Exchange program at Darlington High a dream come true for French student

In Sally Weiland’s French class at Darlington High School (DHS), achieving success not only opens the door for good grades but also a chance to travel outside of the country. Sometimes, that traveling is reversed.

That was the case this year when 17-year-old Coline Bergeonneau from Poitiers, France, visited Darlington for two weeks. Bergeonneau participated in Weiland’s pen pal program for two years with now DHS graduate Ben Goodwill.

From left, Cassy Lloyd, Ben Goodwill and Coline Bergeonneau attend the Darlington High School versus Wilson High School varsity football game in August. Bergeonneau was an exchange student from Poitiers, France, who corresponded with Goodwill for two years through a pen pal program in Sally Weiland’s French class at Darlington High. Lloyd also participated in the program at Darlington.

Bergeonneau, who attends Lycée Victor Hugo high school in France, said it was a dream to travel to the United States.
“I remember when I first got my pen pal, I thought, ‘Well, maybe one day I can meet him,’” Bergeonneau said. “And it’s happening. It was my dream to come to America. I went, and I met friends. It’s amazing.”

Weiland funds the de facto “exchange program” on her own, because she recognizes the importance of her students’ exposure to new cultures and languages. After 31 years of teaching, Bergeonneau is Weiland’s 18th scholarship recipient and the first from France. Weiland also visits Poitiers, where she spends time in pen pals’ classrooms sharing her students’ information and a DHS yearbook.

“It’s something I believe in,” Weiland said. “If we had more money, we could afford more students. That’s why I call them ambassadors, because they work so hard to earn the trip. I would love to be able to fund more students to go.”
The “ambassadors” earn the title by striving for academic success in Weiland’s classroom through fluency, grades and building their French-language portfolios. For Bergeonneau’s trip to Darlington, Goodwill and another of Weiland’s students, Cassy Lloyd, served as ambassadors. Lloyd participated in the pen pal program and was afforded a trip to Poitiers and Paris back in June.

Goodwill said it’s tough to explain the value of the experience to others.

“I mean, when learning French, what better way than with someone who is right around your age and is French,” Goodwill said. “This experience definitely bettered me as a student. Also, you really grow with someone when you have known them for more than two years and you finally get to meet them in person. They become more than a best friend – like family.”
The group went kayaking, visited the Florence Museum, traveled to Charleston and Myrtle Beach, caught a blockbuster at the movie theater, and spent plenty of time just hanging out.

“It’s better than I was imagining,” Bergeonneau said. “It’s incredible the feeling of saying yesterday we talked about problems (in person) just like we were friends.”

The entire experience proved to be a spur-of-the-moment birthday trip for Bergeonneau. That’s because on her birthday, Weiland proposed the idea. They agreed, and the plane ticket arrived digitally within minutes. Less than a month later, Bergeonneau hopped on a 10-hour flight to America.

“In the beginning, I just didn’t believe it,” Bergeonneau said. “And now my friends are jealous.”

Weiland said she enlisted Bergeonneau’s help in the classroom during her visit as an advisor for improving the pen pal program. The two worked to prepare videos, photos and descriptions of the DHS students to help in matching pen pals next year.

And while work always continues to improve the program, this year’s trip will certainly remain an exciting reminder of friendship and academic enrichment.

Author: Duane Childers

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