Over spring break while some students lay in bed disturbing their sleep cycles and watching reruns of Bobs Burgers, 17 French immersion students traveled to Paris through a school exchange.
Students visited sites such as Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Paris Opera, the Louvre museum, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs Elysees (a very popular shopping strip); they cruised down the Seine River on boat tour, and even visited the Chateau de Versailles.
How does such a romantic and memorable trip come about for students living in Campbell River?
“It’s soon to be about six years ago that I found a partner in Paris who is a teacher. She was already trying to organize an exchange with English speaking schools. She was looking for a school in Canada and I was looking for one in Paris. So we found each other quite easily,” says Helene Vaillancourt, a French immersion teacher at Carihi who organizes the exchange.
Students travel to Paris to stay with host families for 14 days. During the day the Canadian students attend school with their billets to get a grasp on the French school system. In the evenings the Canadian students visit monuments and museums, then return to their host families for supper and on weekends, which is the heart of the project. This way, students gain perspective on being a student as well as learn the culture through their families. It’s an integration that Vaillancourt says “requires bravery. A lot sometimes.”
“I think the success of this exchange is evident because of the contrast between Campbell River and Paris. We’re incomparable,” Vaillancourt says. “The new world and the old world, the forest and whales versus architectural monuments. The exchange is also successful because everything we learn in class is suddenly alive. And there’s the magic of making a new friend. One of the kids in our group was saying goodbye by doing ‘la bise’(the kiss on both cheeks required as a greeting in France). It’s charming. The students come home full of expressions and culture. I think it’s these experiences that really complete a language program.”
But for students from Paris coming to Campbell River, the experience is entirely different. Students get to enjoy the outdoors, and the majesty of being surrounded by mountains, forest, and endless ocean all at once.
“The intention is to create connections that will surpass the educational program,” Vaillancourt says. “It teaches students that a language program isn’t just mastering verb conjugation worksheets.”
The students that traveled to Paris over spring break will never forget their experiences, and this program certainly brings added culture and opportunity to students in Campbell River.