Late Wednesday night, October 24, 2018, the tired, excited faces of the French Exchange students stepped off the charter bus. An air of nervousness surfaced, as the realization set in that the United States is a country of mainly English-speakers. “I was really excited for school and the houses and the culture coming here,” said Alex Mandois, correspondent of Zoe Claudel, “I knew this would be so much fun.” In the weeks prior, however, the American and French students alike had contacted each other through social media, allowing them to get to know each other more intimately, making it less uncomfortable and more thrilling when they first met. For two weeks, correspondents will stay with their assigned host student and sojourn as a new member of the family.
For many students, this exchange is their first one. Sophomore Emily Gundel participated for the first time, saying, “I was so excited to make a friend for life; I know I won’t ever forget this.” Many students jumped at the chance to host, as this is a rare opportunity only offered biennially. Maddie Lloyd was only a freshman the first time the opportunity came around for her; she recalls, “I felt I was too young and didn’t know much French. This time, as a junior, I know more. Hopefully that will make the experience more fun.” For several others, this isn’t their first rodeo. Senior Zoe Claudel participated in the exchange her sophomore year as a host and couldn’t wait to do it again. “It’s such an obvious thing to do; all of my family speaks French fluently.”
The French students’ experience does not simply involve joining their American counterparts at school; their packed schedule allocates time for field trips throughout Virginia and large social events. The French correspondents who attend to James River High School will follow a similar schedule to keep French friends in touch. The students will visit historical landmarks like Jamestown and Monticello, as well as touring Richmond and the Capitol. Some of their group activities include the welcome breakfast before school, located in the library the day after the students arrived, and a large potluck at Robious Landing. Right before the French students leave, there will be a goodbye party.