Thursday, 6 November 2008

New Caledonia Experience

On the last day of term three a group of 13 students and two teachers left Invercargill for an exciting fortnight in New Caledonia.

After very little sleep in Auckland overnight, we arrived at Tontouta airport at noon, tired and perhaps a little disappointed that the weather was overcast and a bit drizzly. But once the doors were opened, we certainly felt the heat. And that was the only day it rained. As the days went by, the temperatures rose, and even at 7.00am and 10.00pm, it was 22 degrees or more. Because not all our hotel rooms were ready on our arrival, we had a tour of the city’s highlights courtesy of the little yellow train.
One big difference we immediately noticed was the driving on the right side of the road, and it took some of us a long time to adjust to looking in the other direction before we crossed the road.

On Sunday we took another tour of the city by bus. We had all-day passes, so we could hop on and off as we pleased. The kids all hopped off at McDonald’s because they could get McFlurry there, and then hopped back on again when it came back an hour and a half later.

Monday was an early start as we were supposed to be at the school at 7.00am to meet host children and find out classes, etc. It must have been a funny sight to see the procession of people lugging suitcases alon g the street at that time and it was hot already, so we were in a right state by the time we got there a bit after the right time.

School starts every day at 7.30am and goes through till 5.00pm, but some students do have non-contact time during the day. However, they are supervised in study periods by non-teaching staff. Wednesday is a half day, and students finish at 11.30 at the latest. Lunch is eaten in the canteen. Students pay a nominal amount for a hot meal, the quality of which is variable. However, it was a good experience. Twice we ate there, and the other days we were given a packed lunch - a sandwich made of half a baguette with ham and lettuce, a piece of fruit and a bottle of water.

The students at the school were really polite and well-behaved and eager to learn. Classrooms are not as well resourced as here, but the level of English spoken by these youngsters was surprisingly high for the age that they were. English is heard all around them – songs on the radio, TV programmes, tourists – so they can see the value of it.

Each afternoon after lunch we did various activities and then returned to the school by 5.00pm for the students to go home with their homestays. We did this for the first week and then the next two days. These activities included beach visits, a tour of the supermarket to see the variety of goods available, the aquarium, museums to understand the history and culture of the city of Noumea and of New Caledonia.

Below we have a picture of a chief’s hut at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre where the history of the native people of New Caledonia is told. On the right is part of this building – there are eight of these huge structures, representing the tribes of the Kanaks. Then we see some of us eating lunch at a beach on one of the many fine days we had.

The tricot raye snake is common on the island of the Amedee Lightouse, which has 229 steps to reach the top. Paigan volunteered to climb a coconut tree following the demonstration of how to do so. St Joseph’s Cathedral was built using prison labour.

Fortunately, the only ray we saw was this one in the aquarium. Bronwen and Rowena got their photo taken with the musical group who entertained us over
lunch on the Amedee Lighthouse island. Many of the group had tried the island dancing which was also part of that entertainment. Ryan is seen placing a poppy and the Southland Spirit of a Nation pennant on the grave of a Southland soldier who lost his life in World War 2 and who is buried at Bourail, where a large contingent of 2500 men was stationed at a training base there. New Zealanders are very well respected in this town because of the contribution they made to it during that time.

Finally we have the whole group of Verdon and St Joseph de Cluny students in front of their school gate. We are very appreciative of what the school did for us and for the tremendous generosity of the families with whom we stayed. It was truly a remarkable experience, and we hope to be able to continue the contact and friendships that we have made.
We would like to thank the Board of Trustees and staff for their encouragement and support. We were certainly the winners – the school and the students.

The families could not do enough for us, and some students came home with generous gifts from their families. Many became good friends with their host brothers / sisters, and this correspondence will no doubt continue. The improvement in knowledge and understanding of the French language varied amongst the students, but everyone certainly gained an insight into a different way of life and an appreciation of home. Thanks you. Mrs Marshall.