Each fall, French, Spanish and now Latin students have the opportunity to participate in a fall week-long exchange program with Catholic sister schools overseas, alternating travel and hosting each year. Students are paired up with their peers, where they enjoy going to class, sightseeing and spending leisure time with their families and friends. This tradition began with a relationship with Lycée Privé Jean XXIII in Reims, France back in 2006, and an annual exchange with this Catholic school continues today.
Since then, the program has expanded to include a Spanish student exchange with Colegio SIL (San Ignacio de Loyola) in Barcelona, Spain, and in 2020, Latin students will participate as well.
"As a language teacher, my main purpose is to ensure that my students are global citizens who recognize that every culture and language has intrinsic value and offers a beautiful and different perspective on the world." - Mrs. Kirschbaum
On October 10, 2019, 16 students and four faculty members set out from Dulles Airport on a transatlantic overnight flight to Paris. From there it was just over an hour and a half drive to get to their destination: Reims, France, where they received a warm welcome from their hosts at Lycée Privé Jean XXIII, a Catholic school with more than 600 students.
Over the weekend, students spent time with their host families. Some went to Paris, some to Belgium, and some to social gatherings with neighbors and friends. Faculty members were invited to a dinner party with their counterparts from the school, along with representatives from the Arlington-Reims Sister City Committee.
During the week, students spent time in the classroom, and toured in the afternoons. They visited the mayor's office in the Town Hall in Reims, toured the new Pompidou modern art center, and ventured out to the neighboring town of Metz. The group learned much about the history of the area, which included former chalk mines of the Romans, now used as storage cellars from this well known wine region. They made time to attend Mass at the Basilica in Reims, as well as visit Saint-Sulpice in Paris, Saint Etienne cathedral in Metz, and St. Jacques in the center of Reims.
The week was over too quickly for both the students and their hosts, who promised to stay connected the way teenagers all do now.
From our students
"Reims is a beautiful city in the fall. I was paired with a student who rows like I do, and joined her on a great fall bike ride along the canal." - Lynn L. '21
“I was amazed at how quickly I was able to understand normal French conversations. I am already looking forward to hosting my new French friend next year here in Virginia!" - A.J. H. '21
"I learned so much about the language and culture...and the food. The food was amazing! - Emma C. '21
From our teachers
"It is an utter joy to watch students who have cultivated a love of Francophone cultures and the French language open their hearts and minds to immersing themselves in all aspects of daily French lives." - Ms. Webb, French teacher
"This exchange is an incredibly effective way for my students to experience another culture, not just by visiting and taking it in, but by living it side by side with a peer. It is an unparalleled experience that broadens their horizons and makes for life-long friends." - Mrs. Kirchbaum, French teacher
Fourteen O'Connell Spanish students and two teachers traveled together with the French student from Virginia to Paris, France, where the two groups parted. The Spanish group caught a connecting flight to Barcelona, where their week-long adventure unfolded. For the sixth year in a row, O'Connell students were paired up with their peers from Colegio SIL (San Ignacio de Loyola).
During the course of the week, the group toured the city, visiting the 800-year-old Santa Maria del Mar church, as well as markets, the beach and the Olympic Village. They attended biology, Spanish and Latin classes at SIL and were able to sit in on a journalism class and take a tour with students at Abat Oliba University.
From our students
“My week in Spain was one of the best weeks of my life. I made a lifelong friend and learned more Spanish than I thought I was capable of. After the first day, I began to think in Spanish!” - Natalie A. '20
"This was an unforgettable experience that allowed me to learn about Spanish culture, see things I have never seen before, and form life-long friendships." - Ashley S. '20
"My Spanish family immediately took me into their wonderful home, where they provided delicious food and lots of laughter." - Cecilia J. '20
From our teachers
"I once read that not all classrooms have four walls. Our exchange program truly exemplifies this quote. Our students were excited about being able to use what they had been learning in the classroom to communicate with their Spanish families and others in and around Barcelona. This was priceless!" - Mrs. Rubio, Spanish teacher
The exchange program continues to expand! Latin students will be given the opportunity to participate in the exchange with the Jean XXIII in France. They will visit and learn about the ancient Roman city of Durocortorum (modern day Reims) and the early Catholic church through the archaeological evidence and inscriptions left by the Romans.