Prospect heads to Paris

French exchange students from Prospect spend a week in Paris, France


The group of all of the Prospect exchange students poses in front of The Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris, France. (Photo courtesy of Cate Murawski)

Mina Bandic, Reporter

After a 7-hour flight, senior Natalie Pearson, along with 10 classmates and two Prospect French teachers, Ashley Brown and Jenna Sanstead, arrived at their final destination: Paris, France. Students applied to go on this trip last year in April, and after finding out they were selected received an email regarding their exchange partner’s information. 

But what wasn’t in that email was how much of a cultural shock the trip would be. Senior Emily Estacio shared her surprise. 

“It’s initially very shocking because it’s a new culture, but the exchange is very educational and also very fun because you learn new things,” Estacio said.

French exchanges at Prospect started in 2007, and this year was the first year of the trip since COVID ended. Typically students in French 4 or 5 are selected, but other eligible students are sometimes acceptable. Following their application, they discover who their exchange partner is the summer before the trip. They then communicated with them over social media until their partner arrived in October.

Often students learn a lot about their partners before they ever meet in person. They find similar interests where they can relate to each other. Pearson found something that she and her partner could bond over, music. 

“One night we stayed up because Taylor Swift’s album was coming out, so we listened to that together, and we really got to know each other better,” Pearson said.

Students spent time with their host families during the evening after exploring Pairs and lots would occur. Exchange students had dinner together, talked about their day and had French lessons. Estacio notes that hers would sometimes go on for three hours. 

Oftentimes French people speak quickly, and while it was difficult at first, Prospect students’ understanding of the language improved dramatically by the end of the trip. Additionally, being with partners from different backgrounds helped Prospect students learn a lot more about their new friends’ cultures.

Prospect students had a significant cultural shock while shadowing their partners at school. From kindergarten, French students attend school from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Some days are longer than others, ending at 6:30 p.m., while others end at 2 p.m.

“It’s kind of like college, so each day they have different classes,” Pearson said. “All their classes are two hours long, and you get a five-minute break,”

Half of their classes are in French, half in English, and some students may even attend German classes. Prospect students attended their English classes. Pearson’s partner had English classes in History, Literature, and “Connaissance du Monde,” which means “knowledge of the world.” 

Pearson and Estacio agree that the classes in France were more boring than the ones here. The teachers weren’t personal, students didn’t have any one-on-one connection to them and they lecture a lot. Students also don’t have study halls, and because of how late schools go on in France, they don’t have any extracurriculars offered. 

“A lot of the French students I talk to don’t like school, and it’s just really tiring because you get home after 6 pm,” Pearson said. “By the time you get home, you’re so tired that you aren’t motivated enough to do your work.” 

Despite this draining experience at school, it was still enjoyable to see their partner’s friends, and the trip was even more enjoyable with all the sights they saw.

Places visited included the catacombs, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, Love Wall, Garnier Opera House, Louvre Museum, Seine and Musee d’Orsay. Favorites ranged from person to person, but notable ones were going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, being able to see the famous monuments and the Wall of Love.

“It’s underrated, but it was very nice to see all the languages on the wall saying ‘I love you,’ and it was kind of like the locks on bridges,” Estacio said.

An experience that tired everyone out was going up the Arc de Triomphe because of all the steps needed to climb. There aren’t many elevators in France, so students who had exchange partners that lived in apartments had to be ready to climb all those stairs. 

Prospect students agreed that the stereotype of French people being mean is not valid. They had only pleasant experiences.

“It’s a big city, so there are people that don’t care and just walk past but that’s [also] every city,” Pearson said. “For the most part, everyone was really nice and were really understanding with us not being completely fluent in French.”

Overall, from experiences with the people, the food, and the sights seen, it was a pleasant trip and left a memorable mark on Prospect students. Many agree they want to go back, and some are even going back soon, like Estacio in the summer.

“It was nice being able to bond with our host family and exchange students, see their school, and see what it’s like to live in Paris, not just from a tourist perspective,” Pearson said.