Francoise Mishinger knows firsthand the value of visiting a foreign country as a student. Mishinger, a French language teacher at Marie Murphy Middle School and native of Belgium, visited Chicago at age 18, attending Chicago Public Schools. She liked it so much she decided to move to Chicago. That was 24 years ago.
So when Mishinger realized there was an opportunity for Marie Murphy seventh and eighth grade students to participate in a foreign exchange program with students from Strasbourg, France, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I believe in full immersion. That is how they learn the language, but it is not just about the language it is also the culture,” Mishinger told DailyNorthShore.
The foreign exchange program is administered through MiCES, a which has been in operation for 37 years, and it is done in conjunction with Marie Murphy school in Wilmette and Washburne Middle School in Winnetka. For two weeks in early April, Marie Murphy families hosted 10 French students, while Washburne families hosted 13 French students. When school is out in June, eight students from Marie Murphy will travel to Strasbourg and to stay with host families.
This is the second year of the program at Marie Murphy, but the program is growing in popularity — last year only three students from Marie Murphy traveled to France.
The French students’ schedule was jammed packed. After arriving in Chicago, the students immediately attended Marie Murphy for the day, shadowing their American hosts at school. Mishinger said the French students spoke to her students about what it is like to go to school in France. The students marveled at some of the differences — French students have a 1 1/2 hour lunch period, compared to 33 minutes for Marie Murphy students. The French students were also thrilled to go on a yellow school bus to school, something they associate with American schools but don’t have in France.
After a day of school, the French students spent the rest of their days sight-seeing. On the North Shore they visited Old Orchard Mall and the Holocaust Museum in Skokie. Other days they took the Metra train and visited various attractions around Chicago including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Water Tower Place. The students even had the opportunity to take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
While the students’ days were packed with tourist activities, in the evenings and on the weekends they experienced American family life with their host families. Alison Casey, a seventh grader at Marie Murphy, hosted a French student and will travel to France in June. Alison’s mother, Leslie Casey, said her daughter is excited about visiting another country and staying with a French family.
While the girls struggled at times to communicate with each other, they seemed to find their way. Alison said she learned new words, but when the girls talked they usually ended up using Google translate to understand each other. They shared their favorite music and biked in nearby Skokie Lagoons. Regarding her upcoming visit, Alison said she is looking forward to seeing what their schools are like and also tasting their food.