Seven exchange students from France left Saturday to return home after spending two weeks with North High School host families. At approximately the same time students at Memorial High School will be returning to Edmond after visiting a similar region in France for two weeks.
(CORRECTION: We have made an error concerning one of the students mentioned in this article. Alexis Aisne Rousseau was referred to as she and her, but we should have said he and him. This article has been changed to be correct. We regret this error and any inconvenience it may have caused.)
Both groups of students were part of the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Franco-American Fellows Program established and administered by the AFdOKC since 2009. This exchange program offers an opportunity for Central Oklahoma French language students, ages 16 to 22, who attend public or private high schools, career technology centers, or community colleges to go to school with their counterparts in France.
Eligible student applicants are selected based on criteria evaluated by committee to participate in an airfare expense paid, two-week research project, while being hosted by their French peers and attending a school in the Hauts de France region. In exchange, selected French students from Hauts de France are hosted by their American peers while they attend a central Oklahoma school to conduct their research.
The program encourages global awareness and understanding of international lifestyles through cultural exchange and academic study.
With hopes of seeing the United States, visiting a different school, and discovering a new culture, French students signed up to share two weeks of their lives with American students and their families. North High School students and their families opened their homes as they welcomed the seven exchange students. Most of the students said they wanted to visit America to learn about the culture and the ways French students and American students are similar as well as different.
All of the students said that the American students seem to have more freedom inside their classrooms as well as in their time outside of school.
The French students were impressed with the size of everything from school buildings to portion sizes of food. They commented on the education the students received including classroom decorum, the classes offered, and extra-curricular activities.
Cléa Dubuisson lives in Picardie Haut de France, and like many of the students she wanted to experience a different way of life, see the United States, the high school, and discover a new culture.
She said the education is more strict in France and the students are not allowed to take their cellphones to class or to sleep in class.
“In France we are punished for that,” Cléa said. She added, “The relationship between a teacher and a student is more formal in France where in the U.S. teachers and students are more friendly.”
In France it happens but it is unusual, she added.
“When we have a test we don’t have several choices. We have to choose the right one, and then we have to write all the answers to the question.
She said debate classes are not offered in France.
“I think there are a lot of classes offered here and not in my high school. I’m in a scientific high school so a lot of arts, literary, or economics classes are not offered,” Cléa said. “Moreover, we don't have anything like JROTC.”
While visiting the students were able to attend the JROTC Military Ball.
“On the other hand, the JROTC ball on Saturday evening was completely new for me because in France it is very seldom that a high school organizes one and everyone dances,” Cléa said. “I enjoyed it a lot. “It was awesome.”
Everything is bigger, and the city is so spread out,” Clea said.
The French students arrived to be met by busy schedules planned by their host families. Sites visit included the Oklahoma plains and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum.
Most of the students commented they had never heard of the bombing and it was an experience they would not forget.
Cléa said that before coming to Oklahoma she didn’t know anything about the memorial museum and upon visiting it she said she was moved.
Each student worked on a project while in the states. Cléa’s project had to do with paralympic training and she was surprised to learn that there is a training paralympic center in Edmond on the University of Central Oklahoma campus.
“I didn’t expect that,” Clea said.
Siham Bourass lives in Amiens in Haut de France and one thing she wanted to do was to travel around the world and discover new cultures.
She said she thought the American students had much more freedom in their classrooms.
“Not only can French students not talk with each other, but also they cannot use their phones or listen to music during their classes,” Siham said. “Teaching the American way is more entertaining: The students can use their computers and play interactive games in class while in France we just sit on a chair and listen to a teacher from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
Siham said they did not have music classes or argumentation (debate) classes in France. She also saw a Native American dance for the first time.
“The size of everything is at least two times bigger than in France,” Siham said.
Her favorite food was beef steak.
For her research study to take back to France she said she learned that the issue of inequality between women and men is less important than before but there are still big differences in related issues such as salaries and body shaming.
Siham said the National Memorial Museum left an impression on her, as well.
“I will try to share what I saw and learned while I was here,” she said.
“I will really miss this place,” Siham said.
Chloé Baticle lives in Cambronne-Les-Ribecourt in Oise. She wanted to become an exchange student to get to know a new culture and to learn more about her project as well as to find out if she can manage on her own in a foreign place.
Chloé said their school days end much later than their counterparts in the United States.
“In our school we are less free, and our classes in France are longer and more intense, and the rules are strict,” Chloé said.
Their classes are mandatory — students can’t choose their classes.
“We have almost all the courses here, depending on our field of study, but we don’t have music classes,” Chloé said.
She added that in her school in France there are no after school activities in which to participate.
“My first impression of Edmond was that everything was really big, absolutely everything, and I think it’s really cool,” Chloé said.
Although she found the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum to be very interesting she also thought it was really sad.
“I loved everything they put in place to learn about the history of Oklahoma,” Chloé said. “I learned a lot about my project and I am really happy. I plan on reporting everything I learned about.”
“The same day we had two opposite moments which I cannot forget,” said Antoine Dupré, who lives in Pagny-Filain, a middle-sized village in France near where champagne is produced which has about 250 residents.
“On the one hand, the visit of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum was so poignant, and for someone who had never heard of this terrible event before, I could not imagine how important was this attack,” Antoine said. “On the other hand, the JROTC ball on Saturday evening was completely new to me because in France it is very seldom that a high school organizes one and everyone dances.”
Antoine said he decided to become an exchange student because another pupil from his high school did the trip last year.
“He came back with extreme happiness and pride,” Antoine said. “It is also the opportunity to share my campaign against food waste and compare both countries.”
Upon attending his first high school class, Antoine said, “The first time I came to school, I was really surprised that people can do what they want, whenever they want to do it, and this can disturb the lesson.
“On the other hand, the American school day is shorter than the French one, which allows a greater time for extra-activities and homework.”
Antoine mentioned there is not an environmental class and the closest class is biology, which means the study is from a scientific point of view and it excludes social issues.
“The first time I came to the Edmond North High School, I went into the Siberian gymnasium,” Antoine said. “I was very impressed that a high school owns such a planning of this quality.”
He plans to share his experience as an American student and the Oklahoma way of life as well as to explain his project in order to sensitize them to the problem of food waste.
“My project compares the food waste in Oklahoma and in France,” Antoine said. “In my case, there are more expectations than questions.”
Antoine visited the Needs Foundation and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
“Both did not give me so much information, and I was a little frustrated at the end,” he said.
Antoine said he was really surprised that the big supermarkets like Walmart and others do not try to reduce their foot print.
“Whole Foods Market allows farmers and the public to garden and to make compost with all the unsellable fruits and vegetables,” Antoine said.
An opportunity to experience the American lifestyle, learn more about the country, travel around the world, perfect his English and meet different people, were all reasons Tom Froissart wanted to be an exchange student.
“My education in France is way different than the way students are educated in the United States,” Tom said. “We don’t do the same classes every day and our schools start around 8:30 a.m. and end around 5:30 p.m.”
He said French students have much less time to hang out, participate in any club, or just to rest.
“It is really relieving to spend two weeks with a schedule this light,” Tom said.
He said attending a university in France is almost free. It costs on average 350 euros, which would be almost the same thing in US dollars.
Tom said many classes are offered at North that are not offered in France.
“This list is so exhaustive, but I’m thinking about Debate, Poetry, Music, JROTC, and more specific classes such as Bio Chemistry or AP classes in general,” Tom said.
He said he was impressed with the diversity of students’ schedules and the freedom students have at school.
“Sometimes I think it may be too much because I found some classes I went in a bit too loud,” Tom said.
Of the sites he visited, Tom said the Chickasaw Cultural Center will stay in his mind for a while.
Tom said although he will be glad to share his memories and impressions with his friends and classmates in France, he believes the best way to share something with them is to encourage the other students to participate in a student exchange because it gives so much knowledge and maturity.
He said he liked S&B’s Burger Joint and IHOP. Tom was also impressed with the debate tournament he was able to attend.
“We don’t have as many activities like this or classes like this in France. We never get to see such a big event happen,” Tom said.
For his project Tom studied obesity in high school.
Being with an American student for two weeks told me so much about the American lifestyle, eating at the school canteen, too. I met with a dietician and a fast-food manager which helped me a lot. I also had access to the school’s database. All these things were good opportunities to work deeper about my project.”
Justine Outurquin lives in the Somme department in the Hauts-de-France region.
“I wanted to become a student participating in an exchange program because I find it very interesting because it allows us to travel and discover new cultures,” Justine said. “In addition I found that this exchange would be very beneficial to improve my level of English while studying a subject that really interests me.”
She also said the French education process is quite different from that of the United States.
“First of all the days of classes are longer in France,” Justine said. “We finish on average around 5:30 or 6 p.m. each day.”
She added that American students can select the courses they want and they have the same daily schedule, which is not the case in France.
“American students are more free in their note-taking and have computers at their disposal, which is not the case in France,” Justine said. “In reality, American education is more flexible and customizable than in France.”
Justine said in her high school there are no choir or music classes and there are no debate classes.
“The first thing that impressed me in Edmond was the size of everything around me like cars, restaurants, high school, homes,” Justine said. “Everything is much bigger in the United States.”
“The visit to the memorial in honor of all the victims of the April 19, 1995, bombing in Oklahoma City touched me deeply. I also really enjoyed the visit to the Chickasaw Cultural Center,” Justine said.
Her favorite food in Edmond was Mexican food.
“I was able to meet many people with whom I was able to discuss my subject,” Justine said. “In addition, I had several appointments during which I could ask the questions I had prepared and thus advanced my research.”
Alexis Aisne Rousseau
Offered a spot as an exchange student when he arrived at school,” Alexis Aisne Rousseau said he accepted because he likes to travel.
Upon arriving at North High School, Alexis said everything is different in the United States at school level.
“It is less strict than in France,” Alexis said. “The teachers are more tolerant, and our day is fuller than in France.”
Alexis said many things impressed him about Edmond.
“The roads are wide with a lot of restaurants and shops and the vehicles in Edmond are really different from France. Because we have no nice cars.”
He added that the Chickasaw Cultural Center tour really impressed him and he will share what he learned about the American culture with his friends in France. His favorite food was the American burger.
He said he got many answers to his questions about wind turbines in Oklahoma.
He added that his life was changed by his “great two-week trip to the U.S.A.”
“I will be back here later without any problem,” Alexis said.
This program is a joint project between the Alliance Française d’Oklahoma City and the Académie d'Amiens with the support of the Oklahoma State Department of Education. All annual funding for Oklahoma students comes from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation endowment fund disbursement and contributions from area supporters. For more information about programs sponsored go to http://afdokc.org/.