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Students embark on historic journey

SIMON MAUDE
Last updated 05:00 27/06/2014
Lucy Parsonson and Josh Hansen
Simon Maude
CULTURAL AMBASSADORS: Lucy Parsonson and Josh Hansen.

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Josh Hansen and Lucy Parsonson may know how to speak French but they want to understand France.

Early next month the North Shore pair and 11 other French-speaking students are going there to commemorate our countries' shared wartime experience.

While on the Young Ambassadors Tour, Hansen from Westlake Boys High School, and Parsonson from Birkenhead College, will research soldiers who fought there.

On August 3, 1914, Germany declared war on France. The next day New Zealand joined England and the rest of the British Empire helping to defend France.

By war's end thousands of our soldiers had fought and died alongside French troops on the Western Front.

The year 13 students, who've raised thousands of dollars to travel, will visit battlefields where New Zealanders fell, such as the town of Le Quesnoy. Parsonson is researching her great-grandfather's experiences as well as a Beach Haven man's relative.

Meanwhile, Hansen is working more broadly.

"We all got asked to create our own projects. I'm looking at the evolution of recognition of the war," he says.

Sharing a Parisian Bastille Day experience with the other students is going to be "very cool", Parsonson says.

They will watch France's national day parade from the Champs Elysees and meet New Zealand's French ambassador and France's minister of education.

Parsonson's French language teacher at Birkenhead College, Aaron Nolan, says France's wartime experience seared itself into the nation's cultural memory and people need to understand that.

"This ties into the very large cultural diplomacy programme the French embassy runs," Nolan says.

France's ambassador to New Zealand is sponsoring the students' two-week journey through Belgium and France.

The trip is about "creating lasting relationships between youth in both countries and we will help spread that back home in our schools", Hansen says.

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