By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – In April a group of Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) students boarded a plane to Lyon, France, to participate in the school's first two-week cultural immersion experience.
On the flight were Caroline Byrne, Aly Church, Veronica Green-Gott, Thea Hickey, Olivia Murphy, Tony Sena-Leo, Nicole Vaughan, Jenna Veillette, Jeffrey Lin, Alyssa Brady, Kaitlynn Kuria, Ellie Howard, Bridget Levandowski, Nicolette SanClemente, Emily Hunt, Brenna Ransden, Kevin Shi, Megan Holmes and Shannon Xu.
Chaperoning the trip were French teacher Lauren Osepchuk,?family and consumer science teacher Sue Halpin and her husband Jim Halpin.
While Osepchuk had always wanted to take a trip to France with her students, it was not until March 2013 when 30 French exchange students from Lycée Saint-Paul in?Saint-Étienne, France, visited ARHS that the plan began to take shape. The students, who stayed with families in Northborough and Southborough, attended classes at ARHS and visited local landmarks such as Boston, Salem and Plymouth Plantation.
After the success of this original exchange, the teachers from?Lycée Saint-Paul and Osepchuk were eager to continue the relationship.
In October of 2013 ARHS hosted another 32 French students and plans were made for ARHS students to visit France in the spring. On April 11, 19 students packed their bags and headed to Logan Airport for what would be the adventure of a lifetime.
While in France, the students took the tram to school each day, visited a chateau and hat factory in Saint Etienne, and the monuments and cathedrals in Lyon – all the while speaking only French.
“Living in France with a French family and being forced to speak only French was a dream come true because I am so passionate about the language and culture,” said Thea Hickey, president of the ARHS French Club. “There were definitely some differences, such as the fact that people mostly walk or take public transportation, lunch is always a bigger meal than dinner, and school didn’t end until 6 p.m. on most days.”
For the students, the immersion program offered an experience that could not be taught in a classroom.
“I really enjoyed the immersion program,” said senior Tony Sena-Leo. “I improved my French and learned so much about the French culture that a textbook would not be able to capture. Just the way they live and the amount of leisure time they have and the way they interact with each other was so interesting to see. It is such an amazing experience to be able to completely surround myself in a foreign culture.”
Although Caroline Byrne has never been an official member of ARHS French Club, she became a part of the exchange program through her AP French class.?While in France, Byrne stayed with the family of Louison, a French student who had stayed at her home in October.
Like Sena-Leo, Byrne found the immersion experience invaluable.
“I absolutely loved my experience in the immersion program. Not only was it really fun, but I learned a ton about the culture and definitely improved my French skills,” Byrne said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Hickey shared Byrne's sentiment.
“When I returned home I felt like I had grown and learned so much,” she said. “I feel more independent now, worldlier and more cultured. My biggest take away from the trip is that the healthiest thing a person can do is to travel. There is a whole world out there to explore, so many languages and cultures to learn about and experience. If you haven’t been to another country yet, do it. It's the best feeling in the world.”