Feb. 13, 2020 -- Even without any math or science courses, Maddie Norton still had a rigorous schedule during her fall semester. She only took literature, writing, history, and philosophy courses but they were all taught in French.
The Heights High junior spent her fall semester as a foreign exchange student in Hazebrouch, France, in the Nord-pas-de-Calais region, about fifteen minutes from the Belgian border. She lived with a host family and went to school there, experiencing life as a French teen.
For over 60 years, Heights High has welcomed students from the international exchange program, American Field Service, which currently has ten students at Heights from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Very few Heights High students opt to study overseas for longer than a summer, however, Maddie wanted to do something exciting and knew that spending a whole semester abroad would be the best way to improve her French skills.
While an underclassman at Heights High, Norton studied the French language for two years and attended class trips to France and Quebec. Once she managed to secure the grants and funds necessary for the exchange program, Maddie travelled to New York for an orientation with the 50 other students from across the U.S. headed to France. Once she arrived to France, there were only two other Americans students in her region that were just one train ride away.
After a challenging beginning, during which Maddie felt her brain was exhausted and took a lot of naps, she finally felt like she could read, speak, and think in French. “Her French is amazing” said Heights High AP French 4 teacher, Melha Woods, who appreciates the opportunity to fully converse with a student in her native language. Maddie loved the experience and sometimes wishes she had stayed the entire year.
Now back at Heights High, Norton has plans to take Advanced Placement exams in French, Government, and Language & Composition this spring. With tons of catching up to do, she’s been plowing through the first semester readings for AP Gov, and feels plenty confident about her chances on the French exam.
While she missed her life back at Heights, she says “I can make up my classes and spend more time with my friends here. But now I have all these new friends and I gained more than I missed. It was definitely worth it.” So worth it that she’s now looking at colleges in France.