by Dylan Lee
As you may have noticed, our high school campus has been buzzing with the arrival of several international exchange students this semester. With the travel ban easing with restrictions this year, WSP has had several exchange students arrive, mostly from European Waldorf schools. These individuals, many who have had to wait for almost a year because of the pandemic are here to get first-hand experience in a typical American Waldorf high school. Though this is an exciting time, it can also be very nerve wracking and scary. I got the opportunity to “zoom-interview” one of our first exchange students for this year – Nicolas Bricout (grade 10) who arrived from Paris in France. Nicolas arrived mid-August just before the high school retreat.
Dylan: Bonjour, Nicolas! How are doing? Nicolas: Bonjour, I am doing well. I think this is strange that you are interviewing from Paris and me here, in Oakland, California.
Dylan: I agree, it is mind-boggling and at the same time very cool that we are able to be away on an exchange in each other’s country. So, tell me more about your school in France and what grade you were in before coming to the US?Nicolas: The name of my school is Ecole Steiner located in Palasieu, south of Paris. Just 30 mins drive from your current location in Chatou. I was in class 11 but at WSP, I am in class 10 because that is the age group I am supposed to be in; by the way, I have been to the high school you’re currently doing your exchange. Both, Ecole Steiner and Ecole Perceval high schools share some teachers like in PE, language and art.
Dylan: Yes, the students here at Chatou have mentioned as well, when I told them about you coming from Ecole Steiner. I think it’s great that Waldorf can be so global and still share resources and teachers as needed. How long are you staying at WSP for your exchange?
Nicolas: So, I came at the start of the high school retreat and I’m staying until November 11th which makes it around 10 weeks.
Dylan: How did you find WSP and your exchange match?
Nicolas: It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of “unusual thinking” créativité. In my school, going to America is a big dream for many students for the exchange but not many schools here (in America) teach French. So, we are limited to finding a match with mostly Waldorf schools in the east coast of America. One of my classmates sent his letters to many Waldorf high schools across America. WSP admissions office replied that there were twin brothers looking for an exchange. My classmate’s father shared with our parents in the class. My mother and I grabbed it as fast as I could.
Dylan: Can you share who you are doing your exchange with and how is it going for you?
Nicolas: My exchange buddy is Galen Lee from Class 10. Before I arrived in the US, I didn’t get to know a lot about Galen except that I knew we had similar interests. At first he didn’t say much in our zoom-conversations so it was very hard to tell what to expect. But as soon as I arrived at his house, I could tell that this was going to be a fun experience because his father showed me all of the 12 bicycles that they built on their own. I love bicycle riding and ride it everyday wherever I need to go. I did a bike tour to the French Alps this summer on my own with my friends. Galen also does very intense bicycle rides with his father. So, we have a very similar interests for outdoor activities. I have done some rock climbing but Galen does more which has made my rock climbing skills improve a lot. We go climbing at least three days a week. The best part of this particular exchange is that I have much more opportunities to pursue things that I like because it is more available and possible to me. I really like California.
Dylan: Can you please explain what you mean by “more available to me”?
Nicolas: Sure, this is my second exchange because at Ecole Steiner, I take two languages (German and English) so last year I went to Switzerland for 2 months. Even though I had a good experience there and my exchange there was exciting, this exchange to California is much different in so many ways. WSP and my host family are providing me with a much richer experience compared to what I had in Switzerland. European countries have some similarities but in California – it is a mix of different cultures, languages and people which was something I was not expecting. I also have two older siblings who did their exchange in Waldorf schools in Maine and North Carolina. They didn’t experience things like a multicultural home or a school with so many different ethnicities. I have eaten so many different types of food here, I have been introduced to many different types of music from different regions of the world and it seems to be the way of life here where all cultures and heritage come together in a beautiful and accepting way. My playlist is much longer and better now. My friends back in Paris are jealous when I call them on the weekends.
Dylan: What would you say is the biggest difference about the Ecole Steiner in France and WSP?
Nicolas: First, definitely the size of the space. Our campus is much bigger but the class size is almost the same. We have 25 students in my class back home. I think the students here take their schooling more seriously than in France. American students are very polite to their teachers and show respect in a different way than we do at my school back home. I also see that the teachers here care about the way they teach their students. For example, they walk around and ask students to share their opinions or ask questions or check to see their work. We don’t get homework in France but we get tests very often. Here you have more homework but only get tests when it is necessary and depending on the subject. Even though we are going to a Waldorf school, we still need to study to take the IB exam so in 11th year and 12th year we start taking more tests.
Dylan: How would you describe American teenagers to your friends back home when you go back?
Nicolas: I was expecting to see Americans party like in the movies. But not so much at WSP and I find American teenagers (at WSP) have many interesting hobbies that make them unique. Everybody is different but they get along and share everything inside classroom and outside on the field during lunchtime. I have been able to learn new skills like playing the guitar while I am here. I definitely will continue with rock climbing when I go back. I have a new playlist of music that I would not have discovered if I didn’t meet Darioush, Ken and Galen. French teens grow up too fast and do many adult-like things at my age like drinking and smoking which is normal in my culture. But American teens (at WSP) are more playful, fun and care about each other. I see that relationships are more important and valuable for you all here. For us in France, we have those types of relationships more with our family than our friends. Also, I see that you all are more comfortable with foreign people and don’t mind that we don’t speak very good English. In France, we don’t have patience and want everyone to learn and speak French. Our young people are better of course and have patience but the older people have set ways or are rigid.
Dylan: Tell me something you did not expect and were pleasantly surprised about your exchange.
Nicolas: As I mentioned before, I love riding my bicycle. I didn’t realize how beautiful the Bay Area is until I rode my bicycle from Oakland into San Francisco and then across the Golden Gate bridge into Marin County and further. Riding your bicycle through the hills into a city and then by the ocean all on the same ride is very unusual and I will never forget how much I enjoyed the experience and how lucky you all are living in an amazing part of the world. Paris is beautiful but we don’t have so much nature like hills, mountains, and water all next to each other. I also like all the different bridges to cross and one part of the bay is so different from the other. On Saturday mornings, I wake up at 5 am and ride the bicycle up into the Berkeley hills just to watch the sunrise across the bay view.
Dylan: I know what you mean, we do take it for granted. What is your best memory of your exchange so far?
Nicolas: Each week it just gets better so I will have to share what I did this past weekend. I went on a three day backpacking trip to Yosemite with Galen and his father. We drove into Yosemite Valley and hiked up to the top of Yosemite Falls for the first night. Then, we did some climbing and hiked about 8 miles each day and ended at Eagles Peak. The view from across Half Dome was a dream come through. I didn’t mind the cold temperature or the exhaustion during the trip. Can I add another memory to this question?
Dylan: Sure, go ahead.
Nicolas: When I first looked up the address of Galen’s house to school I was concerned that it is an hour drive. But this is another best part of the day for me. Back in Paris, I rode my bicycle to school and here, I sit in the car which I think you all say “commute”. Anyways, during the commute there is so much talking and laughing that we do. I have learned a lot of English and it has made me feel more confident in speaking the language. Also, everyone in the van has a different culture and I am learning so much about each person. I never have this type of experience before. Also, I am watching the “Squid Game” in Korean and get more explanations behind the Asian character experiences. I would not have it this way watching it in French, of course.
Dylan: It sounds like you’re having a good time and accomplishing a lot while you are on your exchange. If there was one thing you could do to improve your WSP experience what would it be?
Nicolas: I wish WSP would have school canteen like we do in Europe. There is cooking classes here but only the students who take the cooking class will be able to eat the food they cooked.
Dylan: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and also being so open to our high school community. I hope your final weeks at our school will continue to be exciting and engaging. This will be your first Halloween, correct?
Nicolas: Oui! I want to see what Halloween is really about. And we are going to a Halloween party which will be very interesting, I think. Thank you for the interview.