French Student Exchange Program: New Country, New Isa?

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French Student Exchange Program: New Country, New Isa?

By Isabella Gil

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On Wednesday, March 22, a group of students and I from Niles West and North went on the French exchange program trip. The students came from all different levels of French: levels 1,2, and 3, which made the group full of people of different ages, grades, and experience with the French language.

The French exchange is a program where students from another country, like the United States, go to another country like France and live with a host family and go see places within the country, while still getting an authentic experience of how real people in that country live. In the French exchange program, you also get to go to school with your hostess and shadow and experience what a real school day is like in another country.

I know what you might be thinking: “How can you just live with a random stranger?” At first when I went on the exchange, I was a bit terrified by the fact I would be living with a stranger and their family for 10 days in a foreign country without really anyone, but that slowly started to change when I arrived in France.

After my almost eight hour, deadly long flight to France from Chicago, I started to feel excited to meet my exchange family and not so worried anymore because I felt a sense of adventure in going to a new place, meeting new people, and trying new food. I felt like Lizzie McGuire traveling to Italy with her school, but of course I wasn’t expecting to end up impersonating someone famous and performing at a music award — or was I? A girl can dream. But I was expecting adventure and trying new things, which is exactly what I got from this trip.

On this trip, not only did I meet people that I will genuinely consider my friends, but I got to see so many different and beautiful towns and cities in France. The first town we toured was the one where we were living in with our hosts, called Auch. Auch is a small town that was built around the medieval ages and is known for its beautiful Gothic cathedral. While we were in Auch, we walked around the streets, which are not flat like the ones in the U.S. If you have a hard time driving here in Skokie, good luck driving anywhere in France, or Europe in general.

Another town we visited was called Carcassonne, which is a fortified French town that has a castle within with a grand church. Going to Carcassonne was very integrating and different experience because I had never seen a castle in my life, but only read about them in school or in fairy tales, so it was kind of a kid-in-a-candy-store experience. I finally got to connect the dots and see child stories come to life. Also, obviously when I was there in the castle I pretended I was a princess and on the low recited Juliet’s oh so famous “Oh, Romeo” soliloquy.

On the exchange, we also visited a city called Toulouse, which is like the Chicago to our Skokie. Toulouse is practically downtown Chicago: it’s big, crowded, and busy. While we were in Toulouse, the other American students and I took advantage of it being a city-like atmosphere and went shopping because Toulouse was full of stores and restaurants. Let’s just say by the amount of shopping I did in Toulouse, what I spent there, stays there.

On the last day of the french exchange program, we went to Paris for a day. Yes, the oh so famous, glamorous, city of love, Paris. I will tell you right now, Paris is beyond beautiful and more than I expected. The museums, the streets, the buildings, and just everything in Paris is so beautiful. Every minor detail that we would overlook — such as a lamppost — is engraved with thought and detail in Paris.

Nothing in Paris is known as “plain,” and if you think that, then you are just lying to yourself to be completely honest. What actually took my breath away was the Eiffel tower at night. At first when I saw it in the morning I truly thought, “It’s not even all that. What’s the big deal over this thing?” But I totally played myself because at night the Eiffel tower looks majestic. It looks so unreal and fake, and when it lit up and sparked for 15 minutes I was shook by how beautiful it was. The Eiffel tower had the type of glow-up some people could only dream of achieving in their lifetime. It went from ugly in the morning to being stunning and something you can’t take your eyes off of.

Overall, I would recommend this trip 10/10 to anyone who is up for adventure, trying new things, and meeting new people. I would not be able to have had the authentic experience I did without this exchange program because I got to see and experience what life was like for someone my age than rather learning about it/reading it or simply seeing it through the eyes of a regular tourist.