Thingvold builds lasting friendship an ocean away

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Lars Stannard

Senior Brooke Thingvold hosted 16- year-old Marie Chavrier this summer. Chavrier was also the same girl that hosted her in France for three weeks in August of 2013. Brooke and Marie are one example of the many friendships that form between students of different ethnicities. These programs benefit students and adults alike and teach the culture and traditions to both countries involved.

From the minute school ends for the year, students are making plans to maximize their summers. Many people get jobs or participate in training camps for sports, while others catch up on their favorite television show or book series. Some take summer as an opportunity to travel to a new country as part of an exchange program.

In the past year, 1,381 students from  foreign countries were hosted by students who live in Minnesota. Brooke Thingvold (’15), not only traveled to France as part of an exchange program in 2013, but also hosted a French exchange student this past summer. The student Brooke hosted, 16- year-old Marie Chavrier, was the same girl that hosted her in France for three weeks in August of 2013. Brooke and Marie are one example of the many friendships that form between students of different ethnicities. These programs benefit students and adults alike and teach the culture and traditions to both countries involved.

Most students visiting a foreign country go through an exchange program, like Brooke did, to meet and communicate with someone halfway across the world.

“The first year [Marie and I] went through the program. It was 2012 and Marie came with a group to Minnesota. The program got us started but we only used it once,” Thingvold said.

Brooke went on to describe how she and Marie had traveled back and forth to one another and they had both learned about different cultures along the way.

“[The exchange program] opens your eyes to other cultures, and it opens more doors to new opportunities, and it’s a really nice experience.”

— Brooke Thingvold

“It’s extremely different [in France]. The first thing that comes to my mind is outfit choices. They all dressed really nice. You could always tell the tourists apart from the French,” she said.

When students travel in exchange programs, like Brooke and Marie, they stay in the country they are visiting for a summer and in some cases, all year. Surprisingly, most students who attend school in the United States do not receive high school credit for the classes they take. Ellie Hill (’16) commented that having a new friend and teaching her German exchange student, 16-year-old Marlena Sych, American culture was very rewarding because Marlena received no school credit.

“[The exchange program] opens your eyes to other cultures, and it opens more doors to new opportunities, and it’s a really nice experience. To help [Marlena] experience American culture is really cool. She’s not getting academic credit, but it’s cool to see her learn our culture. It’s like having another sister in the house.”

French teacher Jackie Parr works alongside students from Stillwater everyday to help them understand the differences in cultures between Americans and those that come from different countries like Marie and Marlena. Parr claims the most beneficial part of having exchange students is the similarities and differences students see in the countries.

“The diverse perspective on cultures is the most rewarding part. All the interesting aspects [the students] can add to conversation and the classrooms, even just the friendships they made really,” she said.

Although France and the United States are separated by the Atlantic Ocean and are culturally different from each other, teenagers in both countries like to enjoy the summer in similar ways. Brooke describes a night she went to the beach, hung out with friends and listened to music as an event you could expect to see any teenager at.

“My favorite experience in France was in Il de Ré because most of the nights Marie and I would bike with a group of her friends to the beach. Hundreds of people were there, and there was a boombox and we listened to American music actually. The sky was always so clear and beautiful. We’d stay out until three, and it was kind of sad knowing I’d probably never experience this again.”

Many students, including Brooke, said participating in an exchange program created a friendship that would last a lifetime and open doors to new opportunities in the future.

“[Marie and I] can’t text each other, but we snapchat and our families and friends are connected to one another in so many ways now. We agreed that we needed to meet up in ten years if we hadn’t already.”