For six weeks, she couldn’t use her phone or communicate in English.

The circumstances weren’t a punishment for Franklin Community High School student Abigail Demaree, but instead a reward. Demaree was accepted into the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages to travel on a summer study abroad trip to France. Thanks to an anonymous donor, she became the first Franklin student to receive a scholarship for the trip through the Franklin Education Connection, which covered $5,000 of the about $6,000 in trip costs.

The IU program, which has sites in France, Austria and Spain, has been around since 1961. Franklin’s French teacher Thomas Maxwell, who was in the program himself as a Center Grove High School student in 2014, made the trip to Saumur, France with Demaree.

“There’s quite a lot of studying with grammar and culture, history, a variety of things to prepare students for a trip like this,” Maxwell said. “There was one big orientation in April and we spent almost eight hours with the kids, telling them what to expect living with a host family, culture shock. We spent some time assessing their level of French and knowing what level they’d be at.”

During the assessment, Demaree, who had taken four years of French, was rated as intermediate, but quickly became an advanced learner once in France. She and 23 other students from Zionsville, Carmel, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Greenfield, Center Grove and Indianapolis stayed with host families, took classes in literature, communication, linguistics and culture, and participated in group activities, such as choir and theatre, all of which they did without speaking a word of English, Demaree said.

“It was really weird at first, as soon as something would happen I’d want to text my mom and tell her about it. We had one hour of internet time a week, so there wasn’t an easily accessible way to communicate with friends and family,” she said. “It was really scary, but kind of freeing. I didn’t have something to immediately go towards. The first night I was there, I went to my room. I didn’t have a phone and couldn’t read English, our books were in French, so I cleaned up the room and put my stuff away and went to sleep.”

After initially finding her circumstances challenging, including a warning to students they would be sent back home if they spoke English, she quickly adapted and was able to speak about complex topics with her host family, her classmates and her roommate, a student from Greenfield-Central High School.

“We had a lot of conversations and I was surprised about not only my ability to communicate in a different language, but have complex political discussions about France,” Demaree said. “At the time, they had an election. We talked about differences between areas of France, we had a conversation about sports and I was surprised at how, once I got into one topic, how far I got into another topic.”

Demaree described Saumur as a town similar to Franklin, with small businesses in the downtown area. The two municipalities are almost identical in population, with about 25,000 residents in each.

“It feels like I can remember all of it. There was this market they had every Saturday morning people could get their fresh produce for the week, and bread and meat and cheese, and it reminded me so much of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ market. It was so surreal, like I was in a movie but it was a real place. I really loved it and it’s the thing I miss the most since I came back,” Demaree said.

During their time away, the group of students from Indiana also visited other areas of France, such as Normandy, Versailles and Paris, Maxwell said.

“We saw a museum dedicated to D-Day, we went to the Normandy beaches and swam in the English Channel. It was a lot of fun,” he said. “We saw castles of the Loire Valley, saw three big castles, and the third and final excursion was to Paris. We spent 2.5 days in Paris seeing the sights and experiencing a big city adventure.”

The scholarship will help other Franklin students realize they can also go on such a trip, Demaree said.

“It makes me proud to be part of our school and help kids know they can do that with the help of our school,” she said. “It makes me have pride for our school that they can give opportunities for kids to travel the world when they may not have been able to do that before.”