George McDougall High School student to visit France on exchange
The sophistication of France is calling to one Airdrie student as she plans her trip to the country as part of an exchange program.
Ayla Weemaels, a 16-year-old student at George McDougall High School, will be packing her bags and heading to Poitiers, France, a city about three hours south of Paris, on Jan. 31.
“I’m very excited and can’t even wait,” Weemaels said.
The French as a second language student began preparing for the trip by enrolling in all her “core” classes at the beginning of the school year. This will enable Weemaels to focus more on her experiences at the French school she will attend with her host student.
She said she will bring her English and art homework with her to France but will have to complete shop assignments when she returns to Airdrie.
Weemaels raised funds by collecting bottles and saved money from her job at a clothing store to go on the trip. She put an ad in the paper asking for donations of bottles that she would pick up and sort before taking them to the recycling depot.
“We had tons of people willing to give us bottles. It was really great,” she said, adding she got a lot of help from friends too.
Weemaels will be reuniting with the French exchange student, Fanny Launay, 16, who came to Airdrie and stayed with Weemaels in August. Weemaels will be staying with Launay and her family while in Poitiers and will attend school with Launay.
Weemaels said she and Launay bonded right away.
“She basically became my best friend,” she added.
The girls shared an interest in basketball and Launay would often join in when Weemaels’ team would practise.
Launay’s older sister lives in Paris, which means the girls will travel to The City of Lights at least once during Weemaels’ stay.
“I get to see France not from the tourist point of view,” she said of one the many benefits of staying with the host family.
Though Weemaels said she’s excited to see Launay again, she admitted she is nervous about being so far away from her friends and family.
“With the time difference, (I) can’t talk to them everyday,” she said.
Weemaels said it will be a challenge to get comfortable in the new surroundings because she will be far from the familiarity of home, family and Canadian culture.
The teen said students interested in an exchange program like the one she is participating in, “need to be mature enough to leave their family” for a long period of time.
Three months is a good chunk of time for a teen to be away from home and Weemaels said she expects her time in Europe to be like, “A whole new life.”
Weemaels mother, Veronique Dewilde, calls the trip, “A form of growing up,” for her daughter.
“When you’re a young person, it’s great to be exposed to other cultures,” said Dewilde, adding it’s a chance for her daughter to become a more responsible, independent adult.
Dewilde said time away could be a great opportunity for the teen to do some soul searching, “see what’s out there and what (she) loves.”
Weemaels said her main reason for participating in the exchange program is to better her French language skills.
Dewilde agrees and said, “Being able to speak French well is important,” in large part due to Canada’s bilingual status.
Weemaels said she is “pretty fluent in French” and can have a conversation but says she sometimes has trouble understanding everything when the conversation is spoken too quickly. Her goal is to use the language while socializing and be able to have full-speed conversations.
Weemaels will also try her hand at Italian when she goes with Launay to Italy for a week during her exchange. They will visit Bergamo, Venice and Milan while in Italy. In preparation for the trip, the girls will be taking Italian classes at Launay’s school.
The teen said she is most excited about the gorgeous scenery in Italy. She said she had been to Rome before and “fell in love with it.”
While the other students on the exchange will return to their homes after 11 weeks, Weemaels will spend an additional week in Belgium visiting her dad and other relatives before coming home.
She said exchange programs aren’t for everyone.
“You really have to know what kind of situation you’ll be in and be willing enough to follow someone else’s culture,” she said.