Shannon Swann had the time of her life.
Swann, who teaches French at University High School in Carmel, received $12,000 from the Lilly Endowment Teachers Creativity Fellowship Program to explore history, cuisine, products and the natural beauty of southern and western France and some lesser-known parts of Paris and Ile-de-France.
“Calling it an amazing summer does not begin to capture what I experienced,” Swann said. “It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime summer,”
The Indianapolis resident said the best part was having the time and freedom to set her own agenda.
“I love traveling with students, but we tend to go to the same places because for them, it is often their first time there and they want to see the highlights,” she said. “I wanted to see a different side of France. Driving through the countryside, up narrow winding mountain roads, learning to navigate toll booths and roundabouts and tight parking spaces, talking one-on-one with local people in various regions of France, seeing some of the stunning natural beauty of France — the calanques of Cassis, the Verdon Gorge, the lavender fields, mountaintop villages, and the largest sand dune in Western Europe – all of these gave me a new perspective and a deeper appreciation of France’s diversity.”
Highlights for Swann were making her own perfume, attending the night fountain and fireworks show at Versailles and visiting the town of Oradour-sur-Glane.
“The historic sites were important to me because I know that France today has evolved from the France of yesterday,” she said. “I visited Roman ruins, Renaissance castles, a medieval fortress, a Troglodyte village and World War II sites, among other things.”
Swann, who once spent a year studying in France, even took cooking classes during her five-week trip. She said she’s not a great cook but enjoys it.
“I was able to get great tips, shop at local markets and put together a meal from start to finish,” Swann said. “I also am not very knowledgeable about wine, so taking a class and visiting vineyards were really interesting and gave me some insights into wine and wine-making.”
Swann said she has several ideas about how to share what she learned on the trip during a January term class trip to France, including studying kings, particularly Henry IV and Louis XIV.
“I spent some time visiting sites related to each of them and think it would be interesting to do a class that focused on one specific ruler or perhaps a select group, followed by visits to their homes,” she said. “I think a course on France under the Nazi Occupation could really open students’ eyes to what it was like for the French during that period. American history classes often focus on battles and D-Day, which are important, but the French lived through the war from beginning to end, and signs of that experience are still everywhere in France, from monuments to street names.
“Finally, a class on Roman France, from the fall of Vercingetorix (Gallic chieftain) through the years of the Roman occupation, focused on the ways in which what is now France was shaped in many ways by that era could be really interesting, particularly if we were able to visit some of the magnificent Roman sites that exist in France.”