Posted: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 3:41 pm | Updated: 6:21 pm, Wed Dec 9, 2015.
A foreign exchange student from Paris, France is spending the year in Burke County and experiencing American culture firsthand.
The Rotary Club of Morganton has had a foreign exchange program for many years and hosts one student each year.
Julie Paul has been taking classes at Draughn High School since August and is participating in various activities.
She became interested in the exchange program almost two years ago and applied to travel to Peru, Brazil and the United States.
“This has been my dream for a long time and I have read a lot about this program (The Rotary Club),” said Paul.
She has been living with two hosts families since her arrival and has been slowly learning the English language.
Paul had a rough time at the beginning of the school year getting accustomed to the change in cultures and languages.
Having a shy personality and not being proficient in the English language made it embarrassing to speak it at first, Paul said.
“People did not speak to me and it was really hard because in France people would speak to me,” she said.
Since then, her English skills have greatly improved, which she credits to practicing and being self-assured in herself.
When it comes to culture shock, Paul has been through it all, whether it be food, school or traditions.
When asked what differences she has seen so far with her time in the Unites [sic - JB] States, she says the atmosphere of high school is very different from France.
The teenagers are really diverse and laid back, she said. She also says the rules about eating food and cellphone use in the classroom are more relaxed here than in France.
“That is why I like the school here,” Paul said.
There are no sports teams at her school in France, but they have one hour of physical education during the day, she said.
She has joined the cross country team and indoor track teams at Draughn and enjoys the competition and friends she has made there. She plans on participating in track and field during the spring semester as well.
“The reason I do cross country is because I feel free,” she said.
In Paris, she would always walk around her neighborhood, buy a baguette, take the subway all by herself, but while in America she does not know how to drive, so she has been limited in when and where she can go.
She also has joined the Interact Club and is serving as secretary.
She is enrolled in classes such as foods, weight lifting and English.
“I cook a lot of quiche (a type of pastry) because that is the one thing I can cook,” Paul said. “I have discovered food like cornbread (in her foods class), so it’s really cool and fun to cook with other people and my teacher is real nice,” she said.
She has been to multiple fast food restaurants with some of her friends and tried sweet tea on her first day in the United States at a Rotary meeting.
“It was the first time I tried it and the last time,” she said.
Fried okra did not play well with her taste buds either.
She has a goal to try all the fast food restaurants while here as an exchange student.
“I have tried the Chic-fil-A biscuit and I love it,” Paul said. “I also love the frozen yogurt and all the candies that you can put on top of it.”
Her family has lived in the south of France for many generations and they have passed down the ownership of a winery since the 1400s, she said.
After she finishes her schooling, Paul wants to work in international relations because she loves culture and hopes to help in spreading peace around the world.
Paul feels like if everyone in the world would spend a year in another culture and learn about that culture, the horrible things that happen today would be significantly smaller, she said.
In the recent attacks in Paris in November, Paul remembers exactly where she was when she was first told about the horrific event.
She was on her way home from a Rotary Club of Morganton meeting with Randall Davis, a Rotary member who helps to organize the exchange program, and he explained to her that something had happened in Paris, but not much information was available yet.
“I went out to hangout with friends later that night and I didn’t think about it,” she said. “When I came back I saw that 130 people had died and 300 people were hurt.”
She was able to contact her family and was relieved when she found out they were all unharmed. She had a friend in Paris whose cousin was a victim of the attacks.
“It was very hard for me to be here and know that my family is kind of sad,” she said. “Everyone was in shock and was sad … it was hard because no one could understand me.”
She said that when things like this happen people always remember where they were at the time of the incident.
“But now it is okay because we must be strong,” she said.
The goal of the exchange program hopes to engage students in learning the history, traditions and culture of America.
“We hope to give these students from other countries the opportunity to see how we live in the United States … it is public diplomacy if you would,” said Davis. “They take it back home with them and the kids see how we live and it’s not just Hollywood because that is what some people think of America … they think cowboy hats, Wal-Mart and we’re all overweight and it’s not that at all.”
Paul says she is very happy here and is proud to be a part of the Rotary Club exchange program.
She will be attending classes at Draughn for the remainder of the school year and will travel back home in July.
Jonelle Bobak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-432-8907.