The healing waters of Vichy, France

France wasn’t really in my 2016 travel plans, but last year an opportunity came up that I knew I had to jump on. It was a scholarship for American French teachers, sponsored by the French Embassy in Washington D.C., for a two-week pedagogical “internship” at a language school in the city of Vichy. Very nearly all expenses paid – tuition for the language school, room and board with a host family, a round-trip train ticket from Paris to Vichy, a $600 allowance to defray the cost of a plane ticket, and 200 euros in spending money.

Um, yeah. Sign me up, please.

The only problem was that the scholarship is super competitive. Like, only 20-teachers-nationwide-competitive. Added to that, I didn’t even find about it until literally three days before the deadline Still, I figured I’d give it a shot (it didn’t cost anything to apply – but I did pay to overnight my materials to Chicago) so I cobbled together the application materials as best as I could (realizing that I had lost my passport in the process – thank goodness I had made a copy of the first page for my records!) and crossed my fingers until the day the notifications were to be sent out to the recipients (it was a Friday).

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CAVILAM – Alliance Française

Well, the day came and went and I hadn’t heard anything. I let myself feel disappointed but ultimately moved on – I had rushed to get the application together, after all, so I couldn’t be too surprised – when Wednesday arrived and so did the e-mail that started with Félicitations!

I may have cried a little in front of my students. They were nice about it though!

A few months later I was on a train from Paris to Vichy.

Vichy is an interesting place; it’s in the center of France, right in the midst of a chain of dormant volcanos called Puy-de-Dôme. For literally centuries, Vichy has been known as a place of healing and restoration – there are numerous natural springs that provide the city with mineral water. Some is freely drinkable, and you can fill up as you like at a couple of local wells. The water is naturally carbonated and tastes slightly salty. The others are found in a beautiful art nouveau building in the center of town and can only be drunk with a prescription from the doctor citing your specific ailments and what variety of mineral water you need to drink to cure them.

There are also hot springs and spas are in abundance. Likewise, outdoor activities are in abundance – rowing, biking, horseback racing at the Hippodrome, a lovely riverside park for jogging or rollerblading. It’s a place that values health, quietness and calm. It was lovely. I was surprised at how much I loved it there, particularly considering Vichy’s more recent history.

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La source des Célestins, just steps from my host family’s house

While Vichy has long been known as a sort of “resort town”, just slightly more than 70 years ago Vichy became known for something else. The French government, on the eve Germany’s invasion of Paris, packed up and left the City of Lights while simultaneously assuring her citizens that there was nothing to fear. Yet the Parisians awoke one day to bombardments, and also to find that their leaders had fled – to Vichy. Vichy became the new capital of France, and forevermore a symbol of the French government’s ultimate collaboration with the Nazi regime. Maréchal Pétain, the president of the Vichy regime, was complicit in the deportation of thousands of Jews – including children (originally denied by the Nazis, Petain sent them anyway) – to ghettos and ultimately, death camps such as Auschwitz.

 

In Vichy, there are no traces of the war years. No museums, no memorials, no commemorative plaques on any buildings as there are in Paris. The quiet calm of the city makes it hard to believe that such atrocious ugliness happened there. Yet I’m sure the citizens of Vichy – largely made up of elderly retirees – must carry the memory quietly within themselves.

Or perhaps, just as the water of Vichy has healed the many thousands of people who have come to drink from its springs, the city itself has been healed, too.

Travel Opportunities for Teachers

TravelforTeachers

As a public school teacher with a lot of bills to pay – including some hefty student loans – it’s safe to say that I’m hardly rolling in dough. People often ask how I’m able to travel as a single woman on a teacher’s salary, and I have to admit that their tones are colored with a little bit of judgment. The simple answer is that I prioritize travel and that money I save (beyond having a solid emergency fund) is dedicated toward new experiences and not necessarily new “things.” That being said, there’s no denying that traveling can be an expensive endeavor, but there are some ways that teachers specifically can lighten the financial load and still see the world.

Lead a Tour: If you’re feeling brave, why not check out one of the many organizations dedicated toward student travel and sign up to lead a tour abroad for yourself and your students? There are so many amazing options – EF Tours, ACIS, Passports, just to name a few – that cater exclusively toward getting students and teachers into the best possible classroom: the one with no walls and life-changing real-world experiences! I led a tour last summer and it was the highlight of my professional career. All of these student travel companies offer incentives to teachers, specifically that for every X amount of students sign up (typically 5-6) then the teacher and his/her chaperones travel for free. Group leaders can even accrue reward points for each new tour they lead that can be applied toward future solo travel.

Apply for a Grant or Scholarship: If you don’t mind combining work and pleasure, you might consider applying for a teacher travel grant or scholarship. Many organizations offer these – NEA, Fund for Teachers, Fulbright, Erasmus, just to name a few – and all it takes is a quick Google search to find the one that’s right for you. These grants will often cover the tuition for any classes you wish to take as well as provide assistance (or pay for completely) costs associated with airline travel, train tickets, and housing. You may have to design an educational “plan of action” or attend a few classes, but it’s still an amazing way to see the world and be an immersed in another culture without breaking the bank.

Teach Abroad: If you’re fortunate enough to work in a district that allows you to take a leave of absence to pursue teaching opportunities abroad – DO IT! You’ll be paid to live and work in the country of your choosing and will be free to travel as you wish during school breaks and weekends. Some sponsors such as Fulbright may even provide a travel stipend to award recipients, greatly reducing your own financial commitment.

If you do your research, you’ll find that traveling on a teacher’s salary is definitely a feasible experience! All it takes is a little time and research to find the right resources. The world truly is your oyster and I firmly believe that international travel and exposure to other cultures makes us wiser and more mindful educators in the process.