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By: Melissa Romberg

Life in Dignes-les-Bains

ON OCTOBER 25, 2019, 14 French students from Digne-les-Bains, France, came to Conard to spend two weeks living the average American lifestyle with 14 Conard students who had visited Digne-les-Bains last April. Over the course of two weeks, the French students visited and spoke with the students in the French classes about what life is like in Digne.



When Conard visited Digne in April, we flew from Boston to Zurich, Switzerland, which took about nine hours. From Zurich, we took an hour-long flight to Nice, which is on the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France. From there, they took a bus to Digne, which was about a two and a half hour drive from Nice.


Digne-les-Bains is located in the south of France in the French Alps.  Digne has a population of over 16,000 people, and due to its rich soil, Digne is known for growing lavender, which is used all over the world in soaps, perfumes and candles, to name a few. Digne is also home to one of the world’s biggest canyons, the Gorges du Verdon. Because of the varying altitudes in the mountains, the area surrounding Digne has different accumulative amounts of snow, which makes it difficult for some students to get to school. The roads in Digne are also very curvy because of its place in the mountains. Areas where people drive up mountains do not have ramps which America would normally have for safety to keep people from driving off a cliff. And since everything is so spread out in some areas, it could take a while before reaching a gas station for your car.


School Life

School in Digne is completely focused on studies: there are no after-school activities offered, and most students live at the school. Students who live at home can take the bus, which can be a 40-60 minute bus ride. School runs from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Most of the classes run for nearly two hours, and lunch is an hour long. 


In France, school has set career paths for students in subjects like economics, science, and literature. There are less common career paths available, too, like film study. For languages, students can choose to take English, German or Spanish.


At their school, named for French explorer Alexandra David-Néel, the students are told to always respect their teachers, keep quiet and to never eat or drink anything in the classroom. Teachers will sometimes give breaks while they are transitioning to a new topic in class and students can have snacks then.


There are a  couple of key differences for students who go to school in Digne — they are allowed to smoke outside during breaks, and they typically get two to three weeks off from school for vacations. They also have to take two English classes: one that teaches them English and one about English history. 


Students who are 16 years old and are learning how to drive must be accompanied by an adult until they get their driver’s license at 18 and can drive by themselves. Students also have written exams like ours, except their test consists of 40 questions, and you have to get 35 right in order to pass. 



Leisure Activities and the Weekend

In Digne, people will usually go hiking or rock climbing because of the nearby mountains. They have their own “Blue Back Square” where they can go to see movies, eat food and hangout! Some students from Digne described that they also have parties in abandoned houses, and they’ll usually listen to British and American music while they drink, smoke and dance. On Saturdays, Digne-les-Bains has their own farmers market where people can buy fresh food from local farmers. They do have their own Walmart equivalent too for when they need to go shopping on a weekday. This place is called “Carrefour”, which sells everything a typical Walmart or Target would sell.


Music, Movies, and Other Pop Culture

In general, France and other European countries listen to American music and watch American movies. They also have access to streaming platforms like Netflix and can watch American movies with subtitles or dubbing. Right now in France, there is a rapper named Jul who has caused an uproar among students who mimic his “gang sign” because they think his music is so bad. The students who visited Conard expressed how they like American music along with British and Australian music.


On a personal note...

Overall, I appreciated being a part of this exchange program. I really enjoyed hosting my student, because I was able to introduce her to many new things, like Halloween, S’mores, the American hamburger and self-checkouts at the grocery store (which she thought were so cool!). I really enjoyed visiting France, and liked playing board games with my host family and I especially liked how one of the French people I met pronounced “taco.” Most of all, I thought it was interesting, because you hear stereotypes and think people in other countries are very different than you are. By visiting and meeting people, I found out that we all have more in common than I would have thought. 


Other facts:

West Hartford:                                                                                                         Digne:

Settled: 1679                                                                                                             Settled: The 1st Century

Altitude: 120 feet at Town Hall                                                                             Altitude: 1,995 feet at Town Center

Population: 63,264 in 2016                                                                                   Population: 16,186 in 2016

Famous resident: Noah Webster                                                                          Famous visitor: Napoleon Bonaparte

Sunny days annually: 190 days                                                                             Sunny days annually: 200 days

Average snow per year: 37 inches                                                                        Average snow per year: .3 inches

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