Students' Reactions to Participation in the Epinal Student Exchange

From Erin Mader

     Deciding to participate in the exchange this past summer was one of the best and most beneficial decisions I have ever made. By going to France, I learned and changed more than I ever imagined I could. My family couldn't have been nicer or more generous! From the moment I got there to the moment I left, I was treated like royalty! As far as I could see, the French people are very kind and welcoming, contrary to popular belief. If you treated them with respect, they treated you the same way. Of course there are always exceptions, but luckily I didn't encounter any of them.
     When compared to the U.S., many things were different, especially in the styles of buildings and architecture. The homes are all very close together and mostly made of stone. They are, in general, small, usually apartments. They do not have big yards as we do here, and what small plots they do have, they turn into flower garden. My family had a small courtyard between their garage and home, and it was completely covered with all different types of flowers.
     The meals were also a great contrast to ours. Breakfast was always very light with a choice of bread, cereal, or yogurt and fruit. Bread was brought fresh every morning and very good! Hot chocolate was a normal breakfast drink and they drank it out of deep bowls. Croissants and pains au chocolat are only served on special occasions, for example, my first and last days there.
     Lunch was normally medium-sized with meat, potatoes, fruit and bread. My family ate outside on their porch every night. We always sat down together and ate a big meal. Bread was always put on the table and plates were always wiped clean with a piece of bread. French people never set down their utensils, keeping their knife in their left hand and their fork in their right.
     The automobiles are all very small and they drive very, very fast! The streets are small and windy.
     The music i heard while i was there consisted of a lot of American music. Teenagers also like techno, rap, and a lot of things similar to what we like here. Kids my age did a lot of the same things for fun. They like to go out a lot, but it is different for them, because they can legally go into a bar and have something to drink or just talk or even smoke. They have a lot more freedom in those areas, and I think that is one of the reasons why they don't seem to abuse it as much. I went to the disco twice and it was a lot of fun!
     One major thing that was different was the type of greeting they used. In France, you kiss each other on both cheeks, first right, then left, each time you greet someone, whether it be boy or girl. In the mornings i was kissed by the families, and throughout the day by my correspondante's friends, too. it was shocking at first, but you get accustomed to it.
     My correspondante, Magali, had to take the train to school, and that was normal for many other people to do too. She lives in a small village and the closest school is 20 minutes away in Epinal. She said she could board during the week at school if she wanted to, but she'd rather come home every night.
     There are many more differences and similarities to write about, but it would take forever. I think that being in the exchange program was much more beneficial than the regular school trip. I think this because when I was in Epinal, I was part of my family and could actually live in the culture like a French person. l Once I got to Paris with the big group, I was an American and a tourist again, and I wasn't treated the same way. I loved Paris, but I didn't like the different view point at all. it was an incredible experience and I would recommend it to anyone!

From Jamie Barton

     The experience I had in France is one that I will never forget. Epinal is a beautiful town and the people are the greatest. The family that I stayed with was great. I was very nervous about what they would be like and how we would get along. Things turned out really well. We all got along "comme dos et chemise." The things my family did were very enjoyable. We even went to the Alps for a week.
     With all of these things, I still think that the neatest thing for me to see and experience was the culture. I loved going to cafes and hearing the people all around speaking French and I was understanding it ! Just making comparisons between American life and French life was fun. I really saw that everything i had learned could be used! All of the phrases and sentences we had practiced putting together could mean something--it worked! Along with using the language you've learned, you learn how to work around the things you don't know. A lot of gestures and beating around the bush had to be used, but the point did come across. I really believe that my language listening and general comprehension skills improved a great deal. I possible, I think that everyone should have the chance to be totally immersed in another culture.
     Paris was an experience in itself--like a separate country. So many different cultures came together in one city! Walking down the Champs Elysées you would hear English, French, Chinese, Arabic, Italian and many other languages. I loved seeing all of the sights we had studied. Studying them made it even better because we really appreciated it more.
     i would like to go to France again, many times. We need to make sure the Epinal exchange keeps going for a long time.

From Angie Spietz

     I felt that my trip to France was a great learning and exciting experience. I was able to communicate and get along very well with my family and especially my correspondante. My host family engaged me in many activities such as visiting Nancy, other small surrounding towns and the daily lifestyle of a French teenager. In Epinal, I was able to see the Imagerie d'Epinal, Intervilles 97(a competition between Epinal and another city), a bathing resort Plombières, beautiful crystal made by Baccarat and a good French party. Even though sometimes I felt as if I was this little tag along in many situations, I was able to experience so many typical French traditions. Such as kissing just about everyone i met, hanging out at a cafe about every other day, sitting down at just about every meal, having at least one pain au chocolat a day, and improving my manners. The Closse family made me feel as close to home as possible. I truly feel that I was able to learn so much more about the French lifestyle by staying with a host family for an extended amount of time. I wouldn't ever want to give up the experience I had with my host family and the friendship that was gained with Elodie.
     After having to leave Epinal and my host family I had become very attached to, i was able to brush away the tears and look forward to Paris. I couldn't get over the fact that I was actually in Paris. All the fund raising and studying of the French language was definitely worth it.

From Rachel Thompson

     Traveling abroad is a great cultural experience. You learn more than you would ever believe and the learning doesn't stop when you come back. it is normal to experience culture shock.
     In France many things are different that you may not expect or just take for granted that they are the same when they are really not. The first major cultural difference that I noticed was that they didn't snack very much. In the household where I stayed, you either ate at meals, or didn't eat at all. Lunch and dinner are generally bigger meals than what we would eat in the U.S. and you are also expected to take more than one serving of food. The family I stayed with also watched a lot of TV. My family was very strict.
     Traveling in France is a bigger deal than here. We think nothing of driving two hours for a football game, whereas they drive for two hours and it's a serious vacation. People in France drive a lot faster than in the U.S. and the cars are really small and fuel efficient. People in both Epinal and Paris respected you more if you at least made an attempt to speak French.
     Going to France was a wonderful experience and I would strongly suggest it to anyone who wishes to continue with the French language. Going to France helped my French more than any class or camp ever could. It helped me in my French class because now I have something to apply the exercises to and I can see how it can apply in everyday life.

From Katie Jordan

     There are so many things about my foreign exchange, i could write 20 pages. One of the biggest differences in France was the food and meal times. Right away in the morning I would go down to the kitchen and help with breakfast. In the U.S. breakfast is one of the biggest meals I eat. When I was in France, if I ate more than one piece of toast and a little "tartine" I was being a pig! We usually had the same breakfast every morning, hot chocolate that we drank out of bowls and two small slices of bread with jelly on it. I counted down the minutes until we could eat lunch! Another uncomfortable difference was the fact that they kept their eggs and milk in a cupboard--it was warm!
     For lunch we ate a ton of food, and it was always excellent! My family ate almost every meal outside. Jean-Paul, the father, was a teacher who had the summer off and he did most of the cooking. They use so many sauces and cremes and real butter and things that tasted really good. When we sat down for lunch (Usually around 2), we started out with wine, then bread and butter, then a first course, a second course, a salad, tons of cheese and finally a dessert--either fresh fruit and ice cream or fresh fruit and a tart. Dinner which we ate really late--usually around 9 or 10 was a smaller meal. Overall, I think the French eat more than we do at meals but they never snacked in between meals--ever! But sometimes for lunch I would be completely stuffed after the first course, but they would just keep bringing food to me!
     In my bedroom, we kept the windows open all the time because my family did not have air-conditioning. My bed pillows were perfectly square. And finally there were no closets, but a bunch of chests for the clothes and such.
     In the family there were two adults and three children but only one shower. And they really do have two different rooms for the toilet and the shower! My family showered once every other day but they were nice about letting me shower as often as I wanted. In the bathroom, every person had a pile of clothes: a pair of shorts, pants, 2 t-shirts and a sweat-shirt and underclothes--these were the clothes they wore for about a week at a time. That was something really strange for me!
     Other differences: the doors to every room were always shut. They never turned on their light in the hallways unless it was needed. They spent a lot of time just as a family--a lot more than most families do here. There were forever going to visit other family relatives, eating family dinners with other families. Their lifestyle is much more oriented to a family lifestyle.
     The family I stayed with couldn't have been nicer and they did their best to show me around. They even offered to let me stay with them when I go to study a year abroad!
     The differences in teen life: every night that we went out, we mostly went to a party--except they were drinking and the parents were home. That was new to me. Also I thought that most of the kids there smoke like chimneys. Another thing is that almost everywhere we went, we would walk there--we would walk between 5 and 40 minutes to get where we were going and that wasn't a big thing at all!~All of Amelie's friends were really nice to me and took the time to speak to me slowly so I could understand them and the conversations that they were having. One last thing I found interesting is that when we have dances at someone's house, there are always a ton of people dancing. In France having 12 people over was a lot of people and just those 12 people would be dancing like crazy!
     Overall, I loved my exchange and I feel that it really helped me grow as a person because now I have so many more insights on how life can be and I also believe that it helped my French an incredible amount because that is all we ever spoke when I was there.

From Kendra Niedfeldt

     The time I spent in Epinal was incredible. The family I stayed with was very generous and was always there entertaining me(even though that wasn't very difficult). It was a large family So I was able to see how all ages of French children experience life. I spoke French nearly the whole time and it definitely improved my comprehension. My family and I traveled to nearby cities and went to large family gatherings such as birthday parties. It was a wonderful time and it displayed how close knit French families really are. When we visited Normandy, i was able to meet local fishermen and even go fishing out in the sea. French culture is definitely much different from the U.S. People seem to have a completely different air about them, but they still are regular people that like to laugh, cry and have a good time. I'm VERY glad I decided to participate in this program and would recommend others to do so also. It was a great learning experience that can't be replaced.

From Holly Bucey

     I decided to apply to the exchange when I was in eighth grade. At first I was going to get a guy, but since I have three sisters, my dad decided he'd rather have a girl. I just wanted the opportunity to meet someone new and speak French over the summer. The past four years exchanging with the same family have been some of the most memorable experiences I've ever had, and they all involve my coresspondante. When I visited for the first time, I felt like part of the family and then they revisited and my correspondante's sister came, too.
     While in Epinal, I really liked going to the center of town and hanging out at cafes with my correspondante and her friends. I would borrow their clothes and try to pass as French, but my huge accent always gave me away. Eating was always an experience because I'm a very picky eater so most things I tried were new to me.
     This year was the best year because I knew my family and where I was going to stay. I was instantly comfortable again with the entire family and we had the opportunity to take a vacation to Val . I couldn't have been happier.

Thanks to these students and their teacher, Dianne Seyler of La Crosse Central High School, La Crosse, Wisconsin

page added 3/3/98

[Return to Epinal-La Crosse Exchange]

[Return to WFC Office]