- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

Twenty high school students from France left behind the celebrations of Bastille Day to navigate their way through cultural differences, and the D.C.-area Metro system, while they study English in the District for three weeks.

The students ages 15 to 18 arrived in the United States July 9 through a partnership between Nacel International, a student-exchange organization that places students at international locations, and the International Center for Language Studies, a school in Northwest that provides instruction in more than 70 foreign languages.

Karen Decker, president of ICLS, said the students are immersed into the U.S. culture during their stay with four hours of English classes each morning, followed by an afternoon full of visits to historic sites and museums in the District and a ride home by themselves on the Metro system. The students are staying with host families, who mostly live in the D.C. suburbs.

“The first couple of days you’re on standby to make sure all of the kids get home and get picked up,” Miss Decker said.

Through the classes and the afternoon outings, one of the biggest differences the students have noticed between France and the United States is the size of everything, including the food, the roads and the people.

“The portions are bigger, all the food and cars,” said Emmanuelle Tanj, 17, of Paris.

“Something that they don’t dare tell you about is the number of fat people here,” said Pascal Michel, the group’s chaperone and an English teacher in France, elaborating about the size differences the students noticed in America. “It’s probably because of the food.”

Mr. Michel said junk food has been banned from schools in France and one would never see a vending machine in a French school.

In the United States for the first time, Hugues D’Aboville, 16, of Paris, was surprised by the condition of the streets here.

“The streets are very clean here,” he said, pausing to speak in French to Quentin Wuithier, 16, of Versailles.

Both boys said in France, while it is illegal to leave behind pet excrement on the sidewalk or throw cigarette butts on the street, the laws are not enforced.

The students came to the United States with many stereotypes about American culture.

“American girls like French accents and it’s true,” said Antoine Steineinger, 17, of Tours. “I know because I’ve met American girls.”

Mr. Michel said the students were too young to hold prevalent stereotypes that many older Europeans have about the United States.

“For a lot of people in Europe, people think that because everyone is living in such a big country that they don’t really care about anything outside it,” Mr. Michel said.

As for Bastille Day, which was celebrated yesterday, the students said they weren’t planning on attending any celebrations locally. Bastille Day is a national holiday in France that commemorates the beginning of a new form of government.

“It’s a great event in French history,” said Pierre Offret, 16, of Brittany. “It was one of the first events of the French Revolution.”

The students return to France July 29. Until then, Quentin said the students will continue to face their toughest challenge in the United States: To learn English.

“That’s why we’re here,” Quentin said.

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