Quickly learning the value of gaining a new perspective
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Quickly learning the value of gaining a new perspective

Elmira District Secondary School has once again opened its doors to five foreign exchange students from Europe. Now that Alix Trémoureux, Léa Fournier, Adèle Sage, Melina Schònemann, and Leonardo De Flaviis have had time to adjust to life in Elmira, they can weigh into whether North America lived up to their expectations.

EDSS foreign exchange students Alix Trémoureux, Léa Fournier, Adèle Sage, and Leonardo De Flaviis point to where they came from. They’ll be attending school in Elmira until November.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
EDSS foreign exchange students Alix Trémoureux, Léa Fournier, Adèle Sage, and Leonardo De Flaviis point to where they came from. They’ll be attending school in Elmira until November. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“Before leaving, I thought coming here was like going to an American country,” said Leonardo De Flaviis, from Italy. “So I was waiting for things that I have watched in films and telefilms. And that happened, actually. For me, it’s like living in a film.

“So, at school: all the lockers. I watched for many years TV shows with the lockers. And the yellow school bus!” he laughed.

“I’ve got 300 pictures of yellow buses,” said Alix Trémoureux, from France, with a laugh. “We’ve seen all these kind of American things in movies, and we wanted to take part in it. It’s like the American dream – but North American.”

You heard it here first: there might be global tensions but that idea of “the American dream” is still a powerful – if vaguely goofy – concept across the pond.

“Even the idea of the newspaper in the morning,” laughed De Flaviis. “You open the door – oh, a newspaper! It’s so strange.”

In other words: it’s “so far, so good” for the students. Living here until November with local EDSS students (Sophia Harder, Sonya Martin, Haley Bauman, Emily O’Connor, and Aidan Reid, who will join them in their home countries in February), the Europeans have plenty of praise for school staff and students.

“They really want us to understand what they are saying,” said Trémoureux. “When we don’t, we can just ask and they’ll repeat it a bit slower for us, and change the words to be sure we’ll really understand what they’re saying.”

Not to say there hasn’t been an adjustment. “It takes a long time to get used to it,” said De Flaviis of the North American customs. “Just things like the meals – for me, it’s unusual eating supper at 6. Here we eat at 8, 8:30.”

“I have never lived in a small town, so there are things that are different,” added Trémoureux. “In the morning, I need more time to go to high school, whereas at home I just walk seven or eight minutes and I’m at school. Here, you have to take a car for everything.”

For Stathoula Paleshi, the exchange coordinator at EDSS, such revelations are part of what make foreign exchange programs important.

“They enrich both the students who participate, but also our schools. It brings a new perspective to our school. It allows us a chance to appreciate everything that we have – like we heard about the yellow school buses – but also reflect, because of the experience these students bring, how we can improve our schools.”

They can also bring new insight to familiar school subjects, she added. “Hearing their opinions in a history class, for example, is an easy one. Grade ten history tends to be the Canadian perspective; hearing an opinion on World War I from a French or German or Italian perspective is totally different.”

“In a history lesson, we had to imagine the most easy way for Germany to take France,” said Trémoureux. “We’ve never experimented with this!”

As for the EDSS students, they’re excited about the prospect of immersing themselves in a foreign country. “I like the idea of living in another culture and learning,” said Sonya Martin. “Because it’s one thing to go and stay somewhere for a few weeks, but it’s another to actually experience it for a few months.”

“I think it allows students to open up their minds to different things,” said Paleshi of the program. “Their values will be challenged while they’re abroad, because things are done differently in different countries. It enriches the individual.”

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