Annika Johnson, DSHA ‘20, remembers bringing home her “Frenchie,” (as the Dashers affectionately refer to their host students) Ludo, when he first arrived in Milwaukee in October.
“He was my brother from another dimension,” she said. “(He and my brother) were so similar in how they dressed and how they acted and the things they did. It was like having another brother in the house.”
Ludo and 30 of his Saint Jean classmates—all high school juniors, both young men and young women—traveled to Milwaukee. While in the city, they are paired with a DSHA student, and stay at her family’s home. The young French men shadow at Marquette University High School, while the young women from France follow a specific schedule based on their interests at DSHA. When the school day is over, they experience the home life of a Dasher. The group of students from France also experience excursions around the region, exploring the sites of downtown Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, and Chicago.
In the spring, 20-25 DSHA students will travel to France, go to school at Saint Jean, and stay in Limoges with a Saint Jean student and his or her family. At the end of the trip, the DSHA group will travel to Paris and visit a variety of tourist attractions.
A CALLING TO HELP
Thirty years ago, when World Languages Faculty Eileen Gleeson was in her second year of teaching French at DSHA, she received a call from one of her former professors at Marquette University. There were a group of French students planning to travel to Milwaukee—with plane tickets purchased and all—and the tour organizer from Chicago canceled their trip at the last minute. Gleeson’s professor wondered if she and her students would help out.
While that year, the French girls stayed with DSHA French students, and the French boys stayed with MUHS French students, it wasn’t quite a perfect match. The next year, the MUHS French teacher traveled to Limoges, and through his connections found Saint Jean, the school that DSHA now has a partnership with. (MUHS no longer participates in the exchange since the removal of its French program.)
“It did get dropped in my lap,” said Gleeson. “But I embraced it enthusiastically.”
And enthusiastically she does, as the only foreign language at DSHA with an exchange, not just a visit. She spends months preparing both for Saint Jean’s visit, as well as her trip to France with DSHA students. She has the all-important job of pairing her students with Saint Jean students, and preparing DSHA schedules for the Frenchies.
By the time students from France reach junior year of high school, they start to specialize, or at least have an idea of what field they’d like to study. They are then separated into groups that study along the specific field’s lines, while also taking a mix of other classes—similar to selecting a major at a liberal arts college. When DSHA students go to France, they shadow one of those groups.
When students from France come to DSHA, Gleeson makes a special schedule for each student. If their French school specialization is in science, for example, Gleeson will take that into consideration and place them in multiple science classes.
“I can put them in classes that fit their interests and abilities,” she said. “I also give them a little bit of taste of some classes that they don’t have in France, like U.S. history, music, or art.”
However, she puts in this work not only to make the French students comfortable, but also to help out her own students.
“This is a really intense experience for the DSHA girls that are hosting; this gives them the space during the day to be in their own classes and do they work they need to do.”
A BALANCING ACT
While the DSHA students are apart from their Frenchies during the school day, all other time is spent together.
“We talk about the responsibility they have when hosting these girls; how it is being a mom in a way,” Gleeson said. “That is a real growth experience for them. It’s about navigating the ups and downs of it—mostly it’s going to be a lot of fun, but there’s going to be some tough times too.”
Belle Lutz, DSHA ‘20, had the opportunity to visit France in the spring of 2019 with Gleeson’s group as a part of the exchange, staying with a host family in Limoges. Her experience there helped inform her in hosting her French student, Julia, this fall.
“With my host family in the spring, I felt very included in all of their activities,” she said. “We went everywhere with each other, and then (my host) gave me my space at night to do my own thing. It helped me decompress and take everything in. I wanted to give Julia that too.”
For both Lutz and Johnson, it was a challenge to show their exchange student the full American teenager experience, and still manage the work that comes with being a full-time student.
“It was hard to squeeze in homework because you just want to talk to this person,” said Johnson. “You want to get to know them. They’re going to be your new friend. Trying to balance being a student and doing extracurriculars with getting to know someone who’s going to be staying with you for two weeks takes a lot of time.
“It’s worth it though. They’re a lot of fun.”
LESSONS BEYOND LANGUAGE
Despite the countless hours she spends organizing and running the exchange program, Gleeson describes it as “the most satisfying thing I do in my whole job.”
“I sometimes call it the ultimate final exam,” she said about the second part of the exchange, when DSHA students get to travel to France and stay with a host family. “That makes it sound like it’s all about the language, but it’s really so much more than that. I think the girls grow in so many ways, beyond just their language skills.”
But language skills were a big part of the experience, said Lutz. “I got to apply French and communication in a real-world circumstance. Even with just two weeks of being there, it improved my reading, and definitely my listening and talking.”
“I had to ask how to the take out the trash without actually knowing the word for trash. There were a lot of gestures involved,” Johnson said with a laugh. “But it was also interesting to learn about the culture and the structure of my host family and different traditions and holidays.”
Both Johnson and Lutz were surprised about certain traditions at school. The thing that surprised Lutz the most was how students dressed for school.
“At school, (DSHA students) are a little laid back, especially at an all-girls school,” she said. “In France people very much presented themselves in a different way, in a more professional way. I think we can be professional (at DSHA) too, but maybe a little more silly.”
Johnson was shocked to find out how much leisure time students had. They’d have a couple of classes in the morning, take a recess, attend a few more classes, then break for lunch, and have another recess after a few more classes.
“They took time in their day to step back,” Johnson said. “I feel like that helped the students build better relationships because it wasn’t like you were saying ‘Hi’ to your friend in the hallway as you pass each other on the way to a different class. You knew you’d see them at recess where you can have a 10-minute discussion about what you’ve been thinking about recently. I thought that was really interesting to see how that affected their friendships or relationships.”
AN ONCE-IN-A LIFETIME INTRODUCTION
Despite all of the little cultural lessons, Gleeson sees this experience as an introduction to the world outside of the United States.
“Ideally, I would take them everywhere; I would take them to Africa and Asia,” she said. “But this is a good first step. This opens the door for them. When you go to another country, you see that that things can be different, and that different people can live in different ways, and that’s okay.”
Gleeson, Johnson, and Lutz all agree that this is a unique opportunity. While students can argue they don’t need to participate in the program because they’ll study abroad in France in college or travel to France with family, the French exchange can give them so much more than those alternative experiences.
“What is wonderful about this is the chance to really live the life of a person in that other country, even though it’s just for a short period of time,” Gleeson said. “Going to school, doing whatever after school activities they have, going to grandma’s house for a holiday dinner. It includes all of those things you wouldn’t get in other travel experiences.”
ITINERARY OF SPRING DSHA TRIP TO FRANCE
Part 1 | Limoges
• Spending time with host students and families
• Attending classes at Saint Jean Catholic School
• Walking tour of downtown Limoges
• Vists to Orador sur Glane (commune, once a village destroyed by Nazis in WWII); Lascauz IV (museum); Château de Hautefort (medieval castle)
Part 2 | Paris
• Boat ride on the River Seine
• Visit to the Lourve
• Visit to the Eiffel Tower
• Visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral
• Travel to the Palace of Versailles