A chance to experience another culture

Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, NJ), June 10, 2001, page 5J
By: Shannon Mullen/Staff Writer

Scot King, Point Pleasant, is area coordinator for Intercultural Friends Foundation, a program that hosts French teens in the homes in the Point Pleasant area during the summer. King has a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s from Marygrove College. He has been a teacher for 15 years, and is currently teaching Park Avenue Elementary in Freehold.

Two groups of students will be arriving this summer. The first group will arrive on July 10 and leave July 29. The second group will arrive Aug. 6 and leave Aug. 25th. For more information on the program, call King at (732) 892-2571.

Q: How do these French students get into this exchange program?

A: All of the students who apply to this program are children of civil servants in France. Each student must complete an application and send it to the Jean Moulin Foundation, which is the works committee in France. The Jean Moulin Foundation then filters through the students’ applications and selects a number of them to come to the United States. Through this selection process we have received many high quality young men and women. All of the students have completed at least five years of English instruction and, therefore, they are fluent in our language.

Q: How does the program work? What do these kids do while they’re over here?

A: The goals of the program and the students in the program are to better understand our culture and to improve the students’ English-speaking ability. While they are in the United States for a three-week stay they will attend 36 hours of class in which American culture and English are taught. A certified teacher teaches the American culture class, and the English course is taught by the French chaperone, a professional teacher in France who accompanies the students to the States. Along with the classes, there are a number of activities that are scheduled each day to allow the students to become more familiar with our culture and our history. These activities include trips to New York City, Princeton and Philadelphia. Also while here they will visit the beach, shopping, the movies, bowling,ice-skating and other activities. Between the classes and these activities the students are busy most days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is quite convenient for those parents who work during the day.

Q: Is it true that the French aren’t fond of America and Americans? You must get asked this a lot?

A: It’s funny you should ask that because when I first began the program I was apprehensive because of some of the stereotypes that I’d heard in the past. After doing the program for the past six years, I’ve found that this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve never been so impressed with another group of young people. The students who come over are very respectful, well behaved and excited about their trip to America. They are like many other Europeans who would love the opportunity to live in the States, and they seem to be extremely fascinated with all aspects of American culture. I’ve been offered the opportunity to work with students from other countries and have decided to continue working with the French young people because of the many positive experiences.

Q: What are the responsibilities of a host family and what are the requirements? Is it difficult to find hosts?

A: The main responsibility and the most challenging for the family is to allow the student to become part of their family during their stay. Americans tend to want to entertain and fill every minute with activity. The best experience that I’ve seen is when the family allows the student to become like any other member of the family. One of the many concerns of the host family is cost. The activities are included in the program and host families are encouraged to attend. The students arrive with their own spending money; therefore, host families are only asked to provide meals and a place to sleep. The most challenging aspect of my position is finding who are willing to host a student. Because of the extreme busyness of our culture, we seem to be searching for reasons to say no rather than opening our homes to this wonderful opportunity. A lot of legwork must go into searching for and interviewing families. Fortunately, there have been many families that have hosted in the past and are excited to do it again. These families that have opened up their homes have found it quite rewarding.

Q: What is the impact of these visits? Can you give some examples?

A: To experience the impact of the visits, you need to be there at the bus the morning of departure and see all of the tearful goodbyes. It is amazing how great an impact a three-week stay can have on someone’s life. Throughout the year, I am constantly running into folks who have hosted a student in the past, and they share an anecdote or update from their new”family member” in France. Often these families will thank me for allowing them to participate in the program and mention how this experience has brought their family closer than they were before. Because of this experience, a number of host families have traveled to France to meet the families of the student that they hosted. This program has allowed a small group of Jerseyans to gain a greater understanding of other cultures and become more aware of other people around the world.

- Shannon Mullen, Staff Writer

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