By Kara Worrells
For most students at Bonita Vista, Monday mornings typically initiate the beginning of a stressful, homework-filled week. But on February 2nd, Monday morning began with excitement as new faces entered Marina Dillingham’s classroom. In joint-collaboration with Hilltop High School, the fifth annual French exchange was conducted from January 31st to February 11th and welcomed 15 students from the Briacé boarding school in the region of Nantes, France.
“[During] the two week exchange I wanted them to be totally emerged in the American culture and I wanted them to participate every single day, to take part in different lessons, because I wanted them to be able to compare the main differences. We don’t just have one way to teach, one way to learn things. I want them to be open-minded first. We had the opportunity with Madame Dillingham and I thought it was great because they are guided here,” Chantal Guihard, one of the two visiting teachers from France, said.
Guihard is currently an English teacher at Briacé and has participated in the program for four years. During the span of the 11 days she stayed with Marina Dillingham, an AP/IB French and AP/IB Spanish teacher at Bonita Vista who has been a part of the program for five years.
“When we went to France [in 2014], our expectations for our students were to spend time in the French classroom, not necessarily learning a particular subject, but for them to be able to follow what the teacher is saying in the language. For the kids who came here [in 2015], it’s [more] of a requirement because they do a special program called ‘the Cambridge’ which is a program to take a European test that gives them the ability to get a better job or to enter a particular major in college that they can’t do without the test,” Dillingham said.
Antonin Auvinet, a junior at Briacé who has been learning English for eight years, is one of the many French exchange students who made their first trip to the United States with the exchange.
“I didn’t know what activities there [were], so my partner, Natalia, [showed me]. I [expected] things [like what] we see in films and [being here] is better than that. It’s interesting because you [get] a different point of view. It’s like being in a dream,” Auvinet said.
Junior Natalia Rosales, who has studied French since her freshman year and is currently learning French 5-6, hosted an exchange student due to an unexpected opportunity.
“[Auvinet] was supposed to be hosted by [another student], but the person that he hosted [wasn’t able to do the same]. He needed an emergency family. I have a little brother, so [another reason] I got chosen [was because there was] a boy that [Antonin could] relate to. I enjoyed having him, it was an experience,” Rosales said.
At the airport, students from Bonita Vista greeted the French exchange students with a large ‘welcome’ sign made by the ASB. According to Auvinet, it made him feel “very excited” to arrive to such a large welcoming. After the students settled into their respective households, they prepared for the following week’s activities.
“We did what I expected and that was taking him basically everywhere touristy that we could. We went somewhere new every day– especially to the prettier parts of San Diego,” Rosales said.
Outside of Bonita Vista, along with visiting downtown San Diego, this year the Bonita Vista exchange students took an additional trip together to Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
“LA is such a famous city. And even though San Diego is well known it doesn’t have the aura that LA has. Everyone wants to see what LA is all about, it’s like for us seeing the Eiffel Tower. The highlight is definitely going to Hollywood and seeing the stars on the street and the handprints and the Hollywood sign since that’s really what they want to see. The gains, [however], are more with the people in the school and learning about different traditions and customs, especially [at Bonita Vista] where half the students are Mexican and they actually are seeing how we are a [multicultural] town,” Dillingham said.
At Bonita Vista the students visited the various classrooms that their partners attend to on a daily basis. “We wanted them to speak [and participate],” Guihard said, “I think it’s part of our job, it’s ok teaching a language but it’s not enough, we need to go beyond that.”
From physics to photography, the students scoured the campus. According to Auvinet, students in France do not choose their own classes, the government gives them specifically required courses to take and so “it was interesting to have a different point of view [on education].”
“I would like this exchange to carry on and last as [long] as it can. We can see that it has an impact on the kids, the school, the teachers and at the same time it’s a way to exchange our feelings, our ways of teaching and to take from each culture what’s good and make it better,” said Guihard.
Overall, the exchange was an experience that many of the participants will not forget.
“I think that it’s very important for [the students] to see how other people live, with the globalization and the communication being what it is, it is invaluable for them to see these places that they have been learning about and reading in books–to see that it really exists. It’s really important that they grow as people and see the world, see other things,” Dillingham said.