”How do you say ‘give me five’?”. He quickly learned that it was much more culturally appropriate among his new friends to ‘faire la bise’.
By Campbell Ainsworth, WMS French Teacher
”Yesterday night I eat half a chocolate mousse.” ”The father of my friend learned me–” ”So I took too much..too many..too much—aaahhh! I can’t speak English any more!” The White Mountain students babbled excitedly to one another when the group met together after having spent several days living with their host families as part of a two-week field course in France this March.
After five days exploring Paris, the group of twelve students and two teachers traveled three hours south to Nevers, a small town in the Bourgogne region in central France. Families here have been hosting WMS students as part of an exchange program which started over twenty years ago. Every other year a group of Nevers students come to The White Mountain School and stay with students at their homes or in the dormitories and then during the alternating year, American students come to Nevers.
This group was excited to stay with French families and get first-hand experience with French culture and daily life, of which they had only had glimpses through classroom discussions and movies. It was also an invaluable opportunity to practice their language skills, as most of the families spoke little or no English. ”After a week here, my French is so much better,” exclaimed Mark Bluni ‘12. ”I can approach anybody and start a conversation. It’s so great to be sitting around the dinner table and understand everything that’s going on.” ”I’m not worrying about my vocabulary,” stated Bianca Lora ‘13, a junior in her third year of studying French. ”I’m more confident with speaking and listening. I watched a political debate with my family, and they had a heated discussion afterwards. They asked for my opinion and I was really proud I could hold my own during a conversation.” Students found out that they were unable to translate some words. One American student was met with blank stares when he asked a small group of French teenagers, ”How do you say ‘give me five’?”. He quickly learned that it was much more culturally appropriate among his new friends to ‘faire la bise’ (to greet each other with a kiss on each cheek).
”Communicating here is like a giant game of Taboo,” Rachael Moss ’15 remarked. ”I use the words I know and then we figure it out together. It’s a dog. Little. Cute. Big eyes. A chihuahua!” Students, no matter how much French they have when they arrive in France, gain confidence by living on their own with their exchange family and making themselves understood. Sometimes little children in the family can be the best teachers; their patience and cheerfulness help the Americans become less self-conscious. ”I love playing with Louise’s little sister,” relates Maegan Martinez ‘12, ”I hang out in her room all the time. I don’t mind if I make a mistake with her and we laugh together a lot. Louise’s family has been taking such good care of me, and the food is amazing!”
Students learned that meal times are one of the most important aspects of French daily life. Families lingered over elaborate meals (students were astonished at all the courses and the quantity of cheese) and often the tone around the table was light and jovial. ”I love meal times,” grinned Mark Bluni ‘12, ”They are a lot of fun. I battle with my French father for the ends of baguettes since that’s our favorite part. So the other day before dinner I cut off the ends and hid them, just to get a kick out of his reaction.”
Four students had practically no French when they arrived, but they still made the most out of their experience. ”My French family taught me how to make quiche lorraine, crepes, and chocolate cake,” Litong Chen ‘13, explained. ”It was really fun! I copied down their recipes and I’m going to make it for my friends and family back home.” Although students did a wide variety of activities with their host families, they all reported that they had a wonderful time. Some, like Litong, cooked with their host families, while others went biking, horseback riding, fishing, scrambling over a ropes course, or simply spent time relaxing with their host family. Spencer Alderman ‘13, stated, ”In some ways, it’s just like back home. We hang out, watch TV, joke around and play games. I’m learning there are a lot more similarities between us than I had thought.”
The students’ experience during the field course in France has been so positive that many have already made plans to return this summer or in the future. ”I want to study French next year,” said Litong Chen ’13, ”I really want to come back and live here, during a study abroad program or after I finish college.” Mark Bluni ‘12 added, ”Now I realize that I want to continue studying French in college. I’d like to combine it with my business interests and hopefully some day that will help me get a job with a French company or an American company in France. I really want to live in France some day. In fact, I don’t want to come home now! What would happen if my passport mysteriously disappeared?” Unfortunately for Mark, and fortunately for his friends and family back in America, his passport remained intact, and the whole group returned back to Boston, with their only regret being that they wished they could have stayed longer than two weeks.
See photos of the French Exchange trip.