WEBUTUCK — Nearly 20 students from Webutuck High School French Class, one parent and a pair of teachers said au revoir to New York state to travel to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
Webutuck High School’s French language program has afforded students the opportunity to travel to France for 20 years, but recently students have been taking trips to the Caribbean to learn outside the classroom.
Cheryl Benken is the French teacher responsible for chaperoning Webutuck students from French levels three, four and five to Guadeloupe. This was her second trip.
Traveling were seniors Jeanne Boyd, Victoria Cullinan, Brooke Dahoney, Kaylyn Baillargeon, Meagan McCoy and Maddie Trotter; juniors Briana Bailey, Carol Haviland, Alexis DeRensis, Courtney Lejeune, Kayle Kohl, Kiersten Meunier, Cristion Agustin, Samantha Chase, Hannah Kitchen; and sophomores Prachi Patel, Patrick Hannon, Denise Ibarra and Ryan Coffin. The parent was Colleen Meunier.
“We found out a year ago that we were going and we started doing fundraisers,” said Maddie Trotter. “We had a dance, we made Valentine’s Day cookies, did flamingo flocking, had a bake sale. In order to prepare for it we had to take scuba lessons at The Hotchkiss School. I think we did it two or three times.”
The group was originally going to make the trip during the spring break this year but when Benken found it would be less expensive to travel in November, plans changed. The students had less time to fundraise and would be spending Thanksgiving in Guadeloupe, but that wasn’t a problem for them.
The students didn’t want to come home after their week in paradise. The trip went from Nov. 18 to 26 and participants did everything from scuba diving in the crystal blue ocean with lionfish and eel to canyoning through the rainforest. Immersed in a French-speaking country, students were able to test their skills.
“We were supposed to use French whenever we would go out and have to talk to the people who live there,” Megan McCoy said. “Such as when we ordered food or listened to instructions. Sometimes they spoke in English, because they could tell we were American. It was nice to know you can understand them. Sometimes they have slang words and you realize how that is used as well.”
Most people from Guadeloupe are a mix of Creole, African, French and East Indian. Many of the seniors on the trip had traveled to France their sophomore years and noticed differences in the dialects.
“It was nice since I went to France also and going to Guadeloupe even though they both speak French it’s two completely different places,” said Trotter. “Seeing how they live and the different activities they do. I feel like when French people talk in France they sound so important. Then when in Guadeloupe everyone is so chill, relaxed and are really nice to you even though they really don’t know you.”
The students said they enjoyed seeing the cultural differences compared to their home life. For some of the younger students, traveling to La Guadeloupe was their first big trip.
“It was my first time going out of the country and riding in a plane; that was interesting,” said Briana Bailey. “The highlights I would say were experiencing different cultures and how it’s different from here and there.”
Benken had the students on a busy schedule everyday engaging them in fun and educational activities. The students learned about the islands native exports by visiting banana and chocolate plantations. At the banana plantation they learned about the different kinds of bananas and made banana pancakes. At the chocolate plantation they saw the process of making chocolate.
“We tried the bean and it was disgusting then they gave us chocolate and it was delicious,” said Jeanne Boyd.
The students were also able to travel to Gilligan’s Island for a day trip, where they jumped off waterfalls while canyoning, had sand sculpting competitions and enjoyed swimming in the warm water. The students said that the trip brought them all closer and they enjoyed being there together.
One experience that left a big impression on the students was waking up early one morning and seeing the baby sea turtles hatch.
Not all fun and games
Benken made sure students kept busy. They had their final exam on the island, all scoring well.
“They had a final exam that they did at the restaurant and some of the customers listened because it was all oral and they told me afterwards that they didn’t know the answers to a lot of questions the kids had,” said Benken.
Benken also noted that none of the students complained, argued or whined on the trip. The people they met from Guadeloupe raved about how well-behaved the students were. All of the students had their own highlights of their trip.
“The best thing for me was probably scuba diving and just going on this school trip friends,” Patrick Hannon said.
“Seeing baby sea turtles and spending time with friends out of school,” Prachi Patel said.
“Going out of my comfort zone and going kayaking, knowing that we were in deep water made it so much fun,” Bailey said.
“The best thing was the landscape and the people,” Ryan Coffin said.
“I guess it wasn’t just one single experience but when I came back I was so relaxed,” Boyd said. “I went into it really stressed out because people didn’t tell me how stressful senior year was going to be. The whole atmosphere relaxed me completely. It was so nice.”
“The experience as a whole, just doing things you know you will never be able to do anywhere else like seeing the sea turtles and canyoning down waterfalls,” said McCoy. “It was nice every moment to be like, wow, I am not going to be able to experience this ever again.”
Although the trip to Guadeloupe was an experience the group will never forget, all of them plan to go back. Benken and Meunier said that that is the goal behind these school trips.
“A lot of times we are here in our comfy little corner of Dutchess County and there is no urge to experience the world,” Meunier said. “When you’re out on a field trip like this it inspires you to want to experience more and see how other people live.”