Before spring break, Horace Mann student Irena Hsu knew only two words in French: “bonjour” and “au revoir.”
But after a few days on a trip to Paris with classmates from Horace Mann, the 15-year-old was able to order a meal at a restaurant using the local tongue.
“I have to say that moment was probably one of my favorites in the whole trip,” she said. “I signed up for the exchange not knowing a single word of French… thinking we’d just stay in a hotel and visit popular tourist attractions in Paris.”
She was one of seven Horace Mann students who participated in the school’s cultural exchange program over spring break. For two weeks, the ninth and 10th graders lived with a host family, attended classes at a bilingual school, Ecole Active Bilingue Jeannine Manuel (EABJM), and took in their fill of the City of Lights.
“They might not know what’s going on in a chemistry class in France, but the idea is for them to be observers,” said Horace Mann French teacher Sonya Rotman, who has taught at the school for 27 years.
She explained that the program focuses more on cultural immersion than language development. Over the course of two weeks, the students — most of whom take French with Ms. Rotman — checked out the Seine, navigated Parisian streets and climbed to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower with their host families.
This past week, a group of French students from EABJM have been mirroring the Horace Mann students’ cultural experience, attending classes at Horace Mann and touring New York City.
Jessie Millman, 15, stayed at the home of a family with three children who spoke both Spanish and French, as their parents are Peruvian and French.
“By the end of the trip, I was calling [their] parents my French mother and French dad,” she said.
Jessie was impressed by the Parisian method of dealing with pollution —giving away free subway rides — and assigning drivers even or odd licenses indicating they could only drive every other day.