Emer's reflection following the European Exchange Experience
“Tonight for dinner food is…..” Oh great, I thought. Where’s my dictionary? So, what was it again? Ah yes, a word beginning with “c”. I’m not even going to attempt asking the spelling, so I’ll just browse the “c” section for a meat of some sort. Ok, so it’s not there, I’ll guess. Lamb? No. Beef, YES!!! Ok, but isn’t beef- boeuf? Well at least I have some idea of what I’m eating…some. Oh, the joys of living with a family in a different language. Sure, it’s hard and darn confusing, but isn’t that the point? It’s meant to be a challenge, you know? It’s meant to make you take a step back, and think before you say something, which will most likely be the wrong thing. Sometimes, I wish things would stay like that. Not knowing much of each others language and constantly learning. I got such a thrill from hearing them I never wanted to stop listening and talking. Mistakes? Always, but never a problem. One night, I told the brother I went to bed at 6 (pm) instead of I slept for 6 hours. Oops! It’s inevitable, but they come and go like clouds, and you just laugh and move on. It puts half the fun in conversing. One of the main lessons I learnt on this trip is to take life slowly. We can’t always, speak, or type, or do things as fast as we (Americans) do. You’re learning a new culture, and if you go too fast, you’ll miss the small things that matter along the way, like the first time you think in French. Man, that’s amusing! March 25th, my host family drove me to the train station. Let me tell you, in that car ride, I found a new meaning to “Never say goodbye”. All I could say was “PLEASE visit me in America, you’re always welcome” and “I’ll miss you a lot!!!” of course there was a ton of Franglais in there. Well, it’s the thought that counts! As the train pulled out of the station, me, Helena and like half of the American and Belgian students started crying- like sobbing crying. When that happens, you know that bonds have been made, and connections tied up. These are people- friends that we would never ever forget. We came across the big pond to learn about Europe, oh but we learnt and gained so much more. I for one will never look at the word “Together” or “Ensemble” again the same way, because it means something bigger than the dictionary could ever say. Dictionary definition: into or in one gathering, company, mass, place, or body: to call the people together. My definition: united- when you and another person are doing something ~ you’re united in what you’re doing, with all differences forgotten, because, essentially, you’re the same, and being ~ or doing something ~ brings out that equality. The world is ~ and always will be, it just takes people who know that to show the rest of the world. United in diversity- aren’t we all? Diversity! Bingo!!! That’s what we are. The American and Belgian students, we’re diverse to the limits, and best of friends. An adventure and friendship of a lifetime for me began with conversation. Sunday afternoon, doing homework and a window popped up on the computer screen. “Emer” “Yes?” “It’s Flore, your pen pal” “…OMG, HI!!!!” “I mean, Salut!!!” Flore and I, our friendship began with conversation and I hope it always stays that way. I mean, the European Union was all about removing boundaries and borders, well, we’re about removing language barriers and not letting physical boundaries stop friendships from flourishing. Conversation is one of a couple ways to get rid of language barriers- for once I can be proud of my inability to not stop talking! What bad could happen from talking? Practice makes perfect and I truly believe that the more we practice talking to each other in each other’s language we will come to understand each other. And that- that would just be…a dream come true.
We DID video conference with students at Smith on March 23 10-12pm
Thank you to Federal Express for offering their teleconferencing facility in Brussels so that our traveling students could share their learning with students back at Smith. Go FedEX!!!! This event was an incredible real-time learning experience! Thank you to UNC and the efforts of Bjorn Hennings, manager of the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence. We appreciate all you did to make the connection. Thank you to Rebekah Cole and Monica Liverman for making arrangements for Smith students.
Journey with us.... will try to send pictures along the way
March 17 - Leave for Paris March 18 - Arrive Paris, rest and explore the city! March 19- Explore Paris March 20- Paris: museums, shopping and Eiffel Tower March 21 - Head for Brussels; meet our pen pals in the "Grand Place"; visit the European Parliament together; head to Liege to spend the night in host families March 22 - Spend the day at Saint-Benoit Saint-Servais- attend classes; my students will love English class; tour Liege, socratic seminar on the EU; spend evening with families March 23 - Early train to Brussels for visitation at European Commission - spend day in Brussels; return to host families March 24- Tour Maastricht and WWII cemetery with families Souper-spectacle that night...what fun! March 25 - Bid adieu to our host families and new friends; on to Brussels to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Treaty of Rome March 26- Going home!
Meeting my Fate and Justine ....by Angela
There were just seventeen days left until I would meet my fate. At least that was how I interpreted it. People have praised me, saying that I would be fine there, and that all of my years spent studying French would now finally pay off. And I guess that my three years of middle school French would make me a lot better off than those who had not even studied a year. Perhaps the most nerve-racking part of all was thinking about how I could completely forget all the French I’d learned while I was in Belgium. It would definitely be very different from speaking French in class—I wouldn’t be as comfortable speaking French to complete strangers (and trying not to make any mistakes at all with my limited vocabulary) as speaking French to my friends or my teachers (and knowing that they would understand if I did make a mistake). And then again, I wasn’t the most optimistic person in my class. But I can try to be optimistic about my fate. After all, it would be a great experience—and I could improve my speaking skills as well. And the best part of all would be becoming great friends with Justine Marchal, whose family will be my host family for a week. I have also learned plenty in preparation for our seminars about the European Union, and in preparation for everything else that we will be doing there. I might even be able to say that I have learned more in these two or three months than I have ever in my life. There has also been plenty of excitement in my life during these few months. Anxiety as well, of course. Who couldn’t be both excited and anxious about going to Belgium and living in a host family? And this my excitement and anxiety may well be beyond those of others—this is my first time traveling to Europe, my first time living in a host family, my first time traveling to a country where the official language isn’t English or Chinese. And this excitement and anxiety increases as I count down the days left until I am riding the train from Paris to Brussels. It will continue to increase as we near the train station at Brussels, as I glance around for the face of Justine Marchal and her family, which I have seen only in pictures, as I spot them and try to find a comprehensible sentence or two that I could say to them... And trust me—it’s not like I haven’t had nightmares about this. This is also the first time that I have stopped to ponder about how I will truly miss them when I am forced to board the plane back to Chapel Hill, back to North Carolina, and back to the United States. But that does not mean that all hope is lost for Justine and I to stay friends, even though it will be much more difficult to do so from such far away places. But we will keep in touch. We will try to meet each other—face to face—every year, if possible. We will remain friends, bonded together by a type of friendship that can only truly arise from being unable to see each other whenever we want to. And as for the long-term goals—they are countless. I will have something extra to include in my college resume. I will be able to consider a future abroad, to see if it really fits into my future. I will have a chance to find out if French is really for me. If I had asked one of my Belgian friends what “E.U.” stood for, they would have probably immediately answered, “les États-Unis.” Of course, these three words are French. Translated into English, they mean “the United States,” or rather “the States United.” But here in America, if I had asked perhaps twenty people in Chapel Hill, or rather, anywhere in the United States, what “E.U.” stood for, none of them would have answered “les États-Unis.” And that is because here in the United States of America, “E.U.” is an abbreviation for the European Union. And of those twenty Americans, perhaps only one or two of them would have known that. And it is our duty—that is, the duty of the UNION*—to increase that number by as much as possible. And to help us accomplish this goal, we have all attended the “Euro Club,” which meets every Tuesday after school and every Thursday during lunch, and we have all prepared an “EU journal” with notes from those club meetings. So what exactly is the European Union? It is a family of twenty-seven democratic countries in Europe. They have shared values of democracy, freedom, and social justice. Their mission is to provide peace, prosperity, and stability for its peoples; overcome the divisions on the continent, ensure that its people can live in safety; promote balanced economic and social development; meet the challenges of globalization and preserve the diversity of the peoples of Europe; and uphold the values that Europeans share. But that is simply a basic outline of the goals of the European Union. It does so much more, and deserves so much more credit for doing what it does. The European Union has funded our trip to France and Belgium. And now it is your job to learn more about the EU and to help others learn more about it. Spread the word! *The UNION is made up of the students who will be traveling to Paris, France, and Brussels and Liège, Belgium in March 2007.
Smith Middle School. It was the 3rd school I’d seen that day and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. The teachers there seemed so friendly, but what really intrigued me was the French Department. Apparently, they were making a trip to Belgium. My friends Olivia had previously told me that her school in England were going to Belgium, but I had never imagined a school in America would go. The name America had gotten as the land of oppertunities was suddenly maing so much more sense! It was from that moment on, I had told myself, if they go to Belgium, and I am taking French, I will be on that trip. Since I found out there was a trip happening it had more meaning to me. It had the meaning of a goal to achieve- a dream.
I know more about the EU than you....Nathalie
I’m so excited! Can you guess why? I didn’t think so. I’m excited because I know more about the EU than you. I have studied really hard, and I have learned that there are many differences between the EU and America. Just to clarify, the EU is the European Union. You will be surprised on how many differences there are between the EU and America. Lucky for you, I will not name them all. But I am going to tell you about some of the main differences. One of the big differences is space. In America people like their personal space and our houses are huge! Well, that’s different in Europe. People live small and close to each other. Their houses are sometimes even connected. In America with our big lawns and big houses, we also have a lot of junk in our houses. Most of it is unnecessary too. In the EU people have what they need. Every day they go to the market to get food. They sometimes skip the bread in the market and go to a bakery to get food. Here in America we go to the grocery store once a week and buy a week’s supply of food. That is also because we have to drive everywhere to get what we want. In Europe they walk or bike to the store and back. That makes it easier for them to go every day. I hope that you have learned from what I have just told you. And if you don’t believe me, just go to one of the countries of the European Union, and you’ll see that everything I’ve said is true. Oh…time really flies by when you’re writing. The bell is about to ring; I have to go! Bye, bye. Nathalie
Thinking About Her Sister's Trip 3 Years ago..Abby's Reflections
Four years ago my sister was given the experience of a lifetime, and ever since then I’ve wanted that experience too. Ms.McMahon has finally given me that opportunity. Before I could wrap my head around it, I would be on a plane heading to my dream destination, France. Though I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, I’ve never been more nervous and afraid at the same time. Nervous about the plane ride, and afraid of forgetting simple things that I’m going to need to know like “where is the bathroom?” and “what time is it?” I have taken three years to learn this language, all for this experience and if I get all the way to France and forget everything I’ve worked so hard to know it won’t be a pretty sight. I’ve maintained a solid “A” all year long in French, but writing French and speaking French are two completely different things. I am a better writer than a speaker, especially in front of people who grew up speaking French as their first language. I’m sure that this trip is going to be amazing, and an experience of a lifetime but I just can’t be excited when all I can think about is how I’m going to attempt to have a conversation with someone and just draw blanks. When my sister went to France she had the most amazing time, and when she came back she couldn’t stop talking about how she wanted to go back. I wish I could have that, I wish I could be excited and not scared, but I can’t. Seeing my sister in videos of her in France, talking so easily and seeing how she couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, it all just made me want it more. I know that this was going to be an amazing experience after I adjusted to the language and the culture, but until then I stick to being scared out of my mind.
.......from Jenny's heart
I’m either more worried than I should be, or less worried than what’s expected of me in situations like these. No, I’m not talking about a hostage situation or an emergency situation. This situation is traveling to Belgium in only near two weeks, and being thrust into a whole new culture that speaks a complete different language than from what I’m used to in the United States. Just thinking about it gets me a little nervous, a little worried, mostly excited, and just a tiny bit scared. I know that it’s going to be a wonderful experience, touring Paris and speaking French to native speakers. I’m also so excited that I’ll get to see my pen pal, Adrienne, and stay at her family’s home in Liège, Belgium. I always look forward to the emails I send back and forth with my Belgian pen pal, Adrienne. We’ve been communicating together since the beginning of seventh grade in 2005, and I’ve learned a lot about the modern culture and daily routines of kids who are my age who attend school and do activities just like me. Adrienne has always expressed a great hope of seeing the United States in her own eyes sometime, and she states that she would love to see the country she’s heard so much about. I only wish that after I’ve seen her country, I am able to take her to see mine! There are so many differences between the Belgians and the Americans, besides the obvious. I’d like to see how the school system and curriculum in Belgium differs from our North Carolina Standard Course of Study, what games the Belgians do for fun, and what extracurricular activities are offered. When I first signed up to take French as a language in sixth grade, I never dreamed that it would lead to this opportunity to learn more about another culture and broaden my global understanding. But yet, here I am, panicking over how many pairs of socks I’ll need in Belgium and wondering if I’ll make a taboo mistake when I’m talking in French. Another aspect of the trip I’m excited about is going to the headquarters of the EU (the European Union) and learning much more about the EU from European residents under the law of the EU. I’ve learned so, so much since I started my quest for knowledge a few months ago, and I only want to keep expanding this knowledge and put it to good use for the future. Who knows the day when the EU will surpass the United States in power? From the view today, it’s very likely that that will happen. Until March 17th, then!
It's all about being "united in diversity"... Mme McMahon
On the surface it looks like just another funding opportunity for yet another school program. Let it sink in however, $67,000 and it has deep implications as well as benefits of equity and advocacy for students in our school district. In January of this year, the European Union awarded Smith Middle School 51,000 euros (roughly $67,000) for its “Getting to Know Europe” , a proposal I submitted after attending last summer’s EU workshop hosted by UNC’s EU Center of Excellence and World View. These dynamic international organizations invited teachers from around the state to explore and create lesson plans on the EU while sharing this grant opportunity and encouraging teachers to apply. Why has the European Union funded a public school? There are lots of reasons, but the clearest one to me lies in its name: Union. Union means bringing together, sharing knowledge, power, ideas and resources. Union means making choices for the common good. The EU has invited our American students to learn more about their institutions, their system of values that are also shared by our nation, and their being “united in diversity”- a richness of cultures brought together in one body. Nations around the world are drawing lines in the sand – demarcation lines that promote a we versus they mentality- opportunities such as this grant provides, breaks those barriers as students learn how to respect each other’s opinions, value multiple perspectives and honor international relationships while bridging the gap to understanding through language. The cover story for the December 10th issue of Time Magazine emphasizes the need for schools to enter the 21st century by teaching more about our world. Students need to learn how to be “global trade literate, sensitive to foreign cultures and conversant in different languages”. I can teach this from the front of the room, or I can take my students to host families in Belgium where they will experience European life up close and personal. Thanks to the EU grant, many students who used to “watch from the window” as their more affluent classmates boarded the plane to Europe are able to join us on this voyage of self-discovery and new cultures. Six teachers will be traveling from grant funds and are excited about bringing back new lessons for the classroom. How has our “journey of learning” progressed since we received this award? Traveling students have been meeting once a week after school or during lunches to learn not only about the European Union and its institutions but also about how life for a teen in a Europe is similar or different from life in America. With guidance from high school students who speak French well, my students can discuss many topics of EU life in French including: capital punishment, free market system and travel -friendly legislation with the introduction of the Euro. A university professor and local French speakers have visited my classroom to add depth to the studies. We have studied Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech” in French so that they can discuss his dream for human rights in America with their Belgian pen pals and compare it to the EU’s mission as well as their own personal dreams. In a few weeks Belgian and American teens will be discussing “shared values” and hopes for the future, not only for their respective countries but also for the world. My students asked, “How do we publicize what we have learned?” After discussions with my Belgian colleague and his students, “Union” came out the front runner for our T-shirts explaining that Union is the same word in English and French and shows that there is strength in unity. My students agreed, two student artists created the logos and all of us will be wearing T-shirts honoring this international friendship. The physical journey begins March 17 as twenty-nine students (26 middle school students and 4 high school students) as well as 6 teachers board the plane for Europe. At least fifteen of the travelers were fully or partially funded by the grant. One student cannot stop smiling as he whispers daily “I am going to see the Eiffel Tower” –one of several economically disadvantaged student travelers who thought that this trip was only for those who could afford it- never dreaming that the EU would pay for this experience of a lifetime. The plane lands in Paris first where we will spend three nights. We will meet our Belgian pen pals at the “Grand Place” in Brussels on the 4th day. This first meeting when the students exchange “la bise” and begin to communicate face to face is one of the most memorable days of my life. They have been corresponding by email or MSN for a few months, but actually witnessing their excitement at seeing each other makes the time and effort for this trip pale in comparison to the joy of watching these young people connect. I can feel myself saying, “ Yes, I can do this again.” With our Belgian hosts we will visit the European Parliament and return to Liege to spend four days with our international families. My students will attend classes at Saint-Benoit Saint-Servais school in Liege, participate in a “rally” of the town, visit Maastricht and the American WWII cemetery and be entertained by the Belgian students for a host-family/American “souper-spectacle” on Saturday night. The American students will return to Brussels on Friday to visit the European Commission, and we will leave Liege to spend one night in a hotel in Brussels on Sunday, March 25th, an important date in EU history because it is the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome. Thanks to the European Union, a journey of learning about international affairs, friendship and self-discovery has begun. My deepest gratitude goes to UNC’s EU Center of Excellence, to World View for all their encouragement and support and to M. Labeye, my Belgian colleague who has worked with me for ten years on this creating successful Exchange Experiences. Robin McMahon French Teacher Smith Middle School Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Willing to go the Distance...by Sarah
A boring bus ride and maybe a stay over night, this is what comes to mind when you think of a 8th grade field trip. Ms. McMahon put a whole new definition in my head of the meaning of what an educational trip can be. Eight hours over seas and a ten night stay in Paris, Belgium, Brussels and many other places. This is a child hood dream that has been granted. This amazing opportunity has become open to the students taking French in Smith Middle School. There is no doubt that this trip will be full of new experiences and life long memories but it scares me out of my mind every time I think about having to talk and stay in a home with a Belgium family. No books, no teacher only what I had learned in class. I am scared that the culture shock will cause me to forget all I have learned or how to say that I DO NOT eat sea food. This only means that I have to work very hard to get the work done. I also have to dedicate lots of time to all my other classes to keep good grades so I am eligible to go. I am willing to go the distance and I am positive that it will all be worth it.