Whether staying with host families, touring museums and landmarks, or immersing themselves in the local language and traditions, students on Hewitt’s travel abroad programs are given ample opportunity to utilize their classroom learning as they navigate customs and cultures across the globe. Since 2017, our students have traveled throughout Costa Rica, Canada, Spain, England, and France, where a special school partnership has recently developed between Hewitt and école de la Légion d’Honneur, a girls’ boarding school for the daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters of recipients of la Légion d’Honneur, the highest French order for military and civil merits.
While traveling through France in March 2018, Hewitt upper school students spent a day touring Légion d’Honneur’s historic Saint-Denis campus with a group of the school’s students. These young women quickly developed a rapport, finding commonalities in their experiences as students at girls’ schools, their favorite music, and their academic interests. Excited to nurture an ongoing relationship, Hewitt’s World Languages Department Chair Claire Arnod and Catherine Baudry, an English teacher at Légion d’Honneur, began planning future opportunities for their students to connect.
Less than a year later an exchange program between the two schools was born, and in October 2018 Hewitt welcomed Légion d’Honneur students and faculty to New York City for their inaugural visit. During their weeklong trip, our French visitors explored some of our city’s most famous landmarks and neighborhoods and joined several of Hewitt’s upper school classes, where they quickly became active participants. During a meeting of the course Global Political Philosophy, French and American students engaged in lively discussions about democracy, compared their countries’ respective voting systems, and found common ground over their study of French philosophers. Witnessing these teenagers quickly become engrossed in sophisticated discussions about democracy was a compelling reminder of the power of discourse to build bridges and make connections.
After a very successful experience as hosts, Hewitt students were eager to visit France and reconnect with their new friends. In March 2019, 27 juniors and seniors traveled to Saint-Denis, where they fully immersed themselves in life as French boarding school students. During their time on Légion d'Honneur’s beautiful campus, Hewitt students slept in dorms, ate meals in the dining hall, and utilized their language skills to participate in philosophy, mathematics, art, and physical education courses en français. One Hewitt senior noted similarities in classroom arrangements and student-teacher relationships, as well as differences in grading systems and technology, which “played a very minor role in academic activities, with very few lesson plans requiring a computer.” Reflecting on the unique experience of engaging with a different culture’s norms and traditions, this student was struck by “the ways in which our individual schools and national education systems vary.”
Hewitt students also enjoyed several day trips to Paris to indulge in authentic French cuisine, explore the city’s historic architecture, and visit world-class museums. A highlight of their time in Paris was a trip to the National Museum of Immigration History, where they participated in a workshop about immigrant populations in francophone countries. French teacher and trip chaperone Patrick Kochyan noted that, “Because our students had already studied the music, literature, geography, and food of Haiti, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, they approached the workshop and exhibits at Musée de l'Histoire de l'Immigration with strong foundational knowledge.” Armed with a deep understanding of the contributions immigrants from francophone countries have made to France, Hewitt students were able to engage French museum educators in rich discussions about immigration policies and the immigrant experience.
Hewitt’s relationship with the école de la Légion d’Honneur will continue to grow during the 2019-2020 school year, as our upper school French students partner with the young women in terminale, the final year of high school at Légion d’Honneur. Over the course of the year, these students will come together in New York City and Saint-Denis to share their classrooms, homes, cities, and perspectives with one another.