I was first introduced to Bennerley Business College on Thursday, the day before our departure on their Language Tour to the Rhineland. What struck me first when meeting the Party Leader, Amanda Harper, was her enthusiasm and excitement for their impending tour. Going through the itinerary and fine detail of the events for the next week, the preparation that had been put in by the teachers and the operations staff at Rayburn was mightily impressive and it appeared to me that every detail had been thought through to ensure a hugely successful trip. Our group would be made up of students from years 7, 8 and 9; all with varying degrees of German Language skills. For some it would be the first time they had spoke German outside of their weekly lesson; for others it would shape the future of their language education. For me as a non-German speaker, it would be my first visit to Germany and the first time I would attempt to speak German – AAARRRGGGHHHH!
My journey started in the early hours of Monday morning as I headed to school to meet up with the group. The students had started to arrive looking bleary eyed but with a mixture of excitement and nervousness about their impending trip away from home. For most, this would be their first trip away from their parents and to a foreign country. Once we had said our goodbyes and the parents had waved everyone off (some with ironic cheers!), we set off for our long journey to the Rhineland. The chat on the coach was loud and excited and it didn’t take long for the obligatory ‘are we nearly there yet?’ – We hadn’t even left Ilkeston!
The journey to Dover passed quickly with most of us trying to get some sleep. Once we got to Dover there were a few rather amusing questions – are we in France yet? Is that the ferry (about a cruise liner)? After boarding the ferry, the first thing that we wanted to do was get on deck for some fresh sea air– a first experience for many. Luckily, the weather was beautiful and sunny and the views of both the English and French coastlines were easy to see, making the geography easier for the students to understand. Then it was back on the coach for the next leg of our journey, through France, Belgium and into Germany.
We arrived at the hotel early evening to blistering heat and brilliant blue skies – set against the backdrop of the winding river Rhine, the town looked quaint and picturesque. Once room keys had been distributed, we went off to explore our home for the week and to unpack and shower before dinner. After dinner, a few of us went for a walk around the town and along the river. The evening heat was still high and the sun reflecting of the Rhine made for a very special walk.
Day two was jam packed with our first lesson at the Language School, the Town Rally and a guided tour around Marksburg Castle. We arrived at the ISL Sparachschule Language School in Koblenz for our first German class. Upon arrival, 8 team captains were selected. These captains then picked a sweet ‘out of a hat’– the name of the sweet would form the name of their team. The rest of the students then picked sweets out of a ‘big hat’ and joined their teams. In the classroom the German teacher went through the questions that we would have to answer once out on the town rally.
My team, Duplo, consisted of Ellie, Chloe, Sam, Kyle and Josh. We quickly established our team dynamics; Sam would read the map and navigate us between points with the help of everyone else looking for street signs and prominent buildings. Once at each point, everyone took turns to record the answers and pose for photographs.
After the answer sheets had been returned to the Language School, we headed off back to the coach for the journey to Marksburg Castle. Stood proud on the side of the valley, Marksburg Castle glistened in the sun as the drivers skilfully ascended up a small and winding road. We left the coach and continued our climb up a series of steps and tunnels before we arrived at the entrance to the castle where we were met by our guide. We were taken round the castle kitchens, bedrooms, torture chambers and wine cellars; we learnt the castles history and customs – sleeping sitting up because lying down was like you were dead, drinking 14 litres of wine in 3 days and going to the toilet with the door open so as not to miss any gossip! As we came out of the castle and out into the bright sunshine the view across the valley managed to stop us in our tracks once again. The river meandering before us and the green banks enclosing the small towns below were a splendid sight. It was then back to the hotel for our evening meal, a kick-about with the football and then, finally, bed.
What is a Town Rally?
Simply put, a town rally involves students navigating around the town to find various monuments, statues, significant buildings, shops and cafes. Once they have found the point marked on the map they are asked to complete a series of tasks. For example, they may have to count the number of flags on Deutsches Eck, find out who a particular statue is of or how much a coffee would cost them in a local café. The students are also asked to take photographs of their group at each location, which the language school will later use to make a photo book for the students to take away as a memento of their day.
We started the day at the language school. The results of yesterday’s town rally were revealed – my team ‘Duplo’ came a very respectable fourth – high fives all round! It was then back to the classroom for the final hours lesson. Today, our teacher used a ball to get everyone involved; asking a question, throwing the ball and the receiver answering the question before repeating the process – even we weren’t immune to answering and asking the questions much to everyone’s amusement!
The second task involved drawing on the white board. The students were asked to draw items that you would find in and around their house, then they would learn the German word for this object. Once the ‘estate’ had been created the teacher went through the objects asking what each was called. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this lesson and it was great to see the number of hands raised to answer each question. Even those who weren’t confident to start with sat with their hands up, eager to join in and get an answer right.
Once we had said our goodbyes to the language school we made our way to the city of Cologne. On arrival we headed straight to the Chocolate Museum. Walking round we got to see the processes of chocolate making as well as learn its history. There were also a number of tasks that could be completed including working as a team to bounce on coloured chairs to navigate around a chocolate maze. After the museum, we took a stroll down the river to the cathedral. Upon entering the cathedral, the scale of the building became clear and the students walked in with amazement on their faces. We walked round looking up impressively at the colourful stain glass windows and statues. A small group of us decided that we would brave the 509 steps and climb to the summit of the cathedral. After about 10 minutes our legs were burning and we were beginning to get out of breath; we carried on… Finally we reached the top and came out into the fresh air which was cold in our burning lungs. The view was slightly blighted by the mist however this didn’t diminish the achievement of all those who had made the massive effort to make it to the ‘summit’.
After a slow walk back down to ground level, we ventured off into the city to explore the shops and get something to eat. The popular choice was McDonalds, although not typically German, it did present the students with another opportunity to put their language skills into practice. They may have taken their time and held the queue up, but everyone had a good go at ordering their food in German and everyone got what they wanted to eat.
On the way home we stopped off on a bank of the Rhine to give the students an opportunity to dip their feet in the water and have a run around. Everyone had loads of fun getting soaked.
We spent day 4 at Phantaisaland. The theme park was thoroughly enjoyed by the entire group – I will personally never forget going on the Thriller Ride (also known as a run away mine train). We set off at a steady pace – the girls behind us started screaming for all their might. Hayley, the TA I was sat next to, turned round to the girls, ‘oh behave’ she said just before the pace dramatically increased as we got whipped round a corner and the biggest scream ever erupted from her mouth! Hilarious! I spent the whole ride laughing and screaming – it was brilliant. The rapids, log flume and Black Mamba rides were all enjoyed by the students and many had ride photos to prove it!
Day 5 – Return day
We left the hotel early and made good time arriving at Calais early. The ferry crossing was smooth and we arrived back at school late evening to a sea of parents eagerly anticipating the return of the children. As I left the coach and walked away I started to hear the excited tales of their adventures being told all around me. I felt that it would have been some time before the excitement wore off! As my journey continued home, exhaustion kicked in but I went to bed that night knowing that everyone had had an enjoyable and rewarding tour and that I would defiantly be back next time.