Upper School Students Explore France and Kyrgyzstan During Language Immersion Trips

Upper School Students Explore France and Kyrgyzstan During Language Immersion Trips

The Language Department at Friends School of Baltimore strives to instill in its students a passion and curiosity for becoming more deeply interconnected with cultures spanning the globe. Our language students develop linguistic proficiency, become well-versed in cultural
comparisons, and may travel abroad as part of the Upper School’s language immersion program.

This year, two groups of students traveled to Kyrgyzstan and France to see what daily life is like for teenagers in another country. What do they study at school and how do the teachers deliver their lessons? What do they do with their friends for fun? At the heart of these modern language trips abroad, students gain a wealth of knowledge and expand their understanding of communities around the world. 

Language Department Chair and Russian teacher Lee Roby, and Middle School Russian teacher Nathan Leach ’14, accompanied 10 Friends’ Russian students to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a 15-day trip of a lifetime. 

This immersion program featured cultural programming and homestays with Russian-speaking Kyrgyz families. Students lived with Russian-speaking Kyrgyz peers, attended classes at the London School of Languages and Cultures, participated in peer activities with Kyrgyz teenagers, and engaged in cultural activities and excursions. Students used their Russian in authentic contexts, making remarkable gains in proficiency and hopefully, lifelong friendships. 

In an exciting turn of events, Nathan and our students even made the news while on their trip! During a Nooruz celebration (an important holiday celebrating the equinox in Central Asia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India) in downtown Bishkek, students began chatting with the police and were invited into the central square - sort of a VIP section. While there, they were asked to give an interview to the press that was aired on national news. 

In another part of the world, twenty-four 11th and 12th–grade Friends students lived with French families in the region of Lyon for 10 days, going to school with their hosts, spending time with their friends, and attending their activities. French teacher and trip chaperone Kristen Andrews said “one of my favorite parts of the trip was when we got to see the students again after their homestays and hear how they experienced their host families and schools. They shared with each other the similarities and differences they noticed between the U.S. and France, and they also could see the differences among French families and schools. Having an experience that is both deep and broad in that way is one of the benefits of Friends School’s language trips--the homestay within the group tour.” 

Christine Koniezhny, French teacher, Upper School Academic Dean, and trip chaperone talked about how impressed she was with the significant linguistic gains made by students over the course of the two weeks, in no small part due to their willingness to step outside of their comfort zone. “It made us very proud,” she said, “to see our students’ open-mindedness toward cultural difference and their capacity to forge a meaningful bond with their host families in a relatively short span of time.” For a few days before, and one day after the homestay, students visited Paris as a group. Highlights included visits to the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, a guided historical walking tour around the Jardin du Luxembourg, a cruise on the Seine, an exploration around neighborhoods, and of course, going up the Eiffel Tower at night to see the beautiful City of Light. 

Through carefully crafted immersion trips, Friends School students are empowered to engage with communities around the globe, furthering their proficiency in different languages, and expanding their sense of connection beyond Baltimore. These transformative experiences not only create lifelong friendships but also instill appreciation for cultural differences, preparing students to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world.