French Exchange Program Brings Culture To Woodland Park


Photo by Isabel Rossi

Tyler Damico, Senior Editor

Culture is an essential part of all of our lives. It’s what makes us unique to others and is something that we may not always be thinking about, regardless of it being a central part of our lives. Culture also has been a difficult thing for many educators to convey. You can teach a classroom every minute detail of a language, show them art from that culture, and even bring in various foods from that culture, but that only goes so far. Truly experiencing a culture different from one’s own requires more than what can be delivered in the classroom, and recently something is being done to counter this.


Our French teacher Mrs. Cummings has made steps to help her students communicate to pen pals in two different French high schools for the last six years. Mrs. Cummings describes the way students are matched to their pen pals thusly; “Each student writes an open pen pal letter describing themselves, their likes and dislikes, and interests, and we send the envelopes to one of the two high schools.  The French students, (ages 15-18), are matched up with an American pen pal and then write back.  We continue this, either with snail mail, or emails and snapchats for a month or two.  If a student in Woodland Park, or in Pontarlier wants to make an actual exchange, we link up those students interested.  If students are not interested in an actual travel exchange, they still continue to write their pen pals throughout the school year.”


The exchanges between students are then taken a step further and students can decide to meet their pen pals face to face. This task, at first, seems daunting, but Mrs. Cummings and her French counterparts have found an effective way to accomplish this. “If students are going to make a travel exchange, they write back and forth and we have meetings with parents also, in both countries, to discuss the time frame (it’s almost always between July 5-12th). Then the Americans fly to France  and around August 6-10, the Americans and their pen pals fly back from France.  Each interested family agrees to host a student for 3 weeks.”


   “The end of the American turn lines up with the first week of school, so that the French students can attend Woodland Park High School for a week, before returning. The great part about the exchange is that the students need only find the funding for the plane ticket to France or the U.S.  Since both families are exchanging children, the parents agree to pay for the meals, sights, and any other necessities whiles the pen pal lives with them. This makes the exchange much more affordable.  In fact, this year we had 10 students exchange, the largest group we have ever had.”


All the students interviewed for this article, both French and American, expressed  how passionate they were for the program. “It was really fun to live with an American teenager so we could share our  culture and our differences,” remarked a French exchange student named Robin Paquette. Another French exchange student, Melanie Maigain, said, “It was a really good experience. It was a great opportunity.” When asked if they would do this again, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” among all the students. Some are doing it again.  In fact, a Woodland Park Senior, Zoey Austin is going back to her host’s home next summer.


Mrs. Cummings elaborated on the future of this project by saying; “We hope to continue this opportunity because we feel like it is a more affordable way for students to travel to the country that they have been learning about and to put in action all of the language learning that they have been doing over the years.  The students are motivated to speak the language because they are spending time with a pen pal who is close to their same age.  They want to know what their school is like, their social scene, their music, food, politics, holidays, etc.  It encourages discussion and cultural understanding.  Students on both sides of the exchange improve their language skills and their cultural knowledge.” Undoubtabley , this is an amazing way to not only teach students culture, but to enrich their high school experience as well.