Exchange program allows girls from different worlds to become sisters

On Valentine’s Day 12-year-old Hannah Manolson-Murphy will travel to France for six months, leaving behind her family and friends.

Yet surprisingly, she doesn’t seem apprehensive at all.

“I don’t see a point in being nervous. I have more things to worry about,” she said, showing a maturity beyond her years.

Besides, she noted, she won’t be travelling alone; she’ll be accompanied by her new friend, Alice Legrand.

“Alice and I are very good friends – like sisters,” said Hannah.

The two girls have been participating since late August in a student exchange through En Famille International, a relatively small non-profit organization started in France in 1978.

In just five months, Alice, whose family is from Evreuz, located west of Paris in northern France, has become fluent in English and has even made the honour roll at Rockwood Centennial Public School, despite knowing very little English when she arrived.

“No, it’s not very hard,” Alice said matter-of-factly when asked about any difficulty with school or the language.

Hannah’s mother, Una Murphy, is hopeful her daughter will make similar strides in France.

“We just thought it was such a great opportunity for Hannah to learn French,” Una said.

While Hannah was excited from the start about the adventure of staying in France, Una,  wasn’t quite so sure.  But after an information session where she says her concerns were addressed, Una eventually came to share her daughter’s enthusiasm.

“It just seemed like too good of a chance to miss,” she said. Her mind was eased further by the fact that En Famille International only organizes about 80 exchanges per year which, according to her, allows the organization to better match families.

Since Alice’s arrival, the Manolson-Murphy family has visited to Vancouver, Toronto Niagara Falls and Ottawa, and recently Alice has learned to ride horses and to skate on a pond near the family’s home.

“They’re having a great time,” Una said of the girls.

Added Alice, “I’m a little bit sad to leave, but excited to see my parents again.”

When asked about her favourite part of the exchange, Alice was quick to answer “Vancouver,” though she did say it was “very cool” to visit the CN Tower and other sights in?Toronto.

“I discovered lots of things,” Alice said enthusiastically.

For her part, Hannah will be pleased if the second half of the exchange is anywhere near as good as the first.

“It’s going great. I’m very glad I decided to do it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to almost everything [in France]; I’ve never been there.”

The unique nature of this exchange program is that it is geared toward younger children from ages 9 to 13.  

En Famille International officials believe children of this age can absorb language much better than older children – so much so that often in just six months visiting children can become as proficient in a foreign language as the host child.

For more information about the exchange program visit