STUDENT COMMENTS ABOUT THE EPINAL EXCHANGE
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
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
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