Midshipmen Study Abroad in France
POSTED ON: Monday, February 7, 2022 9:42 AM by firstname.lastname@example.org
During this fall semester 2021 of Midshipman 1st Class (senior) Matthew Pickard and Midshipman 2nd Class (junior) Zachary Bell participated in the semester abroad program at the French Naval Academy (Ecole Navale), in Brittany, France. Their voyage began with a three-day stop in Paris, where they met with the Defense Attaché at the US Embassy, at the renowned Place de la Concorde - only steps away from the President’s residence. They were also able to tour the city during their brief stay, enjoying the architecture, restaurants, and surface-level culture of the historic city.
The month prior to their arrival at the Ecole Navale, they spent their third block of professional training at the CIEL Bretagne (Brittany) French Foreign language School situated next to the famed French naval port of Brest. Each took classes for four weeks based on his initial language proficiency. Both progressed in their French language capabilities after learning and putting into practice critical language skills such as storytelling, public speaking, and debates. During their studies they made friends from the German Naval Academy, with whom they were able to travel while there. One of their most cherished memories was being able to walk the sands of Normandy beach and tour historic D-Day sites together. While attending the French immersion school, both midshipmen lived with host families who inoculated each with an appreciation for not only French culture, but also that specific to Brittany through food, stories, and family gatherings.
Upon arrival at the Ecole Navale, MIDN Pickard and MIDN Bell were able to participate in the French equivalent of Plebe Summer. Though they were not designated detailers, they were permitted to interact with the plebes. Through the integration process at the Ecole Navale, they were able to see several similarities and differences in regards to traditions and procedures between the United States and French Naval academies. These American midshipmen were privileged to participate in various beginning of the year traditions themselves, allowing them to integrate into the spirit of the Ecole Navale.
Courses, though challenging, were rewarding in ways different than at USNA. The French academic system, different in structure and scheduling, allowed the midshipmen to participate in about seventeen courses during the semester. Though shorter in credit hours, these fast-paced scientific and humanity courses pushed their technical and academic capacities--in a foreign language and entirely different cultural backdrop. In participating in these courses, both were able to better see the influence the United States has concerning international policy and gained a deeper appreciation of their role as future American naval officers on an international stage.
One of their greatest professional training experiences was being able to take part in the Corvette training. Similar to USNA’s Yard Patrol (YP) craft, the Corvettes are designated as “Batiment Ecoles” (School Ships) and have been used to train every single French naval officer in the basics of navigation since the 1980s. The midshipmen were able to embark with their French counterparts for two weeks, learning and applying advanced navigation techniques while developing their flexibility and proficiency in the French language. Though one of the most challenging experiences during their semester abroad program, it deepened their appreciation for navigational proficiency and sparked a greater desire for continued training in nautical skills.
MIDN Pickard and MIDN Bell were also privileged to take part in various ceremonies held throughout the course of the school year. One of their most memorable experiences was being able to hoist the American flag in the middle of the Ecole Navale’s parade ground (equivalent to Tecumseh Court) during the ceremony commemorating the Battle of the Chesapeake. The two midshipmen also participated in the Presentation Aux Drapeaux ceremony in which the Ministre de la Défense (Secretary of Defense) personally inspected their formation.
Over the course of the five months, they also had several opportunities to travel. They were able to visit the engineering marvel of the Abbey, Mont Saint-Michel, tour the historic pirate town of Saint-Malo, walk down the streets of Montmartre, Paris, explore the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, and appreciate the natural beauty of the Brocéliande forest - the origin, inspiration, and setting of the King Arthur stories. Each experience helped the midshipmen in improving and deepening their understanding and appreciation of French culture and its people. Even if oftentimes patience was required on each of their parts, their efforts were more than recompensed in the form of unforgettable professional and personal experiences, a deeper appreciation of one of the United States’ most historic allies, and the creation of lifelong friendships