Bridging the language divide


photo courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons license

Sebastian Davies-Sigmund , Writer

Have you ever wanted to hop on an airplane and journey to other lands? Backpack across Europe or Asia, perhaps? Imagine meeting new people, trying new foods, learning about other cultures you didn’t even know existed and expanding your realm of knowledge. For Bastien Gensollen, a 16-year-old foreign exchange student traveling to KHS from France, all of these dreams came true.

“The United States is very cool, and I loved the schools,” Gensollen said. “Everything [in the United States] was just different and better.”

Gensollen grew up in Lisseuse, France, this year he was given the opportunity to travel to Kirkwood through a school program called FRAME (French American Exchange), which organizes exchange trips for students between countries.

“[The trip] was a great experience,” Gensollen said. “I’d like to get a job so I can earn money to come back.”

Gensollen stayed with Elizabeth Button, freshman. According to Button, she was beyond ecstatic to have Gensollen stay with her and her family of five for a week.

“I wanted to give someone the opportunity to better their language skills, and for me to better mine,” Elizabeth said. “It was an awesome experience.”

Button has been learning French since seventh grade at North Kirkwood Middle School. Gensollen started learning English when he was eight, but began speaking fluently when he was 12 years old.

“[I gained] an understanding of similarities and differences between America, and other cultures,” Button said. “The first really big difference was the eating times. They normally eat at eight or nine at night, and we ate at five. That was kind of tricky to work around.”

The stay was not just a new experience for Button and Gensollen, but also for Olivia, Elizabeth’s sister. Olivia enjoyed having Gensollen stay with her family, and said she took a lot out of the experience.

“[We] got to do a lot of things we don’t usually do,” Olivia said. “We found out that in France they go to bed quite early, and they don’t use to-go boxes [when out to eat] which was much different.”

Olivia takes Spanish and said she would love to have a Spanish exchange student stay with her like Gensollen did. Last summer, Olivia went to Peru with her Spanish class and learned about Peruvian culture. Because of this experience, she became more enthusiastic about the idea of having her own exchange student.

“[In Peru] more people walk, kids play outside, and it’s louder because of the music,” Olivia said. “It smells like fresh air, not pollution. I would [love] to get to understand Spanish culture more.”

As for Gensollen, he says he will miss all of the Buttons, along with all the new friends he made at KHS. For Gensollen, this trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity that he does not regret.

“[I enjoyed] spending time with Elizabeth, playing board games, hanging out with [her] friends and going to the mall,” Gensollen said.

Elizabeth not only said she has a new life experience, but a lifetime friend that she will not be forgetting anytime soon. Elizabeth also said she wishes she could go to France as soon as possible.

“I gained an international buddy,”  Elizabeth said. “I am so excited, and I want to go [to France] so badly.”