A Shirebrook school has described its first-ever French exchange trip as a “life-changing experience” for everyone involved – and says it wants to get even more students involved next year.
Eleven students from Shirebrook Academy have just returned from a trip to Toulon in the South of France, where they spent a week staying with local families, improving their French and soaking up the Mediterranean culture.
Their trip, which took place last month, followed a reciprocal visit to Shirebrook by students from the private Bon Accueil school, who also stayed with local families and visited nearby attractions including Alton Towers, Chatsworth House and Bolsover Castle.
In Toulon, the Shirebrook students attended two mornings-worth of school lessons but also enjoyed kayaking, looking round a French Navy ship and exploring a nearby island.
Overseas exchange trips have become less popular over the years and now only 30 per cent of British state schools organise them.
Staff at Shirebrook Academy – which is believed to never have hosted exchange trips before – faced a significant amount of work setting up the programme but James Edwards, head of modern foreign languages at the school, said that the experience has been worth it.
Not only had the Shirebrook students been able to practice their French, the trip also exposed them to a different way of life, introduced them to new cuisine and helped them to make friends for life.
He said: “The trip to Toulon was absolutely incredible and seeing the way that it has helped students from both schools to grow as people has been magical. They have learned so much about different cultures and been taken out of their comfort zone, and the whole experience has been life-changing.
“Our students learned a lot from their time in Toulon, from the way the school operates to taking part in activities that they have never tried before, such as the sea-kayaking and just walking round a Mediterranean port, which is understandably very different to Shirebrook.
“The advice I received when I was toying with the idea of setting up an exchange programme suggested that I would regret it, but both trips have been amazing and the tears in everyone’s eyes when it was time to say goodbye were evidence enough of the impact that it has had on students from both schools.”
One of the Shirebrook students who took part is Year Nine student Ellie Cheeseman, 14, who said that the experience has inspired her to travel the world and meet new people.
She said: “I would love to take part in another trip like this because I enjoyed staying with another family. It was the best experience of my life and it has made me feel more confident.”
Fellow student Joshua Browne, 14, added: “I couldn’t wait to experience French culture with my exchange partner, Clovis, and it was eye-opening to see how different French schools are, such as their non-uniform policy.
“I have learned that exploring a different culture from the inside using another language is the best way to ensure world peace and understanding.”