Making a French connection

STUDENTS have been forging new friendships in a French connection.

A total of 27 students from College Joffre in Montpellier visited Morpeth last month to stay with pupils from King Edward VI School (KEVI).

And last week the Morpeth youngsters enjoyed a trip to the Med for the return leg of the exchange.

It is the second year that the two schools have taken part in the visits to develop students’ language skills and broaden their experiences, with cultural trips around the areas included in the programme.

KEVI organiser Olivia Robert said: “It is the second year we have done an exchange with a school in Montpellier. They come here first and stay with English families and then our students go across to France. They are mainly Year 9 students from our group and Year 10 French students, but some of the students who have already taken part want to do it again, which is really positive.

“It is very brave of the students to do it. They are prepared to put themselves out there and be seen. They have to work around ways of communicating and the skills they have to use are transferrable to life in general.”

The wet weather experienced by the French pupils during their visit to Morpeth did not dampen their spirits and they thoroughly enjoyed outings to Edinburgh, Alnwick, Beamish and Newcastle.

Many were familiar with Alnwick Castle as the setting for some of the Harry Potter films and were keen to see it close up, but for most the highlight of their trip was visiting the dungeons at Edinburgh Castle.

Teachers tried to match visitors with hosts with similar interests, such as pairing horse enthusiast Maylis with Charlotte Jackson, whose family have a livery stables.

But as there were more French students than English ones taking part in the scheme, two members of the group were invited to stay with KEVI Deputy Headteacher Debra Reeman. To compensate for them not being able to live with pupils, Headteacher Simon Taylor arranged for the boys to go to the Sunderland football match against Manchester United.

French student Chems particularly enjoyed visiting Newcastle.

He said: “We went to Newcastle, which was really great, and we saw so many things. It is a big city and I thought it was very beautiful. We also visited the football stadium, which was good.”

The pupils also spent time in school and noticed a number of differences between the French and English education systems, most notably the length of the school day as in France it runs from 8am to 6pm.

Junior said: “There is a ceremony for students in England where awards are given for progress in school and we don’t have that in France. It is different, but I think I would quite like it.”

College Joffre teacher Margaret Robert said: “The exchange has been extremely positive.

“The students thought Newcastle was very beautiful with the river running through it and they were very impressed by the bridges on the Tyne.

“They feel they have been very well treated by the English families so we need to say a big thank you to them because they have done really well and been very supportive.

“Exchanges are really important because they are so much more than just trips.

“They really encourage linguistic skills – the students keep asking ‘how do you say this?’ and ‘how do you say that?’ because they have somebody they want to communicate with and they are much more committed to learning languages.

“They also make some really good friends and last year we had whole families from Morpeth who were invited to stay with some of the families in France.”

She added: “This is really a life-changing experience where the kids are seeing a totally new culture. It is not just a trip where they stay in a hotel and visit the local sights, they are seeing the local way of life.”

During the KEVI pupils’ trip to France they were expected to visit places of interest, such as a famous grotto and the beach, and learn about the local Occitan dialect.