Aero: Kelsey Castro – France 2015 – Life at School
Aero: Kelsey Castro – France 2015 – Life at School
I was both nervous and excited to experience going to school with my host student, Eline. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on the first day. My host mother, Anne, drove Eline, her younger sister Enora, and myself down the road to the bus stop each morning. I was surprised the first day when the bus arrived, because it didn’t resemble an American school bus at all. I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to be yellow, but I thought it would at least say the name of the school on it. The school busses in France are more like public transit busses in the United States. We had about a 25-minute bus ride to the school in Vitré each morning. However, the bus did not ever bring us directly to the school. We were dropped off about a quarter of a mile away from the school and walked the remaining distance. It was always very chaotic getting on and off the bus, because there were so many other busses and students on a narrow street. It could be a bit overwhelming for me at times. I was absolutely shocked at the amount of French high school students who were smoking cigarettes, even right on school property! That is definitely something that would not be allowed at an American high school.
There was a big shift in dynamics between the school courtyard and inside the halls. I learned this when I had my phone taken away from me by a teacher. I was waiting to meet up with the rest of the group, and had my phone out while I was sitting down in one of the hallways. A French teacher came over and immediately took it away. She did not know that I was a visitor, and not a French student. I hadn’t been told that phones weren’t allowed in the hallways at the school. In an American high school, typically phones aren’t allowed to be used inside of a classroom, but it is completely fine to use them in the hallways. I found the particular French teacher who took my phone to be a bit rude and unapologetic, which was upsetting to me. I will say that this was an exception to the rule however, and I found the majority of the other people I interacted with at the school to be friendly and accommodating.
I was able to attend two classes with Eline. The first one was a math class, which I believe was geometry. The class seemed relatively similar to what you would see in an American school. The teacher checked the homework, and the proceeded with the lesson for the day. I felt a bit uncomfortable in this particular class, because there were two guys sitting directly across from me who were whispering, and pointing. It seemed like the French students didn’t have much respect for their instructor, and many of them were talking to each other during the lesson.
The other class I attended was an English class with Madame Guillaume. Kim, Jason and I were all there. The class size was very small (only 7 girls) so it was a great atmosphere to get to know some of the other French students. The French students practiced introducing each other in English, and then Kim, Jason, and I all introduced ourselves. We learned that English was actually the second foreign language of these students; most of them spoke German or Spanish as well. I think it is very impressive to have the knowledge of three languages while in high school, and I think the American school system should make learning foreign languages a higher priority.
The school day was much longer at the French high school. Students are typically at school from 8:30 until 6:00pm. However, they do have much longer lunch periods and other breaks throughout the day. Some students who live close to the schools even go home during some of their breaks. American high schools are much more confining in this regard. You are pretty much stuck at school 7:30-2:30 at an American high school. In Vitré, if a student wanted to leave the campus and walk into down during their free periods, they were able to do so. Madame Guillaume told me that this is one of the reasons they do an exchange with a community college and not an American high school, because the French high school is more similar in feel to an American community college.
I wanted to note that I also had the opportunity to visit a French elementary school. My host mother is an elementary school teacher, and she took me to visit the school she teaches at on the first weekend I was with the family. I didn’t get to see school in session there, because it was the weekend, but I was able to walk around and look inside of some of the classrooms. It had a very similar feel to an American elementary school. One of the things I found interesting was the “nap room” that they had for the younger students. I remember taking naps in kindergarten; we each had a small rollout mat that we would lie down on. The nap room at the French elementary school actually had miniature bedframes with mattresses. I think this is probably a reflection of the importance of a healthy work/life balance in French culture.
Overall, my experience at the French school was positive. I felt a bit out of place at times as an American college student (with no knowledge of the language), but I really enjoyed seeing how the school system is run in another country.