A number of Red Deer high school students are currently in France learning about the culture, visiting a local soldier’s grave as well as exploring landmarks and staying with the families of their twin exchange school.
This is the 20th anniversary of student exchanges with the twin school, Ecole Jeanne D’Arc of Mulhouse in France. The exchange program was founded in 1992-1993 by Rob Porkka and Clement Hebert, who were teachers at Lindsay Thurber.
The 46 students and eight staff are currently in France and will return back to Red Deer on April 7th.
“It is a great opportunity for the students to see the culture and learn about the country and history,” said Carl Malenfant, teacher of French immersion at Lindsay Thurber High School and exchange leader.
During their stay they will visit the battlefields of World War One and Two. They will also visit the graves of Red Deer high school students killed during the wars.
This year, the students will visit the gravesite of a Red Deer solider. The visit will be memorialized on a wall of remembrance in Lindsay Thurber High School. This is the 10th visit to a gravesite like this. The grave they will visit is Cpl. Ivan Myrrle Fisher. He died on Aug. 16, 1917 after he crossed the enemy artillery barrage eight times carrying ammunition for his fellow Canadians. He was buried in the communal cemetery in the village of Noeux-Les-Mines.
Emily Pasiuk, 17, a Grade 12 student at Lindsay Thurber, will give a presentation for Fisher at the gravesite by reading his biography. She will also have her photo taken at the grave and her photo will be put onto a plaque that will be hung at Lindsay Thurber.
“His story is actually sad because he lost his mother when he was very young and his family had financial difficulty and that is when he joined the war. It’s an honour to present that because of the fact that he was from around here and he sacrificed his life. It’s really an honour to be associated with that.”
The students will also visit the Flanders Fields museum and will get a chance to meet and visit with the Legouix family who were on the beach during the 1944 Invasion of Normandy (D-Day).
“They were only eight and 12 years old and they open up their home to us and they will tell us their story,” said Malenfant.
From the battlefields, the students will visit Paris where they will explore Notre Dame Cathedral and of course the Eiffel Tower, followed by a weeklong visit with their host families in Mulhouse, France.
The students will also visit Switzerland and Germany before returning home.
Meanwhile, since its inception, nearly 900 students have participated in the exchange.
Students from France were in Canada and visited their exchange partners in Red Deer last May. They spent time living in Canadian families while exploring Canadian school life.
“The students will have many memories from the trip but down the road they really remember their time with the families. This is the highlight,” said Malenfant.
Pasiuk said it was neat to see her exchange partner in Canada immersed in the culture.
“When my partner came here she was thrown into speaking English all day. She was exhausted at the end of the day because she was trying to think in English and she was trying to tell me what she wanted to say in English, but that is what she wanted – she wanted to learn and to get better. I am really excited for the challenge of listening to her family speak French to each other and trying to keep up,” she said. “I’m looking forward to re-connecting with my partner over there. I’m excited to meet her family and see what her life is like.”
Pasiuk added she has been looking forward to the trip for a long time.
“I thought it would be a really great experience, especially culturally. I’ve never been anywhere that is culturally different than here. I think that’s what is really cool – we’ll actually be there, immersed in their culture, instead of just seeing a picture or reading it out of a book. It’ll be a once in a lifetime experience.”