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French or English, It’s Still Teen Talk

Schools Mark 20 Years of Cultural Exchange


In the B Wing of Eastern High School, three groups of students sat around tables asking one another questions that most teens do when they first meet:

Eastern High junior Koreen Ludovico, right, said having French student Clara Choffel stay with her family for two weeks has been “like having a really long sleepover”

“Do you play any sports?”
“What’s your school like?”
“Have you been to the mall yet?”
“When we speak French, do we sound funny to you?”

Thomas Senecheau responded to that last one with what could only be described as the universal facial expression for the slightly teasing “How do I say this nicely?” — which made his French and American peers crack up.

Similar multilingual conversations took place at the district’s other two high schools, as nearly 30 high school students from Strasbourg, France spent two weeks going to school here. The visit marked the 20th year of a partnership between Forest Hills and the French school, Lycée Jean Monnet.

Amy Hineline, French teacher at Northern High, said the partnership was formed in 1998 when Lorraine Miles, then a French teacher at Northern, got a phone call from a good friend and assistant principal of the Strasbourg school.

French students Manon Ball, left, and Louise Schmitt take a selfie at Eastern High School

They had just received word from a partner school in England that they could not take as many French students as they had in the past. Miles scrambled to find 11 host families within a matter of weeks, and the lycee has been sending students ever since.

Hineline said every other year Forest Hills offers to its French students a chance to take a trip to Strasbourg and stay with students who have visited here.

“It’s fun to see them get to ask one another questions that I can’t answer,” said Eastern French teacher Linda FitzGerald. “They’re shy when they first meet but that goes away pretty quickly. Next week when (the French students) leave, there will be lots of tears.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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