Au Revoir! Exchange students spend month experiencing Chicago


Kaden Moubayed

ALL SMILES: French exchange student Sarah Chaillé Chaillé grins as she chats in class with junior Max Mathias during her month-long stay in Chicago.

Mia Lipson, Assistant Editor

Each school day during fourth period, Miyana Badiane walked into the sleek, airy walls of a classroom in Gordon Parks Arts Hall, the rooms flooded with light. She stepped into the new class, Sew-Called Creations, joining junior Stella Sturgill and becoming engrossed in a sea of stitches and textiles. The class vastly differed from her roster of typical core classes that extended throughout the lengthy school day.

Miyana is one of the French exchange students who joined their host families in Chicago in October and were able to experience a new culture, one that vastly contrasted both their expectations and lives in La Rochelle.

“I found the class really enjoyable and nice,” Miyana said. “I liked the fact that we were mixed with other grades. In France, we stay with one group most of the time, but here, I think it’s really great to be able to interact with all of these people.”

Five French exchange students experienced the life of a U-High student from Oct. 15-Nov. 12 as a part of the Eliade Scholarship Program, immersing themselves in a new lifestyle in Chicago. Following the program’s shutdown in 2020 due to COVID-19, these students were able to experience a different environment, explore cultural diversity and build relationships with students from across the world — elements of the program that had been lost over the past two years.

In late 2019, before stay-at-home orders went into effect across the United States in March 2020, French exchange students attended the first half of the program. Then, merely days before U-High’s two selected students were supposed to leave for France, they had to call off the trip.

 “I was working with the administration and we had so many questions. What should we do? Can we send them? What about the borders? There was so much unknown,” said French teacher Catherine Collet-Jarard, who has run the program for over 20 years. “Now we hope that, you know, history doesn’t repeat itself when our students go to France.” 

In March, with school activities back in full swing, U-High will send three students to La Rochelle — one more than is usually permitted since the program retained the unused funds from the previous canceled trips. Ms. Collet-Jarard was delighted to offer one more position this year, allowing more students to experience the essential cross-cultural connections and lifelong relationships between families the Eliade Scholarship Program provides. The two remaining U-High students will visit France over the summer on a trip that is not funded by the school.

Host student Clara Cui enjoyed the experience of meeting students from a completely different background.

“It was a lot of fun learning the similarities and differences between life in Chicago and life in La Rochelle,” Clara said. “It was also interesting to see how the students viewed Chicago for the first time, as I have lived in Chicago almost all my life so I don’t notice many of the unique characteristics.”

Exchange student Tiana Burgaud spent her free time exploring the city with friends, bemused by the skyscrapers and seemingly ubiquitous Starbucks locations. At Lab, she was captivated by the Gothic architecture of the historic campus, with its ivy-covered exterior and hints of maroon.

In the class she enjoyed the most, French, she conversed with some of the students, inspired by their curiosity and dedication to learn the language she speaks at home.

“I was surprised by the kindness of the students. Many came to talk to us, and I really enjoyed it,” Tiana said. “There was a good atmosphere in my classes that I will miss.”

On Nov. 11, the five exchange students spent their last day at U-High, saying goodbye to their peers, and leaving the classrooms for the final time. With the return of the program, this experience has proven to be invaluable for the host and exchange students, a reminder of the cultural immersion and delight this trip provides.