Taste of success abroad

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Work placements in French hotels went down a treat for a group of Glasgow pupils. Carolyn McInnes reports

Just before the summer, two Glasgow secondary schools enjoyed the fruits of a year's joint programme of work between their modern languages and home economics departments.

Senior pupils from Shawlands and Eastbank Academies were the first to participate in a Glasgow City Council initiative which culminated in a week's work experience in the hotel and catering industries in Italy or France.

The Shawlands pupils, specialising in culinary excellence and Italian, spent much of their week working in restaurants in the Florence area, while the Eastbank students were shadowing workers in three hotels in Paris.

The two countries' different insurance regulations dictated a certain disparity in the type of work the pupils were permitted to take on and the type of accommodation provided. Both groups, however, reported the placements were a resounding success, with several pupils wanting to return next year.

Of the 10 S5 and S6 Eastbank Academy pupils, some were studying culinary excellence as part of their hospitality course while others had a more general interest in the hospitality and tourism industry. All were studying or had studied French.

Preparation for the work experience week started early last session. Pupils studied the transactional language in work element of Higher Still, followed by two days of intensive language training provided by the Alliance Francaise.

The pupils and their teachers spent a day at Edinburgh's French Institute, took a 6am tour of the Glasgow Fruit Market and had several meetings with the modern languages and home economics advisers who were organising the trip to Paris.

In June, the Lord Provost saw the group off at the City Chambers. We stayed in the Lycee d'Hotellerie et de Tourisme in St Quentin-en-Yvelines, near Versailles. This gave the teenagers a chance to experience a typical French boarding school and meet the students.

On the first morning in Paris, we were given a tour of the five-star Meridien Montparnasse hotel, including its prestigious restaurant, kitchens and wine cellar. As the staff worked, we gradually became aware of the hotel's flexibility. We saw small rooms becoming large rooms, suites becoming separate rooms, ballrooms becoming conference rooms and glorious chandeliers receding in favour of more business-style lighting.

That afternoon, we had a lesson from one of the teachers at the lycee. The gentleman rejoiced in the title of "professeur du bar" and had us enthralled with his amazing demonstration of cocktail mixing.

We heard about the history and naming of cocktails and then had the chance to invent our own. There were many successes and some dismal failures but the session was one of the highlights of the week.

Over the following few days, the pupils worked placements in three hotels of the NovotelIbis group. The culinary excellence pupils worked in the kitchens, while others shadowed staff in room service, the restaurants, on the reception desk and in the office. Their enthusiasm was astonishing and their confidence in French improved hugely. They had frequent opportunities to interact with the public as well as the hotel staff and this gave the teenagers an enormous sense of achievement.

The pupils were the hotel managers' guests at lunch times and were often asked to choose or taste the accompanying wines. With each day, they became more comfortable both linguistically and socially and were learning a great deal about the behind-the-scenes running of a hotel.

Each evening, as the three groups of pupils and their supervising teachers met to return to the lycee on the train, they shared stories about what they had learned and what dishes they had prepared that day.

Near the end of our week, we woke at 4.30am to visit the Rungis market, which provides produce for the catering trade in the entire Paris area and much of the rest of France. The market is so large that we went from section to section by coach. The array of meats, fruits, vegetables and flowers was dazzling.

Pupils could identify some of the produce they had seen in their hotel kitchens and, by now, had a knowledge of how it would be prepared. The early rise was well worth it as the market is a fascinating place.

The fusion of language lessons with tourism studies in a work experience trip abroad was a hugely welcome innovation and the visit to France will be remembered for a long time as one of Eastbank Academy's most enjoyable and successful ventures.

Glasgow City Council hopes to increase the number of schools involved in this initiative and possibly extend it to different subject areas. This year's trips were totally funded by the council and other bodies. Next year, the schools and participants will have to make a financial contribution.

Carolyn McInnes teaches in the modern languages department at Eastbank Academy, Glasgow

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