses in an incredible variety. We arrived just in time for the visit of the natural cave. We managed to go down to the cool and damp dungeon. We saw creed stalactites and stalagmites that were beautiful and mysterious.

Our ‘mom’ had let us know that she would come back quite late  that night. When we finished visiting the garden, it was only 6 pm and so we decided to make a surprise for her and our ‘dad’. Thank you, Mme Hily, for letting us go to Carrefour, which is a huge supermarket. Once we entered the pastry section, a strawberry cake attracted our eyes. We had no  options but to buy it! Then we remembered about the cats and so brought them a present. 

We sat at a table not far from the seashore to enjoy the sunset and placed the cake on the chair next to us. Suddenly, out of nowhere, whilst Liza was absent for a second, a big dog ran into the chair with the cake and the cake fell over on the ground. I saw all this with my own eyes and was so shocked that I ran to get Liza and we decided to buy a new cake because we didn’t want to come back home without a present. Unfortunately, there was no strawberry cake left so we had to get a raspberry one. We were very disappointed already and guess what happened next? Liza’s phone died and Nastya did not have any internet so we had literally NO idea about how to get home since it was our second day in a new country!!!

We realized that the whole town is situated on the seashore. This meant that if Carrefour is close to the seaside and our home is too, we could simply follow the shore and sooner or later we would see our house! As soon as we figured out which way to go, we ran as fast as we could to be on time for dinner. Thank God our mother guided us through the neighborhood in advance and, pretty soon, we recognized the places that we were running by. 

When we got home, our father was there waiting for us and we gave him the gifts. He did not expect these at all and this is what was the most important of all this. After we had dinner together we tried the cake and it was really good. Then, we headed off to go bowling. 

We were a little bit tired and nervous because it was our first time bowling, but when we got there the atmosphere was so energetic that we could not wait to start playing. We divided into teams: us two against our “parents”. They explained to us the rules and the technique of throwing the ball. We started off with the dad. Then it was our mum’s turn. They did really well and when it came to us we knew that we have to fight, otherwise we would lose without any doubt. We gathered strength and so Nastya did a ‘strike’ and a ‘split’ and Liza did a ‘spare’. Our ‘dad’ told us it was beginners’ luck, but we were very happy about it, even though we did not win the game. 

We came back home at 1 am and fell on our bed because of tiredness and immediately fell asleep. Tomorrow is Saturday! Hooray! 


Day Three

Despite the fact that we went to bed very late, we always get up very early and today was not an exception. We had breakfast with our mother and said to her that today we were planning on visiting Nice and so she kindly told us a little bit about the city and its history. Then, Mme Hily and Ms Wells picked us up on their car and the journey started.

As soon as we arrived in Nice and walked out of the parking lot, we saw a confectionery called Florian, which is the specialty of this region – we just had to go there! All of us found something we liked and we were very happy because we also bought little presents for our families and friends. This shop was the first part of Nice that we visited today.

Our next destination was “La Colline du Château”, which is the Castle Hill. Nowadays, there is no castle – just ruins, which are very symbolic. And the view from that hill is really iconic! We took a picture all together with the sea in the background. Apparently, at midday sharp, they always shoot a gun there. And this was the same time that we had just arrived on the hill and so it was shot very close to us. The sound was so loud that our ears were a bit blocked for a while and we were terrified, but Mme Hily explained to us what had just happened and why they do it, so it ended up being a very interesting cultural experience!

Following that, we came down into the centre of the city; to the old town, where there were a lot of narrow streets, typical (of the region) yellow, reddish houses and small shops - we ended up in a real fairy tale area called “Provence”. We walked through the old town to the seashore where the famous “Promenade des Anglais” is, with lots of blue chairs that are known worldwide. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining bright on the turquoise sea, so we did not hesitate to take a stroll along the sea and have lunch on the beach. The restaurant “Le galet” had been suggested to us by the Director of the school we went to in Monaco and we decided to follow the recommendation.

After such a hearty lunch, we knew exactly where we want to go next – to the ice-cream shop “Fenocchio” that we had seen on explorations of the old town. We rushed there straight away. We did not go for a standard flavours; we really wanted to try something extraordinary so we went for mango, passion fruit, litchi, mojito, black currant and cactus!!! We did not regret this at all because it was the best ice cream we have ever tried! And if we could, we would go there again just to get another cup of this ice cream.

Sadly, it was then time for us to leave Nice, but when we found out where we were going to next, we were the happiest people in France for sure!!! When leaving Nice, we stopped in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and went swimming in the sea! It was so cool! We have never ever swam in the sea in September! The weather was amazing and the water was warm as well! We fooled around in the water like little kids and did not want to leave, but, as it was getting late, we had to go.

Before going back to Monaco, we sat in a café on the beach and ordered a drink each. It was the best feeling of sitting next to our teachers and being able to talk to them about whatever we wanted. It felt like we were just friends and that feeling was the most important because it meant that we were no longer afraid to open up and speak French to them.

When we returned to our families, we had dinner together and then played a table game in French, which was so much fun! We were laughing so much that our stomachs started to hurt. Then, our “mother” took us to see the Prince’s Palais at night, which we had already visited during the day. It was impressive and Monaco seemed like a completely different city at night. We had a walk and saw an amphitheatre where normally different concerts or plays take place. The sky was full of stars and it was so enchanting that we could not look away.

At last, the third day came to an end. We came back home at 00:30 and could not even talk properly to express our happiness and gratitude towards our teachers and “parents”. We just fell asleep as soon as we got into our bed and could not wait for tomorrow to experience all these wonderful feelings again.


Day Four

After waking up with the ‘traditional’ sunrise and having another one of those typical French breakfasts, we met Mme Hily and Ms Wells and headed off to Grasse - the world’s capital of perfumes. On our way, Mme Hily was giving us an insight about this magical place; however after twenty minutes she stopped getting replies from us because we had fallen asleep (not at all surprising - the Prince’s Palace at night was worth our sleep). La parfumerie Fragonard is the most well-known around the world out of all the parfumeries in the region, so we went there. After arriving at our long-awaited destination, we had some time to wake-up while we were waiting for our guide to arrive (they kind of forgot to call her). 

Our guide was a very nice young lady that has actually almost become a professional advocate. She was talking to us with great interest and enthusiasm about the flowers that perfumes are made with, and the machinery and techniques used in the soap and perfume making. It was impossible to stop listening to her dynamic and energetic narration. 

After this successful visit we went off to Cannes! The first thing we decided to do was to have lunch. We found a nice restaurant on a cosy street and tasted some foie-gras followed by seafood risotto. 

After lunch we visited the old village of Cannes – le Suquet. The interesting fact about le Suquet is that it is not situated in the centre of Cannes, as an old town would normally be. The reason for that is for military defensive reasons. Being situated on the hill gave citizens time to prepare for any enemies coming as well as the opportunity to see the sea. 

“Promenade sur la Croisette” was our next plan. It is difficult to say a lot about this point. We were just walking, enjoying the view of the port, talking and feeling so fulfilled and simply – happy. We also wandered the square of festivals, where the famous Cannes Film Festival takes place. To be honest, it felt strange to see it without the red carpet and all the celebrities that you see in the photos. 

Thereafter we decided to hit Saint Paul de Vince - the most beautiful city of Provence, which has inspired many artists, authors and poets. We had some free time to explore this magnificent place. We took lots of pictures, as the view was just spectacular! To put a cherry on top of the cake, we visited the L’Occitane shop. How could we not visit it if it says “Provence” on every product?

We then journeyed back to our Monaco home. On our way we saw lots of buses filled with the Marseillan fans. Their football team was playing against Monaco that day, and the whole country was buzzing with anticipation! As we now know, Philippe is a big fan of football, so of course he went to support his team! 

Meanwhile, the youngest daughter of Marie-Hélène and Philippe came over with her friend. They were both so nice and it was a great pleasure to spend some time with them and just talk about what they like, what they are doing at the moment, as well as telling them about ourselves. We had an extremely delicious (as always) dinner and then something very exciting was coming up…we were going to have a competition: which team’s crepes were the most delicious? Of course, as we say in Russian - “Friendship won!”. Our evening was very warm and so family-like that we were even a bit sad when Julie and her friend had to leave.  And then it was time for us to pack our suitcases and go to bed. 


Day Five

So the last day of our trip arrived and we can confidently say that it was the most extreme day in a long time!!! 

We woke up as usual – three hours before our lesson was to start. Our fatigue had accumulated over the past two weeks and our “mother” advised us to get to school by bus on the last day, otherwise it would be an almost one hour walk. She helped us with the number of the bus that we should take, which was four, and we looked up the timetable for that bus. We decided to leave home at 8 o’clock to take the bus at ten past 8 in front of the tourism office. We were right on time and caught the bus number four next to the tourism office. We thought everything was going perfectly until… 

After ten minutes of the bus ride we looked at the buildings we were passing by and got a little bit confused because we saw the places where we had a night walk with our “mother”, which had been on the other side of the city! It took us several more minutes for our sleepy brains to load the information, analyse it and figure out that we were going in the opposite direction from our school!!!!!

We ran out of the bus at the next stop, which turned out to be the final one – we were on one side of the city; and our school, where we were supposed to be in ten minutes, was on the other side. According to Sod's Law, we were never late on any other day, but when Mme Hily told us to arrive in advance today because we had to go to another school, we were twice as far from the appointed place!

We had no other choice but to call our teachers and tell them everything. This was the hardest thing for us to do at the time because we were freaking out and didn’t want to be told off but we realised that it was the best thing we could do, so Liza called Ms Wells, and Nastya had to talk to Mme Hily. Fortunately, they were so understanding and kind; they just said that it was nothing catastrophic – just a life experience, and the most important thing was that we were safe. These were the best words that we could be told at that moment because it helped us to calm down.

We called a taxi but, after twenty minutes, it was still not there, and so we had to cancel it and just go to school by foot. We looked at Google Maps and it said that it would take us about two hours. We were shocked and bewildered but we just had to start going because it was already 9 a.m. and this was the time that normally our lesson would starts. We decided to run and in about ten minutes we saw a bus number four going in the same direction! We were so happy and grateful, we immediately got on it and just hoped that it would take us as close to the school as possible. 

Ms Wells sent us the address of the new school and, as soon as we were about ten minutes away from it, we jumped off the bus and ran. There were lots of road works and so it was a real quest to find the way to school, but we did it and, in five minutes’ time, we were sitting in the classroom discussing our insane morning trouble and laughing about it. Thankfully, in the end, we were not late by two hours but just by half an hour. 

This was only the beginning of the day and we already felt exhausted because of the run and the stress. However, the lesson was great and the teacher was joking around the whole time so it helped us to relax a little bit. When the lesson finished and we had to meet Mme Hily and Ms Wells, we did not know how to look in their eyes because we felt extremely sorry. To our surprise, neither Mme Hily nor Ms Wells scolded us. Mme Hily was making jokes about it and just said that now we will have something to remember. From that moment on, we were no longer stressing about it and were ready to enjoy the rest of the day.

From 12:00 until 17:00 we had free time in the city. First of all, we went to a restaurant that we were already familiar with and had a delicious lunch. Then, we remembered that when we were visiting the Exotic Garden on the second day, there was a shop where we found two little cuties: two cacti that we really wanted to buy. We decided not to miss the opportunity and to go back to the Garden to buy them.

And so, to the Garden it was! Taught by experience, we took the right bus and, in half an hour, we were at the point of making a very important decision on which cactus to buy. So, there we were with our two new friends (after twenty minutes of thinking we finally chose our cacti).

Now both of them are friends and they have a name - Liza’s cactus is Nikita and Nastya’s is Fleur. The only thing we were worried about is whether or not we would be allowed onboard the plane with them, so we had to call the Swiss air company and find out. Unfortunately, they said no, so we just had to find a way to put them in our suitcases. We went off to buy small houses for them that would be comfortable but also very protective. It wasn’t a big deal because we went to Carrefour and very quickly found what we needed. And how could we miss the perfume shop? Of course, we purchased a number of bottles of their typical perfume. 

By this time, It was about 4 o’clock and we started making our way back home to get ready to leave. Soon we were ready, but very sad because the days had passed by so fast and we had enjoyed them so much that we just did not want to leave at all. To our great regret, there was nothing we could do: the clock struck six, and we had to say goodbye to our family. 

Our parting with the family was difficult but we hope to meet again someday. We arrived at the airport in advance to have time for dinner. The restaurant we went to was very nice and we very much enjoyed our last meal in Nice. As soon as we got on the plane, we fell asleep and slept throughout the whole flight. 

We instantly woke up from the hit on the ground when landing and our immediate thought was “Finally we’ve arrived!” but it was too early to rejoice…Once we opened our eyes, Faith told us that we had arrived …in LYON!!!!! We did not believe her and thought she was kidding or trying to prank us so we were like “haha, so funny” – but, in actual fact, we had landed in Lyon! 

Apparently, there was an emergency on the airstrip of Geneva and it was necessary that we wait in the air for at least twenty minutes before we could ask for permission to start the landing. However, the plane did not have enough fuel for this because it was only calculated to get from Nice to Geneva, which is a half an hour flight; and now we were told that we had to stay in the air for approximately another half an hour, which is twice as long as we were supposed to. So the pilot decided to go to the airport of Lyon to refuel. 

We did not even have to leave the plane. We were just chatting to Mme Hily and Ms Wells and because we were laughing so much, other people in the plane also started to get engaged in our conversations. It is essential to note that all the conversations we had were purely in French, which (for us) was unbelievable!

In about forty minutes, we were ready to go to Geneva and the airstrip there was eventually available. Not more than thirty minutes and we were in the airport of Geneva, but we still missed the last train and had to get a taxi. We were glad to be able to get to school as fast as possible and have a little bit of sleep in the taxi.

At 1:30 in the morning, we could see Surval out of the taxi window. We could not wait to get into our beds and we left our everything as it was: unpacked suitcases, dirty clothes, unfinished homework …After such an intense day, we were happy to lie in our beds: we could not control our eye…they were just closing by themselves… and we fell asleep in the first second.

The best school trip that we have ever been on had finished but it will always stay in our memory and we will definitely come back to Monaco one day. We do not say goodbye but see you soon! Thank you for the most productive and joyful holiday! A heartfelt thank you to Mme Hily for all that she has done for us! There is nothing else we could ever ask for because being able to speak French makes us so delighted that we stop worrying about all the little things that do not matter and feel strong enough to overcome every fear and achieve our goals!



On the night before the trip to Monaco, we were a little bit nervous; but, at the same time, very excited as it was our first time of this kind of experience. We couldn’t wait for the morning to come and didn’t want to go to sleep. Different thoughts were coming into our heads and we were talking to each other to help us calm down. We could not believe that the next morning was coming because we had been waiting for this trip since last year and now it was only a few hours away! This is when we realised that dreams do come true! That evening was magical because all our feelings were mixed up but one thing we knew for certain was the gratefulness we felt towards Mme Hily for organising this trip and sharing these moments of happiness with us. This day has become one of the most important days for us because it changed our whole lives and opened a new door to the French world. We have started a new chapter where every single morning the first thought that comes into our minds is that we are looking forward to speaking French because it brings us joy and happiness.

La nuit précédant notre voyage à Monaco, nous étions un peu nerveuses mais surexcitées car c’était notre première expérience de ce type. Nous avions hâte au matin et ne voulions pas nous coucher. Différentes pensées nous traversaient la tête et nous nous parlions pour nous aider à nous calmer. Nous ne pouvions pas croire que cela arrivait réellement car nous attendions ce voyage depuis l'année dernière et maintenant, il ne restait que quelques heures! C'est à ce moment-là que nous avons réalisé que les rêves deviennent réalité! Cette soirée était magique parce que tous nos sentiments étaient mélangés, mais la seule chose que nous savions était que nous étions reconnaissantes envers Mme Hily d’avoir organisé ce voyage et de nous avoir fait partager ces moments de bonheur. Cette journée est devenue l’une des plus importantes pour nous car elle a changé nos vies et a ouvert une nouvelle porte au monde français. Nous avons commencé un nouveau chapitre où chaque matin, la première chose à laquelle on pense est que nous avons hâte de parler français, car cela nous apporte joie et bonheur.

French Immersion Trip: Our Itinerary

Jour 1:

• 5h30 depart surval ✅

• Petit déjeuner à l'aéroport ✅

• GVA → NCE ✅

• Transfer a Monaco ✅

• Rencontre avec les familles ✅

• Cours de français dans une école de langues à Monaco ✅

• Visite du musée océanographique de Monaco avec la prof ✅

• Retour famille + dinner + promenade ✅


Jour 2: 

• Pt dej ✅

• Cours de français (ecole fr Mc) ✅

• Visite du rocher / du palais princier - avec prof Surval / du jardin exotique ✅

• Carrefour :)  ✅

• Retour famille + bowling + diner ✅


Jour 3:

• Pt dej ✅

• Prof surval est venue nous chercher en voiture ✅

• Nice: confiserie Florian, colline du château, vieille ville, promenade des anglais (fameuses chaises bleues), déjeuner au restaurant “Le galet” sur la plage, glace chez Fenocchio, baignade à Beaulieu sur Mer. (Nous avons vu beaucoup de mariages ce jour-la) ✅

• Retour famille + diner + jeu + palais la nuit ✅


Jour 4:

• Grasse avec prof Surval - Fragonard ✅

• Cannes: dejeuner ✅

• Vu le suquet ✅

• Promenade sur la croisette ✅

• Palais des festivals ✅

• Saint paul de vence (qui a inspire artistes, auteurs, poetes...) ✅

• Retour Monaco (match Monaco - Marseille au stade louis II) ✅

• Crêpes + déjà le temps de faire les valises… ✅


Jour 5:

• Pt dej ✅

• Cours (retard a cause du bus!!!) ✅

• Dejeuner a monaco ✅

• Après-midi: achat des cactus, achat de leur maisons respectives, téléphone à Swiss, retour maison, au revoir à la famille ✅

• Transfer a aeroport de Nice ✅

• Retour (urgence sur le piste d’atterrissage de GVA, il fallait attendre en “air” au moins 20 minutes, pas assez de carburant, donc le pilote a décidé d’aller à l'aéroport de lyon faire le plein.) Lyon → GVA ✅