Students travel across the ocean via webcam

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - If you think talking to someone who doesn't speak your language would be hard, imagine living with a whole family of them. That's what 18 students from France are about to do when they spend two weeks with Jackson County families. Friday, they met their host families for the first time via the internet.

"Jessica will introduce her family," said Gautier High School French instructor Virginia Jolly in french.  "There are four members of her family here."

She was talking to a computer screen. On the screen was an image of a French student named Charlotte, almost 17, who was listening from across the ocean.

Jessica Slay is a second year french student at Gautier High School. She's about to face her most exciting challenge yet- hosting Charlotte as an exchange student. She and her family are using the world wide web to get to know their future house guest by webcam before she arrives February 8th.

"It's the first time I've met her, it was really exciting," said Jessica.  "I've never met her before, seen pictures, so it was cool."

"Actually with the technology today, it's pretty neat to be able to see them before they come," said her father Darrie Slay.

Joshua Phillips is hosting a student for the second time around.

"Alright Rudolph, we'll see you when you get here," he said in a friendly tone to the computer screen.

The language barrier didn't stop him from making an overseas friend.  He's kept up with Rudolph, his french exchange student, and the young man on the other side of the screen, for two years now.

"He's really cool," Phillips said.  "We had a lot in common when he came last time. We both like to play sports and both like the same subjects."

Jolly said that although it's wonderful the students can get along, it's not just about hanging out.

"School exchanges are wonderful because they teach our students that their reality is not the only reality," she said.  "It lets them understand other cultures better and be more tolerant. It opens their eyes to arts and music, things they would never consider."

She thinks that could be one of the most important lessons a student could ever learn.

"If we can all live together and get along, then in the big picture, we'll have world peace, I think," she said.

Eighteen students are headed to South Mississippi from a small town in North France.  The exchange began ten years ago, but didn't continue every year.  Jolly revived it in 2007.  The students will stay from February 8th until February 21st.  Most of them have been taking English classes since they were 12.

While they are here, they will tour Northrop Grumman and the Stennis Space Center, as well as go to school with their American host families.  Jolly said she plans to do lots of activities with the French and American students, like decorating a Mardi Gras float, and hosting a Franco-American dinner.