French students 'graduate' from historic exchange program

FAIRFIELD — When “The Star Spangled Banner” played during their graduation ceremony at Warde High School cafeteria, the 20 French students from Nimes read the lyrics from a sheet of paper.

When it was turn for “La Marseillaise”, the French national anthem, the students raised their heads, smiling as they sang.

In an exchange program that has connected Fairfield Warde High School and the Lycee Albert Camus in Nimes for nearly 40 years, American and French students venture from across their side of the Atlantic to experience each other’s culture — and maybe get a taste of cheeseburgers or crepes.

Emma Bojan celebrated her 18th birthday last Wednesday in what was her first time in the U.S.

“On a pu voir la plupart des idées, nous sommes dans un étape spéciale,” Bojan said. “We have been able to see and experience so many things, we are in a very special phase (of our lives.)”

Rabia Mairech, a French teacher at Warde, has overseen the program for the last 12 years.

“It’s great to see the happiness and the way they make friendships, that’s what this program is all about,” Mairech said after the graduation ceremony as the French students sang to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the podium.

The 20 French students, in black robes and graduation attire, were presented with certificates from the exchange program. The French flag, or the tricolour, hung from the podium.

Fabienne Goizin and Celine Casili, the English and history teachers from Nimes, respectively, celebrated what they deemed to be another successful trip.

“I think this trip was a big success,” Goizin. “You have been able to exchange and interact with others through this program… I hope we will be able to maintain this exchange and that Americans will come in more numbers next year.”

Teachers and students also thanked Fairfield families for opening up the doors to their homes.

“Thanks to you they have experienced a very nice stay,” Goizin, who has participated in the exchange program for over 10 years, added.

Warde students flew to France back in mid-April in a trip that took them to Marseille, Montpellier, Nimes and Paris — and were one of the last people to see Notre Dame Cathedral the day before it burned.

The Albert Camus students arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport April 30 and stayed with host families in town until May 11. Throughout their stay, the students went on various day trips to New York City, Yale University and Fairfield offices and historic buildings.

“This was a great experience,” Achint Gupta, whose family hosted two French students, said. “I think my French has become much better and they were very nice about helping me and correcting some of the things I said.”