50th Edition, Global Education

Parlez-vous francais? Moi aussi

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Laura Haime,
Volume 50
February 15, 2011

Newton South High School students explore beyond the horizons of our country every year. Even though trips have unfortunately discontinued throughout the years, the France trip continued to offer students insight into another culture’s perspective for the past four years.
When French teacher Sebastian Merle arrived at Newton South in 2003, he saw the potential for a successful, educational program where students could visit his home country. Unfortunately, only years before he arrived, 9/11 had hampered efforts to encourage students to travel in school- organized trips.
“South started with a lot of student exchange programs, but then there were no trips after 9/11. The travel idea became very taboo,” Merle said.
The driven French teacher, however, did not give up. In 2006, he planned the first school-organized trip to France since the terrorist attacks. The trip started with 25 students who seized the opportunity to practice their foreign language skills. Not knowing what to expect, the students got on the plane filled with excitement, and returned home a week later with smiling faces and a new appreciation for their effort in French class.
Though the number of students has fluctuated over the years, the France trip proves to be a success time and time again. Last year, when the suffering economy forced families to cut back in their budgets, families continued to send their students to France, without regrets.
In the past, students have visited Paris, Pau, Talloirs, and Toulous among other cities and suburban towns where host families graciously invited them.
“The France trip was a great experience,” senior Jessica Zellner-Kline, who went on the trip last year, said. “We were told that it would be a trip based on immersion, but I didn’t fully picture how immersed I would be.”
During the trip, the students attend a French high school with their host siblings. Walking in the hallways of another culture, the students absorb information, and gain a new perspective on education.
“I think one of the reasons the France trip has been a success is because it’s unlikely that students will get another chance to go to a French high school,” Merle said.
Merle also expressed how he believes the length of the trip attracts students to the program. “(The trip) is short enough that it’s not too daunting, because they have to spend 5 days with strangers,” Merle said. While most exchange trips require students to leave their homes for weeks at a time, the French trip only lasts for the week of February vacation.
The trip also assures students of their efforts in French class. After learning French and practicing the language in a more artificial setting, the students had the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a real-world scenario.
“The family I stayed with was very nice and because they spoke little to no English, I was forced to use everything that I had learned in class,” Zellner-Kline said. “By the end of the week, I was thinking in French and even dreaming in French.”
“It gives (them) a great sense of achievement,” Merle said, as he commented on the noticeable boost in the students’ self confidence in the classroom.
The transformation that Merle observes amongst his students encourages him to continue running the trip. “There’s definitely a before and after,” Merle says, remembering the impression that the experience left on his students.
Although the resolute teacher looks forward to future trips, the exchange program is put on hold for a year, as Merle preserves energy for more trips to come.
He does, however, urge students to apply for the trip in the future. “So many French families want to host (American students),” Merle said. He further encourages students to sign up for the program regardless of financial difficulties, as several scholarships are within close reach.
As one of the most successful exchange trips that Newton South has to offer, the France trip opens doors for students. “It was a very fun trip and I would definitely recommend it to anyone!” Zellner- Kline said.
The gratifying memories of past participants and the alluring opportunities of the program continue to incite participation from students.

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