There I was, in front of a classroom of French middle school students at College Jeanne D’Arc (Joan of Arc Middle School) in Cholet, France. I was one of eight foreign exchange students (Irish, American, Brazilian, Mexican, German), currently enrolled at Sainte Marie high school, who was going to teach them about our home countries at their Snap Culture program.
After the students listened to our presentations about who we are and where we live, the middle schoolers went with their small groups to rotating workshops. They completed quizzes on the countries with the help of slideshows and pictures on five separate tablets. This enriching exchange allowed students to practice their English while discovering multiple cultures.
My presentation was relatively easy, given that it was in English. I just had to try to gauge my speed of talking so the 12-14-year-olds could understand. They have only been practicing English at school for three years, so I tried to keep the vocabulary basic as well.
After the slideshow, we turned to the quizzes on the iPads and I was very impressed with their comprehension and reading. They understood all of the questions about the United States of America that I asked; they just found it more difficult to respond in English. The questions covered themes like culture, gastronomy, sports, history and geography.
My partner for the project was Silvana from Mexico. She also presented in perfect English, even though her first language is Spanish. We found it a challenge to be the teachers at first. We unintentionally entertained the first class when we didn’t know whether to explain in English or French, and ended up using a confusing mix of the two.
St. Joan of Arc (the school’s namesake) fought against thousands of English soldiers; I was talking in front of a classroom of middle schoolers. Who had the harder job?
However, by the end of the second day, we were doing the corrections for the quizzes and we really got into our teaching groove. It was still hard to raise our voices to tell them to switch to the next iPad, so we asked their teacher to announce it every time.
Some of the quiz responses were pretty clever, though not necessarily complete. I asked if they could name any American football players, and one group wrote “No, I can’t!” Another question asked if they knew what the stars of the American flag stand for. One group responded “Yes.”
I enjoyed speaking in English with the French kids. Their teachers didn’t tell them beforehand that we spoke their native language, so they really tried hard to communicate with us. They also remarked that they had to concentrate more to understand me because I speak “American.” When one of them asked for a translation of a word, and Silvana and I answered in French, they were taken by surprise.
In between classes, Evaristo, a Brazil exchange student, and I stood outside the classroom in our snazzy Rotary blazers. In a short amount of time, we were surrounded by little kids, challenging us to pronounce hard words in French. And they wanted to learn a little more English.
The younger kids are curious about everything, especially the animals like Alaska polar bears compared to Brazilian piranhas. We felt like celebrities surrounded by all of them; they wanted to know if we could come back every day.
• Bridget McTague is a Juneau-Douglas High School student who is spending her junior year abroad in Cholet, France, as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange. Follow along with her travel adventures by reading her bimonthly column “Bridget Abroad” in the Juneau Empire.