French exchange students visit Middletown

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In October, students at the high school hosted 15 French exchange students from Rennes, France.  According to Madame Cestari, a French teacher at the high school involved with planning the exchange, the opportunity to host students came by chance. The exchange students’ teacher from Rennes was in connection with a French teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Ashlee Taylor-Love, prior to the organization of the exchange. This opened up the door for the French students to choose Middletown when looking for a town to travel to in the United States. For students at the high school, this gave them the exciting opportunity to host a student from France during their visit to America. 15 students from Rennes stayed in Middletown for 11 days from October 11-22.

Exchange students generally stayed with their student hosts at all times throughout the day, following them from class to class and to their after-school extracurricular activities and sports practices.

For the French students, this routine was one they found fascinating and different. Alexis Letellier, a 16-year-old exchange student, said, “My favorite thing about being here is the artistic possibilities and the mix of things like chorus and art with school…. In America, it is very great because you have music, many sporting activities, art, and I imagine it is very easy to create clubs because you have so many choices.”

Another exchange student, Jules Jarry, 16, said, “The extracurricular activities are more connected to the school day.” He also said, “The teachers here are more enthusiastic and engaging, and the classes end much earlier than in France.”

Letellier said, “There is a lot of freedom between students and teachers, and you are able to talk and use computers. In France, it is very strict, but in America, they say, ‘Let’s go!’ and you just walk to the next class!”

The timing of the exchange students’ visit was such that they were able to experience a variety of school events that are unique to America, such as Friday night football games and homecoming. On their first day here, they attended the homecoming pep rally, an event so American that host students soon realized there was no equivalent French translation. It was difficult to explain to the French students why the student body had gathered in the gym during the school day to play tug of war, have a pie-eating contest, and yell at the freshman class.

Ryan Cudworth, a sophomore who hosted a student, said, “I don’t think we adequately gauged the cultural gap and the language barrier was bigger than we thought. The challenge was to learn how to communicate and bridge the barriers.”

The language gap was a difficulty that many host students seemed to share. Abigail Conquest, a sophomore host, said, “The biggest challenge we had was the homesickness my student felt and also the language barrier.”

Despite setbacks from the cultural and language differences, the exchange seemed to be a thoroughly exciting learning experience for everyone involved. Conquest said, “I wanted to host because I was really excited to get to know French culture from the student’s perspective and create a friendship with the student I hosted.”

Cudworth said, “My student came to America very self-conscious of his English, but by the first weekend, we were having long conversations and hardly using Google translate. I really enjoyed seeing their confidence in English improve over the course of the trip and the way their eyes lit up when understanding something… that’s something they couldn’t get sitting in their English class.”

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