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AFS promotes positive life exchanging experiences

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Cindy and Gary Nickerson want to change the world. To achieve their goal of promoting peace and understanding between all the cultures of the world, the couple have been hosting foreign exchange students in their home to foster this dream of peace.

This year, the Nickersons are hosting their third exchange student, Camille Bureau of Le Bono, France.

"Our daughter did a summer exchange in 1997 to Russia and she had a great time," Cindy said. "When she got back, we got a call about a foreign exchange student here without a host family. At first, hosting him was supposed to be temporary, but it became permanent."

These exchanges are made possible through the AFS Intercultural Program. The Nickersons' first exchange student, Martin, came from Germany; then Francesca came from Italy.

Host families get to choose the student they host. Biographies are released from AFS in March, and the Nickersons look for specific things in their students.

"We want someone who is involved in sports, has a lot of different interests and does well academically," Cindy said. "If a student plays sports, it's easier to make friends."

"We also wanted someone who could cook," Gary added with a laugh, "and Camille is a great cook."

Bureau arrived in America on Aug. 8 with 30 other exchange students from France, although she was the only one from Brittany. Before school started, she visited Arizona and the Grand Canyon as well as Rhode Island and Maine. A trip to New York City with fellow Italian exchange student Gaia is planned for the future.

A senior at Minnechaug Regional High School, Bureau started running cross country practices two weeks before classes started. "It was kind of scary, but I made friends quickly," she said.

Minnechaug is similar in size to her school in France, but the similarities end there. "The classes here are different," Bureau stated. "You get to choose what you want to study instead of only taking what is required. The school day is shorter, too. In France, I was in class from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with no breaks except for two hours for lunch. We're required to take two foreign languages as well."

This semester, Bureau is taking English literature, physical education, Spanish and journalism. She writes for the Minnechaug Smoke Signal, the high school's newspaper.

There are other differences the French exchange student is still acclimating to. One is the food.

"In France, we stay in and cook more," Bureau explained. "And I think food is healthier in France. Everything here is greasy. There are too many French fries!" she joked. Bureau said that she brings her lunch to school everyday.

The fashion here is different, too. "There are a lot of boutiques in France, so there is a lot of different clothing," Bureau said. "Here, it seems girls all wear the same things, and the girls here pay less attention to fashion. They don't worry about coming to school in jogging pants and a sweatshirt. You'd never see that in France. I don't really pay attention to fashion, though. I'm not a fashion girl."

The distances Americans keep between themselves and other people has been the hardest thing to adjust to, according to Bureau.

"There is a lot of physical touching in France," she said. "We kiss people [on the cheeks] when we meet them. I can't do that here."

Gary and his exchange "daughter" shook hands for the first time Sept. 26.

Bureau claims that she hasn't been homesick since her first week in America. "I called my mom a lot," she admitted. "I was wondering why I did this."

Although she's been in Wilbraham less than two months, Bureau already finds herself thinking in English at times. "When I call my mom I sometimes forget a word in French!" she laughed.

"It's nice to have a young person in the home with lots of energy," Cindy said. She and Gary's children moved out a few years ago.

"It's lots of fun to learn about things you wouldn't learn from a book," Gary said, when asked what the best part about hosting an exchange student was. "It really gives you a more detailed understanding of daily life in another country."

In addition to hosting students to foster understanding between cultures, the Nickersons have also signed a petition that will ask world leaders to expand student exchange programs around the world to promote a new kind of diplomacy. A 100,000 signature goal is in reach, with approximately 60,000 already gathered last month, according to Cindy.

"By understanding where someone is coming from, you can better accept their point of view," Cindy explained.

Despite the Nickersons' commitment to fostering understanding between different cultures, Bureau learned a harsh lesson about the differences between New Yorkers and New Englanders her first gym class: "I was told the Red Sox are great and the Yankees suck."

Perhaps she'll tune into the postseason games to see if this is true.