Visiting French students get spicy Acadiana experience

If you’ve noticed an extra je ne sais quoi around Acadiana this past week, it may have been emanating from the French exchange students visiting the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau.

Madame Hélène Barbé, chair of the school’s foreign language department and exchange coordinator, said the main focus of the program is to help students learn a language outside of the typical classroom setting.

“The problem with the classroom is that you learn a certain type of language,” she said, “but it definitely opens the communication skills when they are with someone of their age in a country of the target language. Language is not just the words and the grammar and the syntax. It goes well beyond that. There’s a cultural component.”

Barbé, who has studied in France, England and Texas, said the 31 French students stayed with host families, whose children will be visiting France over the Easter break. That will give 26 American students the opportunity to practice their French in a natural setting as well.

“I would like to speak English better,” said Lucie Barrion, 15 from Nantes, France, when asked why she participated. “It was a dream to come to U.S.A., and Louisiana is a part of the U.S.A., very interesting.”

The American students were just as eager to visit their counterparts in France.

“I just thought it would be a good learning experience,” said Matt Chiasson, 18, of Lafayette. “(I’ll) get to see what other cultures do differently. I thought it would just be fun.”

Although the exchange was arranged by the school, the students spent little time in the classroom. They did, however, follow their host students around one day to get a feel for the American classroom, Saucier said.

Most of the days involved field trips to sites around Louisiana, including the Tabasco sauce factory in Avery Island, the Conrad Rice Mill in New Iberia, the Myrtles Plantation and a bayou boat tour.

Unfortunately, Barrion said, they didn’t get to see any ghosts or alligators on their tours.

“The food,” replied Barrion when asked what she thought the biggest difference was from France. “Also, the school lockers; we have little lockers.”

Martineau agreed that “things are spicy here.”

They got a taste of that spice Friday at a crawfish boil arranged by Barbé.

“In Europe they’ve never seen a crawfish boil,” Barbé said. “Crawfish is extremely expensive. You get maybe two or three in a plate and that’s it. That’s all you can get. Seeing 2 pounds of crawfish is going to be insane for them. It’s going to be a shock for the French kids, but I’m hoping to create that cultural shock also when we go to France.”

The students visited Acadiana for eight of the 10 days they were here and will spend the last two touring New Orleans with help from the Academy of the Sacred Heart on St. Charles Avenue.