High-schoolers receive updated lessons in diplomacy French exchange students adjust to life in the U.S.

July 24, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

One teen-ager wore a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt. Another wore ripped jeans. And others were adorned in everything from baggy shorts to Reebok sneakers.

Looking out onto the floor of the Pasadena Skating Rink, it was difficult to tell who were the Americans and who were the visiting French exchange students.

Actually, there was one clue. The the visiting French youths spent most of their time sitting on the floor of the roller rink.

But the students didn't seem to mind, since their pratfalls were just a sample of American life, Pasadena-style.

About 25 students from various parts of France have been getting a taste of American life through the International Education Forum, a non-profit organization made up of former educators. IEF lines up host families for students visiting from such countries as France, Japan, Germany and Spain.

Students currently in the program have been staying with

families in the Pasadena, Crofton and Bowie areas since July 12. They will return to their homes Aug. 2.

"Yes, it's been hectic, but everything has turned out fantastic," said Sharon Harrigan, who coordinates the visiting student stays. "This is just such an incredible chance for our children to be able to experience another culture.

"If more people did this, and had the chance to experience another culture, I really believe we could eliminate a lot of [friction]," she added.

During their stay with American families, the French students are given a chance to experience "everyday" life. But what is "everyday" life for Americans often is not "everyday" life for the French.

"It is very big," Oliver Couquil, 17, said of America in comparison to France. "Some of the things are much cheaper here. Things are very expensive [at] home."

Added Nathalie Tissot, 15, "American people eat a lot. They eat all the time. And you have a lot of [television] channels. In France, we only have five. Here, many."

The exchange students' American hosts also found several differences between the cultures.

"They're a lot more polite," said Mandy Gambino, 17. "When we went Ocean City for three days, we had a really good time. But I found out they really like to shop."

Liz Forsythe, 17, said she found the eating habits of Americans and French very different.

"The first time we went through a drive-through, we went to Taco Bell," Liz said. "[Isabelle Roy] had never been through a a drive-through. I couldn't believe it.

"We're so used to just rushing in and grabbing something, but they like to sit down and take their time," Liz added.

Erin Harrigan, 13, said she found the French students "a lot nicer than American teens."

"They're definitely more polite," she added.

Despite the differences, students on both sides said they found many more similarities. U2 recordings and jeans are big hits among both groups.

Students also visited the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and several tourist spots in Washington, including the Air and Space museum -- where one of the students got temporarily lost, an American student.

Before the visitors leave, they will have the chance to experience something truly Maryland-esque -- a crab feast.

Mrs. Harrigan said she hopes each side will come away with a better understanding of the two cultures.

"I can't say it enough," she said. "This is such a tremendous experience for everyone. I just hope more people will get involved. We could all learn so much from each other."

IEF is seeking host families for Spanish students who will be in the Pasadena area from Sept. 1-22. Families must be selected by Aug. 1. For more information, contact Sharon Harrigan at (410) 837-2213.

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