By Al Gress
Julia Esteves did her homework before leaving home in
France last August to attend Louisville High School as a Rotary foreign
exchange student. She studied American culture, yet she knew there would
be surprises that she could not prepare for.
One of the
surprises I’ve found is how religious American teen-agers are,” she
said, “more religious than they are in Europe.”
season is celebrated here much differently than in France, Julia
explained. “It is a much bigger deal here, more decorations, and the
holiday music begins so much sooner.”
Halloween is not celebrated in France so this year she carved her first
pumpkin. This was her first Thanksgiving, too. “So much food! She
exclaimed. “Good food, but I ate too much.”
Last fall she
attended her first football game. “We don’t watch football in France,”
although she admitted she isn’t a sports person. “I thought it was
crazy, but it certainly was a good experience for me. It was good seeing
so many people having a good time.”
And the English language, which
she had studied for many years and could read and write fluently, was a
surprise. “I wasn’t ready for slang expressions, some
dialects or slurred endings,” she continued. “I had trouble in the
beginning understanding what people were saying.
She felt better when her classmates practiced their high school French
on her and there were the same communication problems with their French
pronunciation. But at mid-year, Julia, 17, has picked up the
Americanization of English and is a full-fledged teen-ager enjoying her
senior year of high school.
Louisville, Ohio is a long way from
her home in Steinseltz, a village of 600 located in northeastern France
almost on the border with Germany. Her home school is a consolidated
school of several surrounding villages and has about 1,500 students.
Julia is the older of two daughters of Rui and Mireille. She has a
10-year-old sister Elsa. Rui works in home construction and Mireille is
a cosmetologist. Julia has a pet sheep dog and a cat to take care of,
and she plays the guitar in her spare time. She has studied the guitar
for nine years. Other spare time activities include watching old movies.
“I like the old 40s and 50s movies,” she said.
As most American
youth, Julia treasurers her iPod and listens to both French and America
rock music. “French music is different,” she said. “But most of us
listen to classic America rock. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been
introduced to new music that I enjoy and is now downloaded on my iPod.”
Julia looks forward each week to a pre-arranged trans-Atlantic
video conversation with her parents via Skype.
So how did she come to be a foreign exchange student?
“A Rotary club person comes to our school every year and talks about the
program,” she explained. “I first heard about the program two years ago,
but my parents were not encouraging me to apply. Then I heard it again
last year, and I begged to be allowed to apply.”
“There is an
interview process and 10 minutes before my interview my father said ‘No!
You can’t go!” she said, yet knowing full well his loving concern was
for her safety and well-being. “Well, I did get the interview and here I
Strasbourg is the closest city with an airport and from
there she flew to Paris, then across the Atlantic on a 12-hour flight to
Atlanta, then on to Akron/Canton where she was met by her first host
family Don and Kris Marshall.
“I was to wear my Rotary jacket so
they could find me,” she said.
At the end of the semester, she
moved to the Wayne and Cari Huthmacher family and their 16-year-old
“There is always an adjustment in moving from
home to another home,” she said.
Her LHS courses include English,
Algebra, German, American History, Web Design and Psychology. Julia has
been asked to play the guitar in the upcoming class play and is looking
forward to that.
Back home, her school day is from 8 in the morning to 5:20 in
the afternoon. The classes are either one or two hours long. There are
no sports, no marching band, no dances or clubs for students. “School is
just school,” she said. “The rest of life goes on outside of school.”
Class tests require written answers and there are no true-false or
When Julia returns she will have to take her senior year over again as
class credits do not transfer internationally. After graduation, she
plans to attend a college, but is not sure of a field of study yet. “I
like psychology, I like music, I like art . . . maybe archeology,” she
said. “I’ll just see where things go.”
There are no college
choices yet, but Julia said she probably would go to school in
Strasburg, maybe Paris. Metropolitan Strasbourg has a population of
638,000 and the university there is the largest in France. “But you
never know,” she said, a twinkle in her eyes, “Maybe I’ll come to
America to study.”
leaves for home this summer in mid-July, she hopes to leave behind a
greater understanding of the French people and culture. “I am a proud
ambassador for my country and I want Americans to know that are so many
similarities between our countries. I have come to love America and I
know if students here came to France, they would learn to love it, too.”
She will pack her bags with many fond memories and a host of good
friendships. “It’s just been awesome!
“I want to thank the Rotary
Clubs who sponsored me,” she continued. “I wish more students could have
the same opportunities as I have had.”