French Exchange--Much More Than a School Trip
By Adriana De Santiago
Toulouse, known as “La Ville Rose” for its prominence of terra cotta bricks in architecture, is a city in the southern region of France with a population of about 466,000 people. The city is very different from Chicago’s population of 2.7 million, but nonetheless, Northside has been doing an exchange with the private school Lycée Émilie De Rodat in Toulouse for six years.
On Oct. 10, 17 students ‘en terminale’ (seniors) and three professors arrived in Chicago and met their host students. Northside’s chaperones Mme Anne Mabra, World Language department, Mr. Alexander Hughes, Counseling department, and Mr. Gregory DiFrancesco, Science department, led the group of students. The Northside lobby was full of awkward hellos and excitement as pairings met for the first time. Correspondents had been communicating with each other since March and for the first time, students worked on collaborative projects with their correspondents. Topics ranged from Modern Slavery to Sports and Money to Gender and Aesthetics. Half of the pairings presented here in Chicago while the rest will presented in Toulouse.
After arriving, the exchange group was welcomed to Northside with breakfast and tour of the school Thursday morning. Exchange students then met up with their hosts to shadow classes. Students noticed numerous differences on the first day. At Northside, students leave school at three, while in Toulouse they go to school until five or six in the evening. On Wednesdays, Toulouse students have a shorter day because they have tests from eight to twelve. Lunch at Northside is less than an hour versus one to two hours at Lycée Émilie de Rodat, depending on the day of the week.
On Friday and the following week, hosts attended classes while the exchange group explored the city of Chicago. Some of their day trips included visits to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skydeck at Willis Tower, Navy Pier, the Pilsen neighborhood, and the University of Chicago. In the evening, exchange students spent time with their hosts. Many activities were planned by hosts such as eating at Margie’s, Fat Willy’s, Lou Malnati’s, Midori, going to Waveland Bowl, Six Flags, flea markets, Chinatown, pumpkin carving, and apple picking. As a group, participants attended the Bulls Game versus the Denver Nuggets.
The exchange ended with a dinner at Big Hill restaurant on Friday night where students shared laughs and created new memories with the entire group. Following the dinner, all participants went to a host’s home and enjoyed their last night in Chicago by listening to both American and French music and making s’mores. The exchange students departed on Oct. 20 after receiving a glimpse of American life. Hosts and exchange students were sad to say goodbye, but were excited to know that they will see each other again in April when Northside students visit Toulouse during Spring Break.
More than a cultural exchange, students from Northside and Lycée Émilie de Rodat became quick friends. Alison Tatchoum, Adv 907, said “It didn’t even feel like an exchange. It felt like I was meeting friends I hadn’t seen in years. Everyone fit in so well with each other and got along easily. It was like a ten day family reunion.” Pairings are typically the same gender and are assigned based on interests in school subjects, hobbies, as well as personalities. When asked what her favorite things about Chicago and Northside were, exchange student Sophie Champagnac said, “My favorite trip was to Navy Pier. My favorite part about Northside was the “solidarité.” Everyone does activities together at school; that doesn’t exist in France.” School sports and clubs don’t exist in France. If students wish to participate in sports, music, or other extracurriculars, they must look for a private organization.
To participate in the French exchange, students must apply the year before it happens and be in at least French II. Preference is given to future juniors and seniors, and students are notified typically after winter break. Mme Mabra and Mr. Hughes helped to make this memorable experience possible for students and families alike.