MVPS Makes a Cultural Connection Through First-Time French Exchange Program
For the first time in Mount Vernon’s history, Upper School students are able to delve deeper into France’s culture and language by participating in its inaugural French Exchange program. Through this single opportunity, students, teachers and host families are exploring their curiosity, making new friends, forging deep relationships, and expanding their cultural footprints.
For over a year, MVPS French teacher Ann Willeford, International Coordinators and foreign language teachers Erin Wright and Sam Baroody, along with Interim Term Coordinator Meg Brown worked together with Madame Chatelet from Lycée Hélène Boucher in Thionville, France to make a connection for student exchange. Through an initial pen pal project, this became a reality for french students Eloise Clavel and Aline Laguna.
Sharing their homes as host families for our newest Mustang, are the Thomsen and Merlin families. Additionally, the Corley family hosted the Boucher teachers who accompanied their students across the ocean. The exchange will occur in the spring of 2016 before and during Interim Term, when juniors Kate Thomsen and Danyela Mulunda will travel to France to attend Lycée Hélène Boucher.
Just halfway through their four-week stay this fall, Eloise and Aline view southern America as bigger, brighter and more colorful than they had thought. Eloise shares in flawless English, “When we first arrived, the people were smiling. Everyone is so kind here. Even the students were nice and asked questions. They showed interest in us as people. This is different,” she continues, “because in France everyone keeps to themselves – it is very quiet there.”
While in America, the girls want to explore American culture, blend in like Americans, and “eat junk food, because it’s better here.”
When asked how their preconceived notions matched up to their actual experience, Aline shared, “Religion. We thought we’d see a lot of people praying in the streets because that is the impression we have of the United States. It’s not like that at all. Also, the houses. There are so many of them and they are huge.”
Eloise adds, “Mount Vernon is so different from our school. It’s small so the teachers can be close to the students. In France we have 37 kids in each class.”
In expectation of her travel abroad, junior Dany Mulunda, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says, “Living there will be different than just visiting. I know I will get to know the daily life of living in a small town as opposed to the big lights and big city of Paris, where I have visited before. I am most interested in learning more about the culture and the reality of experiencing life in a different country.”
Having the girls here has given Dany a different perspective on the way she views Mount Vernon. She continues, “As I would escort them through the school, I would explain things in detail. This allowed me to reflect on our school with a purpose and caused me to understand it better. We are very lucky to be here.”
Both Dany and Kate are accomplished artists and spend a lot of time in Mr. Hank Kunath’s art studio at school. Wanting to share their love for art and explore Atlanta at its core with Eloise and Aline, they and a group of 10 other students and guided by Mr. Kunath, went to the Atlanta Beltline on a cultural excursion to view the public art installation. From murals and graffiti on pylons, to metal collages under bridges and statues in fields, the group learned about various types of American art, southern versus city culture and the freedom of speech.
Eloise and Aline thought the experience was “amazing.” Eloise adds, “I can’t believe they can draw in the street. In Thionville they would get in so much trouble. People here are just able to write what they think about. It’s bright and beautiful. And joggers run right through. It’s just a part of the city.”
Neither of our guests are interested in going home any time soon, though they know their time in Atlanta and at Mount Vernon is coming to an end. Eloise says, “We miss our families, but it is good to get a break from our routine and learn how people do things differently.”
When asked if they had any advice to give to other students who might be interested in traveling abroad, the girls unanimously shouted, “Do it!”