French and Spanish students at Bishop O’Connell have the opportunity to participate in a weeklong exchange program with Catholic sister schools overseas, alternating travel and hosting each year. Students are paired up with their peers to attend class, go sightseeing and spend leisure time with their families and friends. This tradition began with a relationship with St. Jean XXIII in Reims, France, in 2006, and has expanded to include a Spanish student exchange with Colegio SIL (San Ignacio de Loyola) in Barcelona, Spain.
O’Connell students waited excitedly at Dulles International Airport Oct. 6 to greet the group of 21 French students, 14 Spanish students and their teachers. Before long, they were off and running — exploring the local area, building friendships, improving their language skills, finding common ground and embracing their differences. Host families treated the visitors to typical weekend activities, which for many included attending a Saturday afternoon O’Connell football game, followed by the homecoming dance. As a group, the students traveled to Colonial Williamsburg on the Oct. 9 holiday, before experiencing the rest of the school week, filled with classes, lunch periods and homework, as well as a field trip to downtown Washington.
“I wanted to participate in the exchange program to learn more about French culture from a teenage perspective,” said junior Lauren Gatti. “I’m so glad to have done this because I not only became close friends with my exchange student, but I was also able to connect and create friendships with a lot of the other exchange students. I’m so excited to visit Reims next fall.”
“Having an exchange student from Barcelona not only opened my home, but more importantly, it opened my heart to a new world of learning and lasting bonds,” said O’Connell junior Alejandro Alvano.
“There was a veritable and magical friendship among this group of students, and their joy was palpable,” said O’Connell French teacher Whitney Webb. “We were thrilled to witness these emerging friendships, and we are so very excited to take these students to visit their counterparts overseas next year.”
“We are grateful to O’Connell families, students, faculty, and administrators for their outstanding efforts to promote an exchange of international cultures and friendships and for making this such a successful program,” said O’Connell Spanish teacher Faryde Yanine.