Friday, April 20, 2012

South View French Exchange Program

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Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Leaving one's own, native country for any length of time is shocking for any age. 13 middle school students from near Versailles, France experienced some of this culture shock when they were greeted by their South View Middle School host students and families at the airport in February.  This was the beginning of a ten-day home stay with Edina host families for the French students, who came here to practice English, experience an American middle school, and live with an American family.  This was the second annual February host program between South View Middle School and Vistas in Education (VIE).  Vistas has arranged travel and home stays for students in France and the US since 1976.

I began working with VIE 5 years ago, when I started teaching in Edina. I wanted to get kids interested in hosting a French student during the summer. Two years ago, VIE, looking for a strong French program in the metro area, approached me about piloting a host program during the school year.  I jumped at the idea.  The size of the French program at South View has doubled in the last five years, so I knew I could find families who would welcome these French students as a breath of French air during the month of February! Parents and families in our community are so generous with their support for our schools. 

How amazing for these French kids to not only experience an American family, but also an American school. It's so different!  We have lockers in our hallways in the US!  Kids wear sweatpants…to school…regularly!  There are desk arrangements other than straight rows?!?!  We can eat pizza in the school cafeteria?  Students travel from room to room, rather than the teachers?  And school finishes at 2:40 – almost 2 hours earlier than in many French schools! These may seem small differences, but they speak volumes about our cultures. 

I imagine that the French and American students will reflect on these differences in the future and begin asking why.  And that reflection about our cultures is what brings us closer together and allows us to learn from one another.  The journey can continue when some of our students have the opportunity to step off the plane in France and feel their own culture shock and begin to reflect and learn. 

Betony Osborne
French Teacher, South View Middle School

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