The IUHPFL Experience

Student Stories

Descent to Normandy Beaches
Anne Lootens
Brest, France

As a former student in the IU Honors Program in Brest, I can safely say that not only was the Program one of the absolute BEST experiences of my life, but that Brest was the perfect city for it.

Right: Descent to Normandy Beaches

Brest is, simply put, the perfect city for a study abroad program. It has all of the modern conveniences that a teenager could possibly want, as well as charm and "European-ness" that create a relaxed, authentic atmosphere. Right alongside the shops and inexpensive (but delicious) restaurants are quaint parks, pâtisseries, and medieval castles. One afternoon you could take advantage of les soldes (nation-wide sales that happen every summer in France) and the next you could take a tour of a castle, go to the beach, or people-watch at a café. As a former student in the IU Honors Program in Brest, I can safely say that not only was the Program one of the absolute BEST experiences of my life, but that Brest was the perfect city for it.

Classes take place every day in the city center, right along the bus routes, conveniently right up the road from l'Aile, the young workers' center where lunch is served every day. The food at l'Aile is always very good, but I liked lunch most of all because it gave me a chance to talk with different people in the group and really get to know everyone. To this day my friends and I have inside jokes that stemmed from conversations held over lunch at l'Aile.

After classes every day there is always an activity. Three days a week we split up into Choir or Theatre groups and practiced for an hour or so. Singing and acting in a foreign language at first seems like a daunting task, but the teachers make it fun and easy. One day a week is reserved for sport, a personal favorite of mine. On days when the weather is nice the whole group takes the bus to the Moulin Blanc, a really nice beach in the city. There you can do what you want–ultimate frisbee, soccer, volleyball, and just walking along the beach are popular choices. If the weather is bad you have the choice of going to an indoor pool or to a gymnasium, where you can do a variety of sports.

After classes and afternoon activities you are free to explore the city. My friends and I would usually end up getting delicious pastries and Orangina at La Mie Câline, the local pâtisserie. Then we would either walk around and look through the shops or just find a nice bench and chat (in French, of course). Really one of the greatest parts of the trip for me was meeting and getting to know the other people in the Program. Years later I am still extremely close with the people I met there and wouldn’t give that up for anything.

Brest is right on the water, so there are a number of activities to do centered around the water.  Many families take their students to the local aquarium or just for walks around the port. Unlike many cities in Indiana, Brest hosts a fantastic public transport system. The buses are safe, reliable, and extraordinarily convenient. There are also a number of really great beaches close by, so whether it be for sunbathing or hiking, a day at the beach is always a fun choice. Brest is also close to other older cities, so many families go walk around and explore the quaint, beautiful cities of Bretagne.

Two of the weekends are spent on excursions with the group.  For my class, one was a day trip to Quimper, Locronan, and le Point du Raz. Quimper is a quaint but large city with a beautiful cathedral and lots of shops. The Honors Program is very good about balancing structured time with students’ independence, so we split up into groups and could do what we wanted. Our group headed next to la Pointe du Raz, one of the tips of Bretagne, and ate a picnic lunch by the seaside looking over the cliffs.  The day ended at Locranan, another typical European city with beautiful architecture and distinctly French culture.

The other excursion is a two-day trip.  The first stop is Dinan, a city with winding streets and architectural gems.  Next is Mont St. Michel, an absolutely breathtaking monastery and medieval town perched on a hill. After a fun night in a tiny hostel, students spend the day in Normandy at the Mémorial de Caen, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and the Pointe du Hoc. It is hard for me to describe my feelings after that day, but it was an extremely moving experience and I came out of it with a deep appreciation for what happened on D-Day.

Of course, one of the highlights of the trips is the last three days in Paris. We packed everything into the small time we had there–the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, les Champs-Elysées, Versailles, and Notre Dame.  It is three straight days of amazing meals, amazing friends, and an amazing city.

The IU Honors Program is a great way to get out of your box, explore your potential, and uncover your independence. Brest is a city filled with possibilities, culture, and welcoming people. It will truly feel like a second home and a place full of good memories and experiences.