Martinique students experience MHS

Tress Dorfler, Assistant News & Opinion Editor

French-speaking high school students from Martinique, an island in the Southeast Caribbean, shadowed MHS students in French 2 on Jan. 23.

Martha Ambrey, French teacher, organized the trip two years ago when she visited the island of Martinique during a vacation with her husband. While she was there, she arranged to meet with teachers and decided to start having their students be pen pals with her students.

The hopeful outcome was that students involved would see the need for communicating in real life and to “be more curious rather than judging people on their differences,” Ambrey said.

Not only was this day important for MHS students as they learned how to speak French better, but there were other benefits to interacting face-to-face with native French speakers as well.

“The more people that you meet that are culturally different, the more you realize that there isn’t just one way to be,” Ambrey said.

As a student in French 2, I was given the opportunity to become friends with 16-year-old Anaelle Alcibiade when Ambrey first told the class about the pen pal opportunity. I picked her name off a list everyone was given in our class and started to compose my letter to her. It was hard trying to figure out what little I could tell her in only a one-page message, but this just made me more excited for the day when they’d finally come.

Alcibiade mentioned that she had no worries or fears for the day and was excited to meet me, too.

When the students from Martinique arrived during second period on Jan. 23, we greeted them and then talked through the events of the day. Straight from there, Alcibiade and I traveled to my third period “News in the 21st Century.”

As a student journalist, I attempted to interview her, but it was a bit rough because of my basic French language skills. We attempted to talk about the differences between our schools, countries and cultures, though.

For example, I learned it takes two hours to drive from the south- to the north-end of the island. Because everyone lives within a couple of hours of each other, it makes it easier for people to become friends on the island.  Because their geography is physically close, their culture is more “touchy” and easy-going toward strangers. They appear to give hugs more freely than Americans and often will make gestures like placing a hand on one’s shoulder while they laugh. This was a surprise for some of the MHS students, who are not used to as much physical interaction between strangers.

After third, I headed toward lunch, but Alcibiade followed a different MHS student to his or her fourth period class, and then all the Martinique students had lunch during fifth. I got the chance to see her again for sixth period, my Honors Algebra 2/Trigonometry class. Here she got confused about the grading scale and how it worked. I struggled to explain what standards-based grading was to her and how it’s not used in every class.

Also, during math, Alcibiade acted surprised when I took out my phone to open a calculator. She explained that her school is very strict, and there is absolutely no tolerance toward phone use.

The next period led us to Honors Chemistry where I tried to explain to her that there were two guinea pigs she could hold in the classroom, but in this conversation, I ended up thinking that she ate guinea pigs back home. After some clarification, though, it turns out while some cultures do eat guinea pigs, they don’t in Martinique.

The remainder of chemistry was spent trying to complete a lab where procedures included lighting something on fire. Alcibiade picked up the flint spark starter and, not knowing what it was, proceeded to press together the two metal handles repeatedly and faster. Soon, enough of a spark was ignited, which scared everyone at the table.

After we barely made it to the eighth and final period of the day, I dropped Alcibiade off at the Cube in the C-Wing to regroup with her friends. When there were about 15 minutes left in the day, I made my way back to the Cube and watched some of the Martinique students perform a song for us in their traditional Creole language.

I’m very grateful for this experience and am glad to have been introduced to a culture different from the one I live in every day. Meeting Alcibiade has inspired me to want to know more about the world and the people who live in it.