Fifteen-year-old Priscille Guichon, from Lyon, France, chose to take a leap of faith this year and spend an entire school year in the U.S. with people she never met for the opportunity to study abroad.
During her time in Covington, she will stay with Sharon Lord and her daughter Solange. The Lord family volunteered through the PAX Academic Foreign Exchange program to be Guichon's host family.
"We were able to choose from approximately 30 students," said Lord, who is also a PAX coordinator. "I got to read their bios and essays they wrote as to why they would like to come to America. I also was able to look at their grades as well. Solange and I chose Priscille because we thought she would be a perfect fit with our family."
Solange was equally excited to welcome Guichon into their home.
"I am looking forward to Priscille becoming a part of the family and being a sister to me," she said.
Guichon first became interested in the program after her many trips to America with her family. When she learned she had been chosen to come to America, she immediately began to study up on her U.S. History.
"The goal of my trip is to learn perfect English and become completely bilingual," she said. "I know most of my English from being taught at school, but I want it to get better. I also want to learn more about American culture and am looking forward to meeting new people."
While Guichon would have normally been in eleventh grade in France, she is a year behind in the U.S. due to many differences between the two school systems. She will be in tenth grade at Eastside High School as one out of four foreign exchange students at the school.
"School is very different in France," she said.
The number of hours students spend in class in France is significantly more than Georgia students. Guichon attends a very rigorous private school in France where the school day begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 6p.m. daily with a one hour lunch. Each week, she has three hour tests on Fridays. On weekends, she often has to spend time on class assignments.
Guichon’s year in the U.S. will cause her to be a year behind in France, but she said it's worth it.
"I won't get to graduate with my friends, but a year in America is worth it all," she said.
To get to Covington, Guichon had a five hour car ride with her family to the airport in Paris and then caught a plane from Paris to New York City to Atlanta spending a total of 16 hours on a plane. France is six hours ahead, but she said she didn't have a problem getting over jet lag.
She arrived in Atlanta on Friday evening, July 27, where Lord and Solange were at the gate welcoming her with open arms.
"We got special permission to be able to be at the gate when Guichon got off of the plane," Lord said. "I called Hartsfield Jackson airport and explained the situation to them, and we were able to get special passes. I didn't want Priscille to have to worry about making her way through the airport by herself or have the fear, ‘Oh my goodness, I can't find them.' It worked out for us though because we got to be the first people she saw when she stepped off the plane. It was great!"
Guichon was equally glad that Lord and Solange were able to greet her at the gate.
"It wasn't my first time flying by myself, but I was so nervous that I was very glad they were able to be there when I got off the plane," she said. "Their welcoming was perfect."
Lord’s birthday was the day after Guichon arrived. She considers Guichon to be a special person whose arrival was the best kind of birthday present.
"It was great, she was able to be here in time to celebrate my birthday with us," Lord said.
Lord, Solange and Guichon went to Johnny's Pizza the day after the big welcoming. At the restaurant, Guichon had her first bit of culture shock. In France, citizens aren't allowed to take home their food they have a restaurants; therefore, when Lord asked for a to-go box, Guichon didn't know what she was getting.
"It was so weird for me," Guichon said. "I was like ‘You get to take your food home here?' They thought it was funny."
Guichon said between arriving to the U.S. and experiencing her first day of school in a foreign country, she was more nervous when she started her first day of school.
"I was much more nervous believe me," she said. "It was hard for me not to get lost, and my classmates talked really fast when they would be telling me things or asking me questions; therefore, I had to ask them to repeat themselves a lot since I couldn't understand them."
Guichon is hoping to be a part of the 2012-2013 EHS swim team. She has been swimming as far back as she can remember and has participated and won several competitions in France.
"I really like just swimming for fun though," she said.
As part of the PAX foreign exchange student program, students are required to be fully immersed in the host's country's culture. Therefore, Guichon’s family and friends cannot come and visit her while she is in the U.S., nor can she visit them during breaks in the school year.
"It's going to be hard not to be with them on my birthday or on Christmas, but they will be in my thoughts," she said. "I'm really going to miss not only my parents, but my little brother and best friend as well."
Guichon and her family and friends plan on having many Skype conversations during her stay in Covington.
"I still don't regret anything about coming here," she said. "I'm sure eventually further into my trip that I will begin to miss my parents and brother a whole lot, but I'm looking forward to experiencing American culture."
Guichon will return home to Lyon at the end of May.
For more information on how you can host a foreign exchange student or how you or your child can become a foreign exchange student for the next school year go to pax.org.