Quentin Hermel is a long way from home, and his favorite part about Shippenburg is the campus.
He explained this in French, and through SU student Felicia Franklin’s translations, also mentioned it is easy being around people constantly speaking English. He learned more by trying to understand what everyone was saying.
Hermel was part of this year’s St. Jo/Shippensburg exchange, an initiative SU French professor Blandine Mitaut started with professor Géraldine Rénier of Lycée Saint Joseph (or, St. Jo.)
Students in Mitaut’s French classes began correspondence with the St. Jo students through a blog, Facebook and email as a way to develop a real connection with culture and each other.
Mitaut scheduled a few Skype sessions to familiarize the students.
The goal of the trip according to Mitaut was to “connect and communicate with people from the other side of the Atlantic.”
“For me, it is essential for students to be exposed, not just to the French language, but to people who speak it, and there’s no better way for this than for students to connect with students,” Mitaut said.
The 28 students traveled from northern France to New York City for a few days, then came to Shippenburg last Thursday evening until Sunday morning. The group stayed in the Shippen Place Hotel and toured the town, went to French classes and experienced campus events like the Spring Expo and football/softball games.
SU French students impressed St. Jo’s students with their competency of the language and sentence structure, Mitaut said.
Students from St. Jo, a two-year program for post-high school degrees, (like social work, applied computer science, technical engineering or criminal justice,) generally learned English throughout elementary school until high school graduation.
Rénier is a marketing professor at St. Jo and has organized trips to other European countries in the past, but decided to come to the U.S. last year. That is when Mitaut met the group in Philadelphia for a day and established that this year, the students should visit Shippensburg “to see what a small-town in rural America looks like,” Mitaut said.
Hermel said Shippensburg is big.
SU student Nicole Campana, studying the language in French 103, met her personal French correspondent during their stay.
She is in her third French class at SU to fulfill her major’s requirements, something she was not excited about.
“Seriously, it was all worth it now that I’ve had this experience,” Campana said, and she mentioned that she plans to stay in touch with some of the visitors.
The differences in culture brought to Campana’s attention were more than just gestures and traditions; life in America is different for the French as here, they would be permitted to drive, but not legally allowed to drink alcohol.
In France, the legal drinking age is 18, but a driver’s license cannot be obtained until age 18 and after a longer, more difficult process then in the United States, a St. Jo student told Campana.
Mitaut plans to take students to France next year, continuing the connection with St. Jo and alternating trips in the years to come.
Different from a study-abroad program, the trip will be two weeks, and not for college credit.
Mitaut hopes students will grow from this experience by “seeing the culture through the back door… through the eyes of the people who live there, by sharing daily life with them for a week, going to school with them for a week, [and] attending some of the same classes.”
Instead of surrounding themselves with other multi-cultural students in classes and living situations, the SU students traveling to France will be able to make a more personal, deeper connection with their personal correspondents.
Potentially, Mitaut would like students to visit St. Jo for a semester while taking classes in the French structure.
Hermel said his favorite part of the trip was Shippensburg’s campus, and that the town is beautiful. Many of the students said they hope to come back to America and that visiting Shippensburg will definately be on the itinerary.