A global outlook
MHS student Nick Okon writes about his study abroad experience in France
By Nick Okon
Marshfield High School Senior
Each year the community of Marshfield awards one Marshfield High School student a generous scholarship toward the student’s participation in a language or cultural study abroad program.
The program is coordinated by the American Field Service (AFS), a nonprofit organization that was founded by World War II ambulance drivers who believed that enabling students from different countries to learn about each other could help promote world peace. Over the years AFS has grown into an organization that directs the travels of 12,000 participants each year with cultural programs in over 50 countries.
Last year I was awarded the privilege of receiving the AFS scholarship as a junior at Marshfield High School. After researching the different cultural options, and because I had taken French classes and wanted to better myself in this, I decided on a French culture/language program. This was a month-long program at the “Centre Méditerranéen d’Etudes Françaises,” a sports, language, and cultural camp in the city of Cap-d’Ail on the southern coast of France.
During the month of July, I stayed in a dorm-style housing unit in the camp — a walled compound — with approximately 150 other students from many different countries, including about 25 other teens from across the USA.
I can say that my time at this language-intensive program was probably the most amazing learning experience I have ever had. As this particular program was language-focused, everyone had four hours of French language instruction on weekday mornings. We were taught by native speakers who focused on improving our practical conversational abilities as well as helping us increase our general cultural knowledge of the country. We learned things in the mornings that we could immediately practice speaking during cultural explorations later in the day and on weekends.
Many different aspects of the culture were experienced in the afternoons, such as traveling to different cities — Nice and Monaco for example — as well as visiting museums to learn about French art and history. We also learned about geography and sports through many recreational activity choices such as canyoning, sailing, mountain climbing, and of course swimming and other water activities as it was a fairly short walk to the nearest beach.
In the evenings back at the center, there were activities geared toward getting everyone interacting with each other through different games, sports, friendly competitions, arts, acting, and dancing. Through conversations with students from different countries, I learned a lot about other cultures and became friends with teenagers from Russia, Spain, England, Ireland, Turkey, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.
This intercultural knowledge provided a greater understanding of the global community. Every person and every country has challenges, some of which are different than ours but often are the same as in America — how to educate citizens and keep them healthy, for example. It broadens your perspective as you realize there are a variety of solutions being used to deal with some of the same concerns. I found that there are people from all different cultures who are thoughtful, funny, creative, and helpful and who are worth getting to know because as fellow human beings, we all have something positive to contribute to the global community.
I would like to thank everyone in the Marshfield community who so generously donated to the Marshfield AFS chapter that made this once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience possible. I feel that the positive memories and lessons I gained from it will be with me for the rest of my life.