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First Maymester Takes Upper Schoolers Across the Nation and Overseas to Learn Through Experiences

Norfolk Academy launched its first Maymester program this spring, offering Upper School students unique opportunities to cap their sophomore and junior years.

Maymester is a three-week program offering an array of experiential learning, internships, and international travel. Among the more than a dozen opportunities: Exploration of Germany and France, including stays with host families; hiking the Appalachian Trail; studying health inequities in West Virginia; and examining art history in New York City and architecture in Chicago. The goal is that through their exploration, students will gain new interests and a better understanding of these many various topics.

As an example of how these courses work, here is a recap of the French Exchange, which was the first group to take off. Led by World Languages Department Chair Warren Warsaw, Upper School Assistant Director Eric Acra '84, and Director of Alumni Relations Ruth Acra '86, students have been touring the country. They've also been bonding and learning from their counterparts at our partner school Saint Dominique, located in a suburb of Paris. These blog posts have been provided by students, adding writing to the wide array of skills they're developing.

Monday, May 23

Day 1, Agon-Coutainville & Mont Saint-Michel: After eating fruit, croissants, and more for breakfast, we walked around the town for a while. We stepped into a few shops, walked along the beach, and saw many, many people walking around with baguettes in hand. We then grabbed a quick snack: crepes, sandwiches, etc., and hopped on the bus towards Mont Saint-Michel.  

Our visit consisted of a tour around the inside village of Mont Saint-Michel, followed by a walk around the sandy, silty area surrounding the village. Our tour guide, Bert, was entertaining and knowledgeable, teaching us about the history of the village, the reason for its being built, the story behind the famous Poulard omelette, and much more. He even taught us how to escape quicksand if you get stuck in it (thank you Chris for being our test dummy)! We braved the rain and the cold, and we finished our tour, hopping back on the bus to return to our hostel.

We then rendezvoused with Brennan and Mr. Warsaw, who had finally arrived in France, ate a wonderful meal, and relaxed for the rest of the night. ~ Anna '23


Tuesday, May 24

We started the day early at the hostel, eating breakfast before boarding the bus for our trip through the north coast of Normandy. We picked up our tour guide, Monique, in the city of Caen, before setting out toward Arromanches, the site of an artificial harbor built in just a few days following the D-Day landing. An incredible feat of engineering, the harbor became one of the largest in the region and a hub for Allied supply lines. The remains of the port are still visible from the cliffs above Arromanches. There, the rain caught up with us, as we departed for Longues-sur-Mer, the site of a German battery. Several massive cannons stand facing the sea, once primed for an invasion across the English Channel, able to fire shells up to 12 miles across the water. For the second and thankfully last time, the rain chased us back to our bus. We stopped for lunch and ice cream in the small fishing village of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, before departing for the solemn American cemetery at Omaha Beach. It was a moving experience and powerful memorial to the thousands of Americans lost in the Battle of Normandy. Finally we returned to Caen, to the museum at the Memorial de Caen. The museum documents through powerful exhibits the experiences of World War II, D-Day, and the Cold War. Finally, we set out back to the hostel. We had a fascinating and moving day on our tour though the historic sites of Normandy, a great way to cap off our second full day in France! ~ Micah '23


Wednesday, May 25

Today, our excitement was centered around traveling from Normandy to Paris and reuniting with our exchange students for the first time in nearly four weeks. (French exchange students visited Norfolk Academy and toured Virginia earlier this spring). As the nine students and Mrs. Acra promptly board the bus at 8 a.m., we settle in for a four-hour ride to Saint Dominique, our partner school in Neuilly-Sur-Siene. After finding our exchange students, we walked back to their homes to drop of our luggage, preparing for a breathtaking evening in Paris. ~ Olivia '23


Monday, May 30

Today we went to St Dominique at 8 a.m. and got a small breakfast and a tour of the school. We then played and/or watched soccer with the students of St Do (we lost by 1). We then went to the Eiffel Tower and took a boat tour down the Seine River and ate lunch. And after that we took the bus to Marais and spent some time with our buddies to look around, although I wish we had more time to explore. We then took a guided tour through Marais and took the metro back to Saint Do. And a few of us and our exchange partners went bowling. It was fun and surprising how similar it was to our bowling.~ Davis '23


Wednesday, June 1

To begin the day we met at Saint Dominique and made our way to the metro. Our first stop was the musée d’Orsay. It was full of lovely paintings and sculptures that we analyzed closely. For the first 45 minutes we were allowed to roam around freely, then we had a wonderful tour around the museum. We learned a lot about the history of Impressionism and other art. From here we stopped at a park to eat lunch. Some of the group went to McDonalds after finishing their packed lunch to get some soda pop and chicken nuggets. The next stop was the Tour Eiffel, where we took an elevator to the top. It was a little crowded but the view was immaculate. After this we took a bus back to Saint Dominique and our exchange partners. ~ Chris '23

Today we got to sleep in a little bit and I ended up setting off my family’s alarm, which was not the best way to start the day. After that, we took the metro to The Arc de Triomphe, which was cool. Chloe gave us some good details on the views. After that, we were able to walk around for some free time. In the afternoon we had free time with Charlotte and Kassandra, who were at NA for three months. Overall it was a very fun day! ~ Gibson '23


Thursday, June 2

Today, we began by attending class at Saint Dominique with our corres. It was the first time we were able to experience school in France. It is the final week of classes before summer for their students! Afterward, the Norfolk Academy students toured Sainte-Chapelle. It is a beautiful, historical palace built in the 13th century and home to the relics of the Passion of Christ. Our tour guide, Chloe, then took us to Notre-Dame de Paris. Unfortunately, we could not enter the cathedral because of its closing after a fire in 2019. Nevertheless, she shared a brief historical background of the medieval cathedral and a bit of her recollection of the fire. After the tour concluded, we walked in the Latin Quarter of Paris and split up to explore the area. It was beautiful. Many of us visited the famous English-language bookstore: Shakespeare and Company. Overall, it was a great day, filled with incredible sightseeing and tours! ~ Kate '23

Friday, June 3

Today we went to the Louvre Museum. The Louvre was beyond pretty and sadly too big to explore all of it. This evening, after a week of tours and museums, it was nice to have a little time to ourselves and our exchange students. ~ Carter '23

Tuesday, June 7 -- Last full day in France

Today, I woke up bright and early at 6:45. After a nice breakfast of brioche and orange juice, I took the metro to school. Then, we had an excellent tour of a neighborhood in Paris called Belleville that contained a lot of street art. After purchasing a top quality genuine watch for five euros at a watch stand, I headed to lunch at la cantina de Belleville, where I got beef and potatoes. Then, we headed back to St. Dominique, and after some quick Covid tests and a farewell party at the school, I headed home. After an amazing dinner with lasagna and chocolate cake, I packed and went to sleep. ~ Rylan '23

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