French exchange group ‘one of the best ever’

French and American students together in France.Photo: Libby McLaughlin

From April 8 through April 22, a select group of ARHS students lived in Valence, France as part of the French Exchange.

Accompanied by Spanish teacher Mari Vicente and ARMS teachers Patrick Hunter and Cindy Stankiewicz, students experienced both French schooling and culture.

The French Exchange program was started about 20 years ago by retired French teacher David Brule.

Now, however, the primary organizer of the trip is Ms. Stankiewicz.

“I do all the travel planning details, select chaperones, and do all the communication with my French counterpart, Brigitte Magnano,” she said. “I also do all of the recruiting, group prep, and financial management.”

The actual logistics of the trip can get pretty sticky.  There must be at least 20 students participating in order to keep group costs down, as well as a considerable amount of communication between Magnano, travel agents, and both school administrations.

“It takes hours of planning and preparation over the course of the school year along with a considerable amount of faith that everything will work out,” said Ms. Stankiewicz.

Once in France, this program provides students with the life-changing experience of being fully immersed in another culture.  

According to ARHS senior Samson Heyer, “Getting to experience new parts of the world and another culture was awesome.  Even something as normal as walking around town was a great new experience.”

“Most students tell me that they consider the participation in the exchange as one of the best things that they ever did,” said Ms. Stankiewicz.

ARHS senior Izzi Murray said she was surprised “everything went so smoothly.”

Since everything ran so smoothly, Ms. Stankiewicz described this year’s group as “one of the best groups that I have ever taken abroad.  They were extremely appreciative of everything that we did and had a great, cooperative attitude.”

We must keep in mind that changing political climates can have an impact on travel and willingness to take students out of the country.  Thus, it cannot be said for certain whether or not this program will continue in the future.

Regardless, according to Ms. Stankiewicz, “If our French hosts decide to come here next year, I would be happy to do what is necessary to welcome them as they welcomed us this year.”