French exchange hosting “like having a baby”

On March 24, 21 French students were herded off a bus and placed under the watch of their ARHS hosts.

The student hosts ranged from sophomores to seniors, some having gone to France on exchange the previous year, and some newcomers who were excited to become a part of the exchange.

Hailing from Lycèe Saint-Victor in Valence, France, the exchange students were “friendly, energetic, and willing to make new friends and meet new people,” said Olivier Ndikumana with Nina Choquette, two senior hosts.

Both agreed that hosting a foreign student is exhausting and exciting. “It was kind of like having a baby,” said Choquette. “You’re basically babysitting for two weeks.”

However, the hosts found themselves doing fun activities every day that they would not usually do. They went to Yankee Candle, on hikes, to various shops in town, and to New York City.

Having an adventurous explorer tagging along was a big benefit for hosts. “You always have someone to talk to,” said Merissa Stromgren.

“I always had something interesting to do after school and on weekends,” said Ndikumana.

This constant stream of fun could not have been possible without preparation.  Middle school French teacher Cindy Stankiewicz is the supervisor for the Amherst side of the exchange and she organized the pairings of students.

In addition, hosts had to prepare by cleaning their homes, as well as buying extra snacks and groceries that would be both new and comforting for the French students.

Some felt as though they hadn’t prepared enough.

“Plan ahead of time what you’re going to do every day,” said Choquette. “Otherwise you’ll end up sitting on the couch asking them what they want to do and they just have no idea.”

Other students had trouble balancing their usual activities to meet the needs of the exchange. “Remember to take time off work before hand,” said Ndikumana.

In school, having the French students around was a nice change to the typical day at ARHS. American and French students bonded over art, music, food, and more, as students who were not a part of the exchange eagerly approached French students and introduced themselves. “They were all really good at English,” said Choquette.

In classes, the students were a source of intrigue, comedy, and sometimes distraction. When the French students went to class with their hosts, “it was a good excuse for being late,” said Ndikumana. However, being late meant having to find extra chairs. “There are not enough seats for the whole class even without the exchange students,” said Choquette.

Although the French students were often interested in the classes and understood them well, some content was challenging for the foreign students to understand. “Watching them trying to figure out what was going on was really funny,” said Choquette.

Many tears were shed as the French students got back on a school bus and leaned out the windows to wave goodbye, but for some it is only a year until they see their new friends again, this time in France. Others were exhausted and ready to have some alone time. “I’m so glad to have my life back,” said Choquette.

Since then, they have connected on social media. “They keep Snapchatting us,” said Stromgren. “[Mine] really wants me to send her good country music,” said Choquette.