French invade Caldwell County — 12 of them

May. 01, 2014 @ 02:57 PM

Since Sunday, Melchior Belin has seen students wearing flip-flops during school, tasted the spicy sauces at Buffalo Wild Wings and walked for the first time around the massive superstore that is Walmart. It is all part of a nearly two-week-long adventure for the high school student, visiting here from France. 

Belin and 11 other students from Lycée Privé Polyvalent Saint-Paul school in Lens, France, are staying in Caldwell County with host families. On Friday, they will experience Carowinds.

“Here is like the (American) TV series we see in France. This is the same. It’s big,” Belin said.

Belin said the experience has been overwhelming and a culture shock.

“We don’t have many fast food (restaurants) in France,” Belin said. “We have McDonald’s, Subway and KFC. That’s all. We don’t have a Burger King, Taco Bell, you know? We don’t have a Walmart in France. We have a shop, but it’s not big like the Walmart.”

Margot Dillies decided she wanted to be a part of the student-exchange program because she wanted to “discover another culture and meet a lot of people,” she said. She was blown away by how different the French and American school systems are, saying that at Saint-Paul, classes normally do not let out until 5 or 6 p.m. each day.

“In France, it’s healthier than here. We were shocked. In France, every day at lunchtime, we have vegetables. Here, it is difficult to find vegetables,” Dillies said.

Belin added, “It’s a very different school system, and the way of life is very different. For instance, students (here) have a job after school, and in France we don’t have that. If we want to work, we have to wait for the summer holiday.”

Hibriten student Madison Setzer, one of four Hibriten students who traveled to France last year, now is playing host to one of the French students, Juliette Ternisien.

“I enjoyed going to see what it was like,” Setzer said. “A lot of people don’t understand that (in France) you have to pay for things that in America are just handed to us.”

Setzer said that she had to pay to use public restrooms -- one student paid 10 Euros, which Setzer estimated was about $11, to use the bathroom while walking down a Paris street.

Like Dillies, Setzer mentioned the difference in food in France.

“The bread and cheese are totally different,” Setzer said. “I bit into a sandwich one day as we were walking down the street, and I broke a bracket on my braces because it’s so hard. Everything there is fresh. Their food is not as processed as it is here. We would start dinner at 8 and end at 10 every night I was there. You go through, like, phases of the dinner.”

Hibriten student Avery Poling, who is the host for Dillies, said she has enjoyed the experience.

“(My favorite part) is taking them out to see things they don’t have in France and seeing their reaction to free refills,” Poling said. “All the Americans have been talking about the kissing, how they greet each other, and (the French students) think it’s weird to have handshakes.”