“I want that,” said senior Emma Pouteau, staring blankly at the chicken nugget meal on the menu above.
Senior Megan Funkey stepped up to order for her.
As teenagers piled into Chick-Fil-A before the East v.s West home opener soccer game, Pouteau took it all in. The long line, the cluster of people waiting for their to-go bags and the workers tapping away on their screens taking orders.
Pouteau is a foreign exchange student from the suburbs of France who decided to join AFS — a foreign exchange program that sends high schoolers across the world to discover new cultures and meet new people.
Aug. 7 marked her first day in the United States. Coming from a school of 360 students, East was just one example of how things always seem to be bigger in America. Pouteau says her drive from KCI to Prairie Village was eye-opening — the wide roads, Ford trucks and spread-out buildings kept her eyes glued out the window.
She is staying until next July with her host family the Wiebe’s — a local Briarwood family. Back home, Pouteau only has one older brother so she’s enjoying the new role of a “big sister” to her two siblings in second and fourth grade. Her host mom, Emily Wiebe, is a math teacher at Trailridge Middle School and her host dad is the orchestra teacher at Shawnee Mission South. Her host father, Jonathan Wiebe, is involved in a foreign exchange program with a music school from Germany that has sent directors to Shawnee Mission South. His connections to counselors allowed his family easy access to joining AFS.
Last June, the Wiebe’s scrolled through bios provided by students in AFS to see who would be the best fit for them.
“For a lot of different reasons we really liked Emma’s letter,” Wiebe said. “Our oldest is in fourth grade and has read quite a few ‘Harry Potter’ books. In Emma’s letter she says her hero is Hermione and our oldest daughter was like ‘she’s the one,’ ‘she’s the one,’ ‘she’s the one.’”
Pouteau may only be 15, but she’s enrolled at East as a senior. Her four-year background in English has helped her quickly adjust to life at an American high school. She’s involved in painting class, choir and cross country — all of which aren’t available at her school in France.
According to Senior Megan Funkey, she and a few friends met Pouteau during painting class. Their relationship grew as Pouteau began skipping the cross country warm-up laps to watch Funkey and her friends play tennis.
“For the first week I had no idea who she was, let alone she was a foreign exchange student,” Funkey said. “She knew a couple people sitting at our table and started sitting with us and we’d all ask her about what France was like.”
According to Pouteau, school in France is much more difficult and much less fun. The teachers at East care more about the students’ well-being and are less focused on what their grade is. In Pouteau’s school in France, every student is enrolled in the same class by grade and there are no elective classes or extracurriculars, except the choice of Latin and Greek. Instead of getting out at 2:40, school starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m with long breaks throughout the day.
Pouteau says the hardest part about being away from France is the food. With the normal routine of grabbing a pastry for breakfast and French baguettes at every meal, she misses the traditional home-cooked meals. However, she says her host family does a wonderful job of making healthy, delicious meals — although she could eat Chick-Fil-A anyday.
Apart from the food, Pouteau has found small struggles with the language barrier despite those four years of English classes.
“I have the word I want to say in my head, but with an accent I can’t say it,” Pouteau said. “When I say [a word] people don’t understand and I think ‘what?’ I’m telling you. And then I can’t speak after that because then I think people won’t understand me.”
Wiebe thinks, despite the different food and language barrier, that Pouteau has adjusted well in her first two months of being here.
“Emma is a very outgoing girl,” Wiebe said. “She is very easy to talk to and has a very bright smile I think people are drawn to. She tries absolutely anything and seems comfortable, considering she’s halfway around the world.”