Eighth annual French exchange

Since its nativity eight years ago, the French exchange program has served as an incredible way for both Westminster and French high school students to directly immerse themselves into unique cultures completely unlike their own. This year’s exchange featured a variety of Westminster sophomores and juniors who stayed with and hosted a student from France. Roughly ten Westminster students applied and participated in the program last year.

“When I friend hosted an exchange student, I saw how much fun they had and the friendship that they made, and I began to starting thinking about going on the French exchange and how fun it would be,” said eleventh grader Lindsay Vincent, a student from the trip last year.

While in France, these select students participated in a wide range of activities, including attending French school, spending time with exchange families, and many popular tourist activities. A few months after the Westminster students’ stay in France, it became time for the French students to experience American culture.

“I wanted to come to Atlanta to finally see how the high school was in the USA. I saw so many movies about that, and I wanted to live this experience,” said French student, Clemence Kaiser.

Arriving on October 19, twelve high school students from the Gymnase Jean Strum school in Strasbourg, France began their two week stay with Westminster host students in Atlanta. A day after their arrival in Atlanta, the French exchange students were welcomed with open arms into the Westminster community at the week’s assembly. Following their welcoming ceremony, the French students quickly indulged themselves into many aspects of Westminster life, including a theater lesson with middle school drama teacher, Ms. Morgens, and a history lesson with the upper school’s, Mr. Tribble. Similar to most Westminster students, the French exchange students even designated a time slot for buying snacks at the bookstore! Just as the they began to familiarize themselves with life at Westminster, French students jumped into exploring the vast culture of Atlanta, where they visited many hallmark attractions including the CNN center, the High Museum, and of course, the World of Coca-Cola.

In addition to their tourist desires, as all dutiful scholars would, the French students also used their time in Atlanta to expand their study of the Civil Rights Movement and its role in American history. Students learned first hand about this immense history at the Center for Civil & Human Rights and eventually conducted a research project about what they learned. The librarians even designed a LibGuide for their studies! Intriguingly, one of the final requests of the French students was not a typical tourist desire. In fact, these students spent an hour and a half of their final day speaking to college counselor, Juan Acosta, about the American college admissions process.

“A lot of them would like to go to American college, and they were very interested in learning about how to apply to these colleges as a foreigner,” said French teacher Elizabeth Hanson, the director of the program.

On the topic of college admissions, Vincent explained the biggest difference she saw between French student life and American student life.

“Honestly, it was “le Bac” (the standardized test for college admissions in France). They study continuously for this test and you can tell how high stress it is, even when they still have a whole more year to study,” said Vincent.

Even with all of the incredible activities that the French students participate in, the student’s send off party arguably exceeded them all. The casual party was marked by lunch between the French students, their hosts, and the Westminster teachers involved in helping with the exchange. Following emotional goodbyes between all members of the exchange, Tribble, gave each French student a the “bon voyage” package that he prepared for them. Tribble ceased to disappoint in his gifts, as his work gave the French students three lasting symbols of the culture of American culture, a bottle of Coca-Cola, a Westminster baseball cap, a miniature American flag, and most importantly, a replica of the United States constitution.

“They all cried”, said Hanson about the French students’ reactions at their emotional farewell party.

While each of French students’ experiences may vary in many ways, they all have one common characteristic: a feeling of satisfaction.

“I found that everyone here was welcoming and friendly. I will miss that in France”, said Nancy Nleme, an exchange student from France.

Since their departure on November 3, the lack of these similarly friendly personalities has left a gaping hole of character on campus.

“They were such fun people,” said eleventh grader, Ella Bradford, who interestingly did not even participate in the exchange.

No matter what perspective you look through, the French program continues to be a remarkable opportunity for students of all nationalities to immerse themselves into foreign cultures, and most importantly, for establishing unbreakable bonds between newfound friends. Fortunately, there are only 340 days until the French students come to Westminster again!