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Learning English Through American Theater
U.S. Consulate General Strasbourg
Country dancing, student exchanges and learning about foreign cultures
November 16, 2011
The other evening in Strasbourg I had the opportunity to visit with fourteen U.S. middle and high school students who were visiting France on a two week exchange program. Actually, that’s an exaggeration. The students were too busy hanging out with their new French friends to want to spend any time with a
Consul General Evan G. Reade and students at soirée country
The event was “Soiree Country,” a night of country line dancing and Tex-Mex cuisine organized by l’Association Strasbourg Amities USA, a group that has paired with a similar organization in Wilmington, NC, to sponsor student exchange visits twice a year, in both directions. The association’s President, Christopher Sintes, and Treasurer, Michele Huntz, and many other dedicated volunteers open their homes and give their time to make sure American students
have a great time in Alsace. The students “shadow” other kids their age, visit local tourist attractions and historical sites, and learn about French culture
Such exchanges can be life changing experiences, full of unforgettable memories and friendships. For many of these teenagers, it will be their first trip
outside of the United States, and their first exposure to other peoples and cultures. I will never forget my first trip abroad, as a high school junior, when I visited what was then the Soviet Union. It was the first time I’d ever had a passport, the first time I really needed to speak a foreign language, the first time I encountered the excitement of visiting a foreign country, and the first time I ever set foot inside a U.S. Embassy. Today, I’m a diplomat. So for me, my exchange visit was definitely life changing.
L’Association Strasbourg Amities USA is only one side of the equation. Back in Wilmington, high school French teacher Donna McQueen organizes home stays for
French students who want to experience what life in America is like. She, along with chaperones Carol Garrison and Beverly Veals, accompanied their young
charges to Strasbourg. All of them told me what a wonderfully fulfilling experience it is to host a foreign student in their home for a few weeks. All of the French host family members told me the same thing. So if you’re a high school student reading this, seriously consider getting involved
in a home stay exchange visit. And if you’re a parent, think about opening your home for a couple of weeks to give a student from a foreign land
an unforgettable experience in America.
But back to Soiree Country! The food was great, and entertainment and foot-stomping, heart-thumping country line dancing was coordinated by Thierry
and Celine Schmitt, the directors of Country Line Dancers of Holtzheim And Kanalwackers of Bischheim, over 40 of whom attended and
participated. They even succeeded in getting me out on the dance floor!
As I said, it was hard for me to compete for the attention of the students, but they were forced to listen to me make a couple of brief remarks. Here’s what I told them:
“Congratulations to you and your families for making the decision to participate in this exchange program. Learning about foreign cultures and what life is like
in other countries is one of the most important educational experiences you can have. Plus, it is one of the most fun! America is a great country, but it is not the only country, and it is imperative that you learn as much as you can about the countries outside of our borders. Because if you want to be a citizen of the world, and to be a leader in the world, you need to understand and know the world.
Congratulations, as well, for choosing to visit France, one of the greatest countries in the history of civilization. Its contributions to science, philosophy, music,
culture, arts and architecture, food, style, and human rights and government are second to none. And you will find no other country that is a better
friend to America. As President Obama and President Sarkozy said just yesterday, France has been there for the United States since our very founding,
and we have been here for France in its darkest hours of need.
I hope this visit will be the first of many, and that as you continue to pursue you studies, you will decide to spend a semester abroad, studying at a foreign
university. I’m confident that you’ll find that experience to be one of the most memorable of you college career. And, if you find you like living abroad, you may end up working in a foreign country, either in business or for the government. Either way, you’re taking your first steps now to becoming citizens of the world. Congratulations, have a great time, and never stop voyaging!”
Article des DNA sur la soirée Country
(traduction de l’article)
A taste of America
Five teachers (PE, Economics and ESL) have created an organization called Strasbourg Amitiés USA (Strasbourg, Friendship USA) to help students practise English. They organize trips to the USA and drama and sports camps in Alsace.
Being able to go and spend two weeks with an American family and spending only the expense of the plane ticket is a concept that many French families whose children are learning English might be interested in. This is one of the aims of the organization Strasbourg Amitiés USA which was launched last June, thanks to a handful of teachers who want to promote the English language outside of the regular classroom.
“In fifteen minutes, all the spots were filled”
Michèle Huntz, a PE teacher in a Strasbourg High School who is the book keeper of the organization, says “I have a childhood friend who lives in the USA. My eldest daughter has been going there every since she was in grade 9. She’s spent several summers there and I’ve come to realize that it was a huge opportunity for us to have a personal contact in the USA.
Now, this young lady is ending her third year of law school in Uppsala, Sweden where all the classes are taught exclusively in English.
The organization wants to extend what the mother did for her daughter to a greater scale in the Strasbourg area.
19 kids will fly off to North Carolina over Spring Break. “In fifteen minutes, all the spots were filled”. Another exchange is planned over the summer.
“We asked the families to pay 980€, knowing that the plane ticket only costs 865€.” The goal for future trips is to find direct destinations with no connecting flights, which should lower the price even more, around 500€. A private company would ask for about 2500€ for the same service.
“We don’t want to be in competition with companies doing this as a business. We want to help kids travel, families who couldn’t afford it through a private company. Apart from the obvious low cost, working with a local organization is also very reassuring for the families.
In order to insure this low cost, the teachers have called on their personal relations in the USA. The hosting families that have been selected are willing to host a French student for the sheer pleasure of it and the American students will get a chance to travel to France if they so want.
Michèle Huntz says “ we hope that some of them will come,” but she ads on a sceptical tone that “ few Americans own a passport to travel overseas and for some of them, going to Florida is like going across the world.”
While they stay in North Carolina, the French students won’t attend English classes with another bunch of French kids. They will experience a total immersion with their hosting families and share only a few activities together such as a cook out on the beach, a tour of the One Tree Hill studios and two full days attending classes in a high school with their hosting student. “The hosting families have set all this up, we were not even asking for so much. They are outstanding!”
“ A drama camp started this adventure”
The aim is to have the students SPEAK English and lose part of their inhibition when speaking in a foreign language. “In a class, there are about 35 students and little chance to actually speak the language. When they stay with a hosting families, the kids use what they know of English and get by somehow. And thus improve their level,” convincingly hammers Michèle Huntz with a smile.
The organization doesn’t only set up trips. Indeed, a drama camp in Strasbourg last June started up this whole adventure, involving about 50 kids. The PE teacher says “it was awesome! We had two American teachers coming over, one who teaches drama and the other one English. There, drama is part of the regular curriculum.” This experience will be renewed this year in June.
Michèle would also like to offer a sports camp all in English, and , why not, if some Americans in Strasbourg want to join the organization, some parties and other cultural activities all year around. Another way to get to speak English…
First Fund Raising
The first party set up by Strasbourg Amitiés USA brought together about 130 people last Saturday. They met up at the Ancienne Douane in Strasbourg and got a chance to learn line dancing thanks to the Holtzheim Country Line Dance Club. “The response was amazing and people (kids and adults) mingled together as we had not expected,” end Michèle enthusiastically. Some sort of melting pot, undoubtedly.
Après 2 fabuleuses semaines à Wilmington
Photos des correspondants français et américains
We miss you guys !