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Five Fantastic Days on the East Coast with ACIS

May 7, 2014 Guest Blogger 1 Comment
This blog post is written Pascale Hickman, Associate Teaching Professor at Montana State University and ACIS Tour Manager. In May, we invited Pascale to join our ACIS team on the road to visit teachers and students around the East Coast to chat all things, travel, language and culture. Below is a recap of Pascale’s experience.


When Susan Wiadro from the ACIS Marketing Department contacted me about joining the Tour Manager Road show for a week on the East Coast in the US, it meant a hectic end of the semester for me. I was giving my two last final French exams at Montana State University on Monday and would finish at noon. Then I would run home, pack my bags, and just a couple hours later be whisked away to visit classrooms and meet teachers for a week before flying back to Bozeman on Friday evening. I would have to get my grading done and tie up all the loose ends involved with the closing of a semester on the road. I didn’t hesitate. I told Susan I would be thrilled to do it, stuffed my laptop in my oversized Italian purse (my new favorite – I bought it at a market in Rome just last summer) and hopped on the plane.

We all love ACIS for the same reason: we love to travel. It defines who we are. Travel has shaped me. It is my raison-d’être. I also can’t think of a better way to make this world we live in a better place than to take individual students abroad and open their minds and hearts to new ways of living and learning. We can better our country and our world one person at a time. I couldn’t wait to meet some like-minded teachers and visit with their students in their own element, not to mention the added fun of traveling around the East Coast of the United States… I’d never been to D.C., Virginia, or North Carolina and couldn’t wait to go explore!

I arrived in D.C. at 2 in the morning and went straight to bed. It was rainy and cool, but I was relieved to have escaped the snow which was still falling in Montana. I met Julie Fratarcangeli from ACIS later that morning after a good breakfast, and we went and found our sunshine, in a classroom at the Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

What a joy it was to meet such an enthusiastic group of young middle school students. They were planning a trip to Costa Rica, and so we played interactive games in the classroom, and then they came up with a list of the things we can learn from travel. I was blown away. Here was a group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, most of whom had not yet traveled, who came up with a more extensive list of reasons to travel than I could have myself. Amongst the things they mentioned were: diversity, a foreign language, cultural differences, art, architecture, fashion, food, school systems, work, a different currency,… the list was huge. I had planned on ending the discussion by adding in possible things that they might have overlooked, but there was no need. Julie and I left that classroom energized and excited about the idea of those bright young students’ travels.

Later that evening we were already in Richmond, Virginia, for a round table with teachers from the area. We swapped travel stories and advice on how to lead tours over antipasti and delicious pasta meals at an authentic Italian restaurant. The highlight of my evening was seeing Lynn & Evan Griffey and Luanne Melton, teachers with whom I have been traveling for over a decade now.

The next morning I drove to Durham, North Carolina and went to lunch at a lovely German restaurant with French students of the North Carolina School of Science and Math. Over pastries and sandwiches we chit-chatted in French about traveling and once again I was blown away by more amazing students who spoke (and wrote) beautiful French and who had either already traveled with their French teacher or were planning on it. We had such a fantastic time, I didn’t want it to end.


Pascale chatting with students in North Carolina.
But the show must go on. Later that evening I was at the West Italian Café in Chapel Hill, N.C. with Jill Federschneider (ACIS) and Susan Wiadro to dine with teachers from the area. We had a lovely evening and played an educational game that involved all learning styles at once (visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary) simultaneously activating the occipital, temporal, frontal, and parietal lobes as well as the cerebellum and limbic system. The highlight of the evening for me was getting to know some really exceptional people. I left inspired, with phone numbers and email addresses of new friends.

Thursday morning Susan and I boarded an early flight to Atlanta and went straight to Woodward Academy where I met an amazing teacher, Patty O’Sullivan, who does an incredible job inspiring students. She was an incredible advocate for the French language at her school (being half French and teaching French myself at MSU means that this was a soft spot for me). I visited three of her classes and played educational games in French with some of the most well behaved and articulate 7th and 8th graders I have met.

It was a delight to work with them – they eagerly participated in my activities. Patty and I giggled when we realized what kindred spirits we were: she had the most beautiful French classroom I had ever seen, and she was thrilled to see that I traveled with a bell to liven up interactive games! The greatest surprise of the day: seeing Stephane Allagnon, another seasoned ACIS traveler who had traveled with my mother, Marie-Hélène, and whom I had met one day quite by accident in Sarlat La Canéda – he was on tour with my maman, and I was with another group and we had a lovely evening together in the South of France.

The big event that really tied up the trip was the evening reception at Seasons 52in Atlanta.

More ACIS staff showed up, Tricia Holda, Heidi Pettit, and Cara Solle, and of course Peter Jones himself. We had an absolute blast getting to know local teachers. I led us in a ridiculously fun activity I call educational speed datingwhere I had prepared about 150 index cards with the names of famous Europeans all throughout history. Everyone selected someone they knew and had exactly 1 minute and 30 seconds to “explain your fame” to another before I rung my infamous bell and forced everyone to switch partners and start again.

The idea is that as a group, we know so much more than we could imagine. Rather than the old educational paradigm where there is this “knowledge” that remains out of reach, that there is a professor who is the gate keeper to this knowledge, and that students only have access to this knowledge through the professor, instead we approach knowledge in a different way. There is a “great thing” and we, equal, individuals (students and teachers alike) come together as a group to circle around this great thing and explore and learn about it together.

This is how traveling with students works, but it is something that can be brought into the classroom as well. We had a fabulous time and learned something in the process. (One teacher taught me the life story of Louis Braille and how he came to invent the Braille alphabet for the blind.) My favorite part of the evening was when Peter gave away trips to all around the world as lucky teachers squealed with delight. What fun!

After a whirlwind of a road show, the week had finally come to a close. I never had much of a chance to get to my grading, but it was all well worth it. Friday morning I wearily dragged myself to the Atlanta airport to start my journey back home. It was the good kind of exhaustion. My body was tired but my soul was singing. I managed to finish my grading on the flights home (powered by incredible amounts of caffeine), and now I am more inspired than ever to get back on the road for yet another fabulous season of European travel!

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One thought on “Five Fantastic Days on the East Coast with ACIS

  1. Hello Pascale,
    I really enjoyed for reading your blog about Fantastic Days on the East Coast. Also, I had visited that area with my friends during US trip. Thanks to “USA travel online” Buy 2 Get 2 free tours free offer we able to save some money, as a result, we expanded our trip time 2 days more. It was really a great and memorable time with my friends which I will never forget.

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