At 10 PM on Friday, October 20th, twenty RHS students gathered at outside the school to pick up their newly arrived French Exchange Students. The students had arrived from Lille, a city in Northern France. Exhausted from a long trip yet excited to have arrived, the French students unpacked their bags and began to settle into the homes where would be staying for the next ten days. Each exchange student had been eager to visit the United States their whole lives. The group of French students were asked, “Who has traveled to America before?” and only one student responded “yes.” The exchange students were beyond excited to begin their stay in Ridgewood with their American student and learn about their daily lives.
Following the first day of getting adjusted to life in a new home, the French students in many of the Ridgewood families were taken to various places over the weekend. Some went to New York, others to the mall, the movies, or restaurants. Some RHS students wanted to show the French some American traditions by taking them apple picking or carving pumpkins, at the time around Halloween. This culture was unfamiliar to the exchange students as they were engaged in new, exciting activities.
Early Monday morning, the exchange students arrived at school to begin their week shadowing the RHS students to all their classes. Picture yourself in a foreign country, sitting in a classroom with teachers talking in a foreign language; these students were put in this situation. Many of the French students pointed out differences between their school in France and Ridgewood High School. They noted that, compared to their school in Lille, the Ridgewood classes focused more heavily on discussions and granted more freedom to the students. During the free periods, the exchange students were pleased to catch up with their fellow students from home to talk in their native language, but also learn more from their American correspondents outside of class. When the French students were not with their correspondents at school, they gathered in the other French classes to share their experiences with lower-level French students. They were asked questions about their thoughts on America so far, and they taught the RHS students about life in France.
Outside of school, the French Exchange Students had the opportunity to visit New York on Wednesday and Thursday. They came back with plenty of stories to tell about their city experiences. One girl recounted how tall the buildings were and how wide the streets stretched. They were not accustomed to such open and vast cityscapes. It had been a dream of theirs to visit New York City, and now they could check that off their bucket list.
On the last day, all of the RHS students brought their French correspondents to a French teacher’s house for a farewell potluck. Everyone mingled, laughed, and roasted marshmallows together. They reflected on their time in the US and said their last goodbyes. There was a bittersweet feeling on everyone’s minds, knowing that the French students would be departing for France the next day. RHS French students have already marked their calendars for the next time they will get to see their correspondents. They will only have to wait until their trip to Lille during the upcoming April break.
Graphic: Derya Ekin