The Strasbourg Exchange Program is an opportunity for eye-opening connections

French teacher Laurie Van Houten has high hopes for this year’s Strasbourg exchange—one of which is goodbyes coated in tears. 

After taking a break from hosting French exchange students, FHC is finally back to honoring this tradition held since 1998. This incredible program allows FHPS students to host students from a high school in France. The exchange students then get to attend classes with their American hosts, go on interesting field trips, and get a feel for American life as a whole. 

“It is absolutely the best thing we do in the French department,” Van Houten said. “Having students make those connections with native speakers and kids from other countries is amazing to watch. I’ve had students [make] lifelong, or years long, friendships with these [French students].”

It is absolutely the best thing we do in the French department. Having students make those connections with native speakers and kids from other countries is amazing to watch. I’ve had students [make] lifelong, or years long, friendships with these [French students].”

— Laurie Van Houten

The experience is incredibly informative, eye-opening, and educational for both French and American students alike; however, it also allows for entertaining and exciting memories. 

“It’s really interesting to watch the kids interact,” Van Houten said. “My students, after the [French exchange students] leave, they’ll have [learned] slang and words that I don’t know. They think it’s really fun to use [those words] and be up to date on the language.”

One student, junior Sarah Hughes, gets the chance to host a Strasbourg student and couldn’t be more excited. Knowing of the program since early on in her high school career, she has been excitedly waiting to host a student for a while now; however, any sort of connection to France is one she’s been waiting on for much longer.

“My family decided to host a student because, well one, my mom really likes kids, and I’m her only,” Sarah said. “But, I’ve [also] been wanting to go to Paris or France since I was eight or nine years old. First, it was Hawaii, but when I discovered [where] all of the desserts come from, I was like, ‘Mom, I want to go to Paris.’”

As interesting as Paris seems to Sarah and as enticing as the desserts may be, it has been very interesting for her to learn how exciting America seems to her French exchange student. In France, they don’t have stores that Americans became accustomed to love. Despite this difference, Sarah has still found so many things to bond with her student about—music and shared love for crystals would only name a few. 

Despite all of the joy that comes with learning about a new country and experiencing a new culture, Sarah is also excited about this experience for another unique reason. 

“I feel like it will be a step out of my comfort zone,” Sarah said, “especially because I’m a very, what I think, reserved person, and I’m typically very shy when I meet new people. I thought it would be nice to branch out from that. And I mean, having a cross-continental friend is pretty cool.” 

Another student who is thrilled to be able to host a student is junior Berkleigh Blackport. She views the experience as an excellent opportunity to practice the French she’s been learning, and just like Sarah, has been shocked to learn how much she really has in common with her French counterpart. 

“[My exchange student] and I have been talking,” Berkleigh said. “It’s been kind of tough because of the time difference, but for the most part, it’s been really nice [talking with her.] We’ve kind of talked about random things; she used to ride horses, which is [interesting] because I ride horses, so it’s cool [we have that in common].” 

Although both Berkleigh and her French exchange student have found many similarities, it has been interesting for her to learn what her student is most excited about coming to America. 

“[My exchange student] is really excited for [Homecoming],” Berkleigh said. “She won’t be here for [FHC’s Homecoming], but [she will] be here for [Forest Hills] Eastern’s. She said they don’t have school dances in France, so she’s really excited to be able to experience it.”

It was incredibly interesting for Berkleigh to realize how exciting something like a school dance is for someone who has never experienced one, helping her to see that she and her exchange student are more alike than she might’ve thought.

The connection between French and American students opens many eyes and doors for everyone involved. This incredibly unique opportunity allows students to step out of their culture, country, and personal bubble and explore what else the world has to offer. 

“I think what surprises [my students] the most is that the [exchange students] are just like they are,” Van Houten said. “Teenagers are teenagers, they may dress a little differently, but really, I think the surprise is that they aren’t different.”