O'Neal School Exchange Program Yields Benefits
BY ALESSANDRA TOZZI
Special to The Pilot
As one of many foreign exchange students present at The O'Neal School, Mathilde Catania came to America to develop better English skills and learn more about our culture.
Having only known three people at the start of her journey, her uncle Richard Catania, head of the Upper School, her aunt Andrea -Catania, and her cousin Rick, a freshman at O'Neal, Mathilde embarked on many adventures making lasting relationships and memories.
Alessandra Tozzi (AT): What town or region are you from in France?
Mathilde Catania (MC): I am from Nice.
AT: How long was your stay at O'Neal?
MC: I was here for 2 months.
AT: Who was your host family?
MC: The Rosenbergers, Debbie, Bruce, Austin and Devon. They were so helpful with everything. I'm -thankful for everything they did for me.
AT: How is school different here than in France?
MC: It is very different. Around my school building in France there are bars, so we rarely get a chance to go outside.
AT: Explain the contact there has been between your class in France and your class here.
MC: We have been writing letters and sending care packages.
AT: What were the highlights of your stay?
MC: Staying with Devon (Mathilde's host sister). She was the best. We had so much fun together.
AT: What were your three favorite experiences from your time here?
MC: I loved going indoor sky diving, going to school, and trying grapes with peanut butter.
AT: What are you going to miss?
MC: Oh gosh, you're going to make me cry. I will miss Devon, my new friends, school, my uncle, aunt, and cousin, cheerleading, and everything.
AT: What are you looking forward to when you return to France?
MC: Family and salad (said with a huge grin).
In an interview with Mathilde's "host sister" Devon Rosenberger, she explained what some of her experiences were like with Mathilde.
AT: Did you learn much about the French culture by having Mathilde around?
Devon Rosenberger (DR): Yes, I learned a lot! She taught us how to make pasta and other food, and we learned about her life in France.
AT: Were you able to talk French with her?
DR: We spoke very little French together. She wasn't allowed to speak French; she had to practice her English.
AT: Have you made a -lasting relationship? Do you plan to keep in touch?
DR: Absolutely. We will definitely keep in touch.
Mathilde's host parents, Debbie and Bruce Rosenberger, feel that more families need to experience such a wonderful opportunity like they have had these past two months.
During an interview, they express their thought on Mathilde and why others should consider taking in a foreign exchange student.
AT: Did you and your -husband learn from this experience? Examples?
Debbie Rosenberger (DR) Bruce Rosenberger (BR): This is our second time hosting and we do this for our children to learn and expand their culture.
AT: Did Mathilde share new customs with your family that you use today?
DR/BR: Actually, she went home learning our customs! For example: In France they don't celebrate Halloween like we do. They carve a pumpkin whereas here we decorated the house, went trick or treating, and dressed up! Mathilde learned a ton about the history of our country during Thanksgiving, something which she would not have learned otherwise.
AT: How has this -experience benefited your family?
DR/BR: Mathilde gave us a new and different perspective on other cultures. We had a great time; she is part of our family now. This has given us a lifelong friendship with a great family! Taking her to the airport was very sad and emotional. It was like sending our own daughter away.
AT: How can taking in a foreign exchange student benefit other families?
DR/BR: Not only is it a great experience overall, but it also is a wonderful learning experience! You need to go into this with an open mind as well. Our first time hosting was with a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old and we are still in contact with them. One really does learn about different cultures and people.
O'Neal Middle School French students continue to keep in touch by Skyping with Mathilde and her classmates in Nice.
As opportunity for more students to travel abroad opens up, many teachers are very supportive of a fully operative foreign exchange student program.
Lyn Cagle, chair of the foreign language department, believes that an exchange student program is very crucial and is an integral part of any language program.
"Foreign language is not an abstract study; it is the study of a living language with real people communicating in that language," says Cagle. "The language truly comes alive when a child of the students' age comes into their class. Opportunities like these help students make connections that expand their knowledge of other cultures around the world."
Before Mathilde's arrival, Rich Tompkins, head of the Middle School, was skeptical of this process. After seeing Mathilde's progress over the last few months, he now thinks that it is important for the school and for students to become involved with other cultures. This experience has connected the middle school with another part of the world and has shown them what other places have to offer.
"This was a very enriching experience for us all," Tompkins says.
Cecilia Morcom, middle school Spanish teacher and cheerleading coach, is also a strong supporter of a foreign exchange student program.
"A strong foreign exchange program brings in different cultures, the desire to travel, and an increase of international education," says Morcom.
She believes that it takes learning beyond the class room and provides students with a culturally enriching experience.
As many may question the thought of opening their homes to a stranger, one must remember how lives can be changed by such an eye opening experience. It provides a look into another culture without leaving the house.
"Having a foreign exchange program makes O'Neal truly unique and is something we hope strengthen for the students here; opening them up to new relationships and improving their cultural awareness," says Bruce Catania.
More like this story