In February 2019 a group of 15 Saint Ambroise students and 2 teachers went to Florida.
When we were still in the middle of winter and Savoy was skiing every weekend, we headed to the sunshine state !
Our journey started at 3 o’clock in the morning on a bus that took us to Geneva airport. Some of the students were flying for the first time, so we were all quite excited and ready for an adventure.
After long but comfortable flights we arrived in Tampa. The first group of the host families was waiting for us at the airport. Some came with balloons, bottles of water or snacks. Everybody was smiling and really looking forward to meeting their new member of the family.
We also noticed that they were dressed quite differently to us, they were wearing shorts and t-shirts, compared to our jumpers, big parkas, and scarves !
We had a lovely and warm welcome. The families took their host children, waved us good-bye and off they went !
Each student was staying with a different family that already have children, so it made is easier to adjust and make friends. Our students were following their American friends in their High schools. They had classes from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and then they were participating in other activities or simply spending time with the family.
French students were welcomed in 3 different schools: Tampa Prep; Booker; and Manatee High School.
School was an important part of our program. An American school has the same schedule every day (vs every week in France). For some of our students that would be quite reassuring but less interesting for some others !
Lunch was also different - much less time to eat but many more burgers, chips and cookies that most of our students enjoyed.
We were impressed by the variety of classes, clubs and organizations in each school – science and technology laboratories, arts, theater, cinema, music, sports. The schools offer students a lot of opportunities to get involved !
We followed our American students to their activities: sports – rowing, basketball games; music contests or charity works.
The other thing that was different for us, and actually quite interesting, was the fact that every teacher (or at least subject) at school has its own classroom. Every classroom is decorated accordingly; some of the teachers make it very personal and cozy. Students do not have to carry books with them – they’ve got everything in each classroom.
We happened to be in Florida on 14th of February – Saint Valentine’s Day. School and also some families celebrated this day by special dinners, chocolates, flowers, little cards.
But besides that February 14th was also the first anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. All students wrote some “eagle cards” (the symbol of Parkland school) to remember the victims and their families. There was a minute of silence in all county schools. Students were discussing gun violence and proving their determination to fight against it.
We had a beautiful weather! During our stay we had almost 2 weeks of sun with temperatures in high twenties! There is a lot to do in Florida but going to the beach was something we all did and we all loved it!
For two weeks, throughout our stay we shared a group on social media. That way not only were we -the teachers- happy to see students enjoying themselves, but we all knew what the others were doing.
We also called the host families and visited schools. In each school there is a policeman, but the most importantly there was a teacher who looked after our students on a daily basis.
One day almost at the same time students started posting their beautiful sunset’s photos:
Because of the “President Day” on Monday 18th, we had a “three- day” weekend! We spent time with our host families. It was an opportunity to meet other relatives, visit places, go to restaurants, relax and have fun with our new friends.
For us, alligators were the big Florida attraction. We stayed far away from them and still everybody wanted to see one. Some of us had a chance to taste a gator tail that is served in many restaurants in Florida.
Our second school week was short and went by too fast.
At the end of their stay students were asked to give some presentations. They talked about differences between French and American educational system, presenting their knowledge and experience.
All presentations were very well done. Our students were prized and encouraged by their American teachers and friends, who admired their language abilities and commitment. We were proud of our students and thrilled to hear all positive comments.
The host families said that for them hosting a French student had been a wonderful experience. They had wished to have more time with them. Several parents repeated that the “kids” had been charming and gracious and a pleasure to be around.
Our students’ feedbacks were all positive. Many of them used the word “genial” to sum up their stay!
On Friday before we left, two of the schools organized a good-bye party. We had an occasion to put some parents’ faces to the voices we’d heard. It was a pleasure to meet everybody.
Our students and their American friends were so happy to spend some time together.
On the next day it was time to go back. First we met our Booker High School students with their host families.
Then we picked up the students from Manatee.
When we arrived at the airport we met our Tampa Prep students.
Full of emotions, two weeks older and wiser we came home.
It was an incredible adventure! We had an opportunity to go to a school in the United States, practice English in an immersive setting, meet the students and see the culture. But we understood, that to live with another family is a privilege that might shape one’s entire perspective on life and create long lasting memories and friendships.
Therefore, on behalf of the students and the teachers, we would love to say : thank you to all our American friends: the teachers and the families who welcomed us with a big heart, to the organization that prepared our trip and of course we are grateful to our school for this once in a lifetime experience !