Heathdale flower 09th February 2024

Heathdale Takes France

A group of Year 10 students headed abroad to France at the end of 2023 for a cultural experience trip. Check out the reflections of Mr. Simon Anderson, who accompanied the students on the trip, and now Year 11 student, Twisha.

Heathdale flower

As Heathdale was finishing its last few weeks of last year at 3:00 am on Saturday, November 18th, six bleary-eyed students, their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Deroon, and Mr. Anderson gathered at Melbourne Airport for the trip of a lifetime – our French exchange to Bordeaux. This exchange, initially planned in 2020, finally became a reality this year. Its objective was to improve the level of French for our participating Year 10 & 11 students, but of course lifelong friendships and memories would be made.

After more than 24 hours we arrive in Paris and our students, accustomed to hearing French only in the classroom, had their first encounters with the language in its natural environment – engaging in discussions with taxi drivers and hotel receptionists. Some even bravely attempted their own interactions.

Following a few hours of sleep, we headed back to the station to catch a train to Bordeaux. Sadly, we realized we left Paris without seeing it in daylight, but we would be back.


Arriving at Bordeaux station, students were warmly welcomed by their host partners and families, many of whom would become lifelong friends. Quick greetings ensued, with some Australian students surprised by the customary French greeting of a kiss on each cheek. Students then embarked on various activities, which reflected how well they had been matched up with their partners, from tasting different cheeses to exploring the local market and spending the afternoon playing board games.

Over the next few weeks, while students were staying with their exchange partners, Mr & Mrs Deroon and Mr Anderson busied themselves with checking in with students, buying and sending resources back home, immersing themselves in the French language and culture, dealing with day-to-day duties associated with our teaching, and when time, exploring Bordeaux.

We would also meet up once or twice a week with students for excursions in and around Bordeaux. These excursions included:

- A full-day discovery tour of Bordeaux. We explored popular tourist sites such as Place de la Bourse, Place de l'Opéra, Place du Parlement, the Musée des Beaux Arts, and the Cathédrale St André, which is over 1000 years old. Lunch featured crêpes and the local specialty, canelé cake which is to be found everywhere in Bordeaux.

Autumn vibes

- A one-hour drive to the Atlantic Coast, visiting Europe's largest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. We also explored the beachside town of Arcachon, enjoying lunch on the pier and hot drinks in a cozy cafe.

Rebecca, Twisha and Mia in the main street of Arcachon

- The Pey Berland Tower, the historical museum of Bordeaux, and the Christmas Market. Bordeaux transformed into a festive scene, with decorations brightening the town against the dark winter days.

- A visit the the charming medieval town of St. Emillion. This included a visit to a beautiful chateau and walks around the medieval town. Despite grey skies and rain, we enjoyed the underground wine cellars and climbed bell towers for picturesque views. Lunch in a cozy cafe revealed Mr. Deroon and Mr. Anderson's newfound love for chocolat chaud.

A rainy day in St. Emillion

- A visit to Mollat, Europe's largest bookshop, where students bought French versions of their favourite books (Harry Potter for Twisha and Mia, Charlie Brown for Mr Anderson). This is an excellent way to build vocabulary and comprehension in French.

Then in Paris, we visited iconic locations, including:

- The Champs-Elysées (did someone say shopping?)

- Eiffel Tower (we climbed the stairs to the top!)

- Notre Dame Cathedral (workmen were still hammering away late into the night, with work continuing 24 hours a day, to ensure it is totally restored in time for the Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympics

- The Louvre (the Mona Lisa proved a favourite with everyone, and the Year 11s were keen to stay for longer than our allotted time, as they will be doing a deep-dive into this museum in their Year 12 studies.)

- The highlight, however, was a full day at Disneyland Paris, ending with a magical evening parade and light show at the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Although we didn't get back to the hotel until well after midnight and had to leave at 6:00am, it was worth every minute.

Heathdale conquers the Eiffel Tower

The journey home was easy (in theory); three 7-hour flights, proved smooth in theory: Paris-Dubai, Dubai-Singapore, Singapore-Melbourne.

During the first leg of our return, I realised the considerable progress our students' level of French when they had a fluent conversation in French with the airline hostess, talking about where they were from and what they had done, and understanding the air hostess' story about where she was from, and what languages she spoke.

Back in Melbourne, students could proudly acknowledge their improved French proficiency. Despite missing France, everyone was happy to be reunited with family, cherishing a month of unforgettable experiences. The same opportunities await Year 10 French students in 2024.

Special thanks go to Mr and Mrs Deroon for their help and support, the school administration, finance, and IT staff who facilitated the trip, and Mrs. Letcher, who helped make this trip a reality, and to God for making it all possible.

Twisha's Reflection

"The student exchange to France was an incredible experience that significantly boosted my French skills and broadened my cultural understanding. Living in a French-speaking environment for nearly four weeks immersed me in the language, giving practical experience that books from Australia just couldn't replicate. Initially, there was a mix of excitement and nervousness as we all first stepped out of the station in Bordeaux to meet our host families.

Twisha meets her exchange parnter, and family

"However, adapting to the unfamiliar surroundings with my French family’s kindness and the support of my friends and teachers, helped me discover newfound resilience and independence. One of the main points that I struggled with in the beginning was
overcoming language barriers and connecting with people from a different cultural background. This difficulty arose mainly in the French school that we attended where we had to converse with other teenagers our age who were completely different from the ones back home. This became easier to overcome after realising the other Australian kids were in similar situations. 

Throughout the weeks, I also realised how much my French had improved. From my host family to random people on the street, the language was everywhere, which made an extensive impact on my French skills.

The whole experience wasn't just about language, though. Bordeaux had an old-world charm that was just perplexing. The cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and the lively crowd specifically along the Garonne River made every day an adventure. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre in Paris also made an impression with its vast collection of art and history.

Mia, Rebecca and Twisha at the Eiffel Tower

"Exploring France's beautiful landscapes, trying out amazing food, and seeing incredible architecture made me recognise the small circle I was contained in back in Werribee. It wasn't just a trip; it was like stepping into an entirely different planet."

Twisha at Dune du Pilat, Europe’s biggest sand dune