Teen experiences the culture of France


January 29, 2002|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OAKLAND MILLS High School sophomore Shawn Magnuson did something unusual on his last summer vacation. He spent two weeks in France without any of his family members.

But Shawn was not alone. He was living with his new French family as part of the Columbia Association's Sister Cities Program.

The program sends about 40 Howard County high school students to France and Spain each year. They stay with the family of a local student of the same age group. After returning to Howard County, the students invite their counterparts into their homes for another two weeks.

"The program gives students a chance to experience another culture firsthand," said Zenoby Orsten, program coordinator. "But more than that, it helps students become aware that there are other cultures and other ways of living and looking at the world."

For Shawn, the experience was eye-opening.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to go," said Shawn, who went with the encouragement of his French teacher, Marilyn Holland. "I didn't think I knew the language well enough."

In those first couple of nervous telephone calls from abroad, Shawn's mother, Bernadene, told him to forget about the language and soak up the culture. That's when everything came together for him, she said. He started noticing more about his new environment, such as the fact that cars were smaller, she said. He was able to get by on less-than-perfect French, and his skills improved quickly.

After becoming comfortable with his French family, Shawn began to notice more subtle differences. "Everything here is rushed and convenient," he said. "You might have the TV on during dinner. There, everything slows down. People can spend two hours around the dinner table."

The Sister Cities Program provides two chaperons and planned activities for the students while they are abroad.

"We saw Paris by night," Shawn said. "We saw the Eiffel Tower all lit up. We went to the Louvre and Versailles. We went to a plaza where there were artists everywhere."

Building international friendships is an important aspect of the program. Through the application process and home interviews, participants are matched with counterparts with similar personalities.

Shawn's French counterpart, Battiste, likes sports and has a similar sense of humor, Shawn said. "We would have been friends anyway," he added.

"Friendships help to heal the world," said Holland, a former member of the Sister Cities advisory committee. "They open people up to respect others."

But for a teen-ager in Europe for the first time, other things may have made a greater impression.

"I discovered I like frogs legs," Shawn said. "They taste like shrimp."

Information: columbiaassocia tion.com, click on Arts & Culture.

Spirit of Columbia

The Spirit of Columbia Scholarship is awarded each year to Columbia high school seniors who have shown dedication to performing community service.

Up to six $2,500 scholarships will be awarded to graduating seniors who live on Columbia Association-assessed property, have a minimum of a "C" average and have a demonstrated history of voluntary service to the community.

Applications are available at Columbia high schools, community centers and association headquarters.

The deadline for applications is March 1.

Information: 410-715-3166.

Welcome to the board

Jennifer Terrasa was appointed to the five-member Kings Contrivance Village Board last month. She is filling the seat vacated by Victoria Dieringer, who resigned for personal reasons.

Terrasa has lived in Columbia since she was a toddler. She and her husband, Gabriel, have made Kings Contrivance their home for six years. They have two children -- Tony, 2, and Kelsey, 6 months.

Terrasa, a lawyer and president of the Stoneridge townhouse association, said she has a strong attachment to Columbia. Even when she and her husband temporarily lived in Puerto Rico, she avidly kept up with local news. She is an Oakland Mills High School graduate and met her husband while attending the University of Baltimore.

As a mother, Terrasa said, playground safety and speed conditions are important issues, but all community concerns will receive equal attention.

"Columbia is my home," she said. "It's important to be involved. I like to understand what's going on in my community."

Terrasa's term ends in April, when she will be encouraged to run for election to a two-year term, village manager Anne Dodd said.

Getting involved

Two village boards -- from Kings Contrivance and Owen Brown -- are seeking volunteer members for election committees.

The job will take a few hours over the next few months and give members insight into workings of elections at the village level, managers said.

Elections will be held April 19 and 20.

Information: Kings Contrivance at 410-381-9600 or Owen Brown at 410-381-0202.

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