For the past 14 years, St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School has participated in the Normandy Scholar Exchange program. This year's students from France spent time last week talking to their American hosts about school, cigarettes, boy/girl relationships and politics.
The students attend Lycee Sainte-Marie in Caen, Alexandria's sister city. They spent 10 days with students from St. Stephen's and St. Agnes who had previously spent time with them in Caen. The program was created for fourth and fifth year French students. While visiting Alexandria, the French students attended classes at St. Stephen's and went on excursions to sites around the metropolitan area.
Students from Caen found the educational system in the U.S. to be very different from their own. "At our school, the teachers speak and we write what they say," said Nicholas Jordan, one of the students from Caen. "Also, our classes are much larger. We have around 30 students while you have about 10 in each class. Here it is cool because you can talk to your teachers."
Chloe Deroin is a sophomore and she agreed with Nicholas. "School in Caen is much harder than it is here," she said. "We do much more work in class and less work at home. Also, sports are not as important. We don't really have them at school."
Emily Hewitt, a junior at St. Stephen's said, "The schools are totally different. They don't have posters and the walls are all white. It's a very different environment."
The length of girls' skirts is also different. "We can't wear anything that is sexy," Chloe said. "We wear pretty much what we want, like we can wear blue jeans but just nothing that is revealing. They are not as strict here."
Caroline Pare, a senior, said, "There really is nothing that is the same here as it is at home. Everything is different, especially the food."
Nick Lellenberg agreed that there are few similarities even though Alexandria and Caen are paired. "It's really easy to walk places there," he said. "Here, you really need a car to get around. There, it is much easier to be independent."
STUDENTS IN FRANCE are permitted to smoke after the age of 16. "While some of the students aren't really old enough to smoke, it is too difficult to enforce a no smoking policy. Therefore, we do allow students to smoke cigarettes in certain areas at school," said Gilles Traguet, the director of the Lycee Sainte-Marie.
Boy-girl relationships were also a topic of conversation. "I guess I like American boys better than French boys but American boys are sometimes so shy," Chloe said.
Politics were of interest. A St. Stephen's student asked if the French students were more concerned about terrorism after the recent train bombing in Madrid. "We have always been aware of terrorism," Traguet said. "We have seen acts of terrorism in our own country. Hopefully, programs such as this will give us all a better understanding of each other and will help to prevent such acts of terrorism in the future."
Chloe will continue her studies as a high school student. Caroline hopes to attend a university next year. "I want to study business or economics," she said. "I really don't know what type of career I want to have."
The students returned to Caen last Friday.