Courtney Mawet’s reminiscing. Ask her about her recent trip to Spain, and the 9th grader won’t be able to contain her excitement as she remembers her favorite moments.
“We visited the Alhambra in the south of Spain,” Mawet said. “It was really beautiful to see because it’s this huge fortress and castle overlooking the city. It’s really old and we studied it in Spanish class last year. We were just running around and taking pictures.”
Mawet, along with classmates Clair McFadden and Tristan Stock, recently returned stateside from a five week foreign exchange trip to one of Dallas International School’s sister institutions, Lycee Francais Murcia in Murcia, Spain. DIS students have the option in 9th and 10th grade to participate in the school’s foreign exchange program, which began last year. Spain and Italy are popular destinations, but students have few limits on where they can go.
“The point of this program is to show students that the MLF [Mission Laique Francais] is a network,” said Dr. Francois Pave, the head of secondary at DIS and the overseer of the foreign exchange program. “They can find that curriculum anywhere in the world. We have a student who wanted to go to Asia, so we arranged with our sister school in Taiwan for them to visit. We sent one to Lebanon as well.”
Fourteen students participated this year, and many of them came home with a greater appreciation of a culture that they had perhaps studied in class, but never experienced in a personal way.
“My favorite part was getting to know the new people,” McFadden said. “They acted differently. They would eat way later in the day. They weren’t rude. They were nice. They were very welcoming and everything.”
Each student stays with a host family in their country of choice and attends the MLF school closest to their location. Since the curriculum is the same throughout the world, they don’t have any trouble staying engaged in the classroom, despite their new surroundings.
“I think DIS prepared us really well for all of it,” Mawet said. “We already knew what they were covering, even in math class.”
While Stock enjoyed his time at school in Murcia, he was much more interested in the extracurricular activities the city had to offer.
“I went to a concert there,” Stock said. “It was my first concert and I really liked it. I rode a motorcycle for the first time in my life. They even have an American football team at the school in Spain, which was awesome.”
DIS also participates in the other side of the program, accepting students from other countries who wish to study and live in Dallas for a semester. Beatrice Fabbri traveled from her home in Florence, Italy to take advantage of that opportunity.
“I love it here,” Fabbri said. “I went to my first American football game with one of my friends when SMU played TCU. I didn’t really understand everything that was going on on the field, but the atmosphere was really fun. There were lots of people screaming.”
Fabbri also loves the sense of community that she’s experienced at DIS.
“In my school in Florence, it’s only school,” Fabbri said. “We never had enough time to hang out, because we are just focused on academics. I love having a soccer team here and stuff like that. I’ve learned here to have a social life and dedicate more time to myself.”
Each student also found out that living in a different country doesn’t come without challenges.
“It’s kind of weird living with people you’ve never met before,” McFadden said. “There was no English. Also, I really missed pizza rolls and ice cream.”
Fabbri hasn’t had any trouble communicating with her host family and classmates, as she already knew English before coming to Dallas. But she agrees that adjusting to a new country’s food can be rough.
“The food is totally different,” Fabbri said. “It’s delicious, but I’m having trouble eating well. I’m used to eating more fruits and vegetables.”
These globetrotters all had the same piece of advice for other students preparing to take their trip: be brave.
“Don’t just stay in your room and just watch Netflix,” Stock said. “When you’re there you should just go out and have fun, even if you don’t feel comfortable. Just try going out to the city, or wherever, even if it seems scary.”
That, Pave said, is what the foreign exchange program is all about.
“The DIS classes are really small, so students want to discover something else,” he said. “For them, it’s a way to open their mind. They are very happy to see a different way of living.”