Known for their fine cuisine, French visitors to America rarely boast about the food on their travels.
But for one French student who spent much of February with Waunakee High School families, a regional form of cheese was among the top finds here.
“I discovered cheese curds, which I really love,” Tom Valoggia said.
France is also known for its fine cheeses – “but not cheese curds,” he said.
He was one of three students from Viry-Chatillon who spent 18 days attending Waunakee High School, immersing themselves in the culture and the language while teaching their hosts a bit about life in France.
It’s the first short-term exchange for Waunakee High School through Language & Friendship, Inc., an organization that arranges the trips. French teacher Alissa Bratz had worked with Language and Friendship, Inc. to bring students to stay with Milton School District families before coming to Waunakee to teach.
The Tribune talked to the host and French students on Feb. 28, just a few days before they were to return to their hometown of about 30,000 people approximately 13 miles from the center of Paris.
Léo Lassalle, Mathis Foisseau and Tom stayed with Vivian McCollough, Charlotte Hamilton and Abbie Grommon, all students in Bratz’s class.
The three said they learned more English during their time in Waunakee, and nearing the end, found understanding the lessons and talking with others in English a little easier. They discovered differences in the teaching, too, saying more homework is assigned at Saint-Louis Saint-Clement. But, the 1-hour, 40-minute class times are longer at Waunakee High School, they said.
Léo, Mathis and Tom shadowed different students each day to get the widest variety of an American high school experience, Bratz said.
Mathis said his experience was similar to television shows he’s watched about American high school life, but he was surprised at how early the school day ends. He’d also never seen a hockey game.
Tom also said people here are extremely nice and students seem to have fun at school.
“In France, where I go to school, I’m not very happy. It’s very boring. But here, it’s always interesting, it’s fun. You can use your phone, you can eat in class,” Léo said.
The three confirmed that Saint-Louis Saint-Clement imposed stricter rules. It also has fewer electives and requires all students to take certain classes such as chemistry and biology. Foreign language offerings are also different: German, English and Spanish are offered at Saint-Louis Saint-Clement, while Chinese, French and Spanish are the choices at Waunakee High School.
The students sat in on cooking, music classes, 3D design, woodworking, veterinary science and weather and climate during their time in Waunakee, they said.
The Waunakee students learned more about the culture there, and while the program’s intent is to foster friendships, encourage international travel, and help French students improve their English language skills, Bratz said if her students’ French skills benefit, that’s a bonus.
Abbie said learned different expressions from hearing how people from France speak the language.
For Vivian, the exchange was more cultural.
“For me it’s less about speaking but learning more about France. It is an English immersion, so no one in my family speaks French fluently,” Vivian said.
As their stay was due to end, the French students looked forward to getting in more activities during in the United States.
But, all of the translation, along with activities such as hiking, shopping and attending sporting events wore Léo out a bit.
Alissa Bratz could empathize.
“It’s overwhelming just the amount of processing that needs to happen for language, so on top of, especially in the first few days, jet lag, cultural processing – it’s a lot,” she said.
“It’s not a problem to relax for a few days,” Léo said.