Nearly two weeks ago a group of French students gathered at the airport in France, meeting each other for the first time to embark on a summer trip. Their destination: Black Diamond.
Observing the chatter and laughter among the teens as they lounged outside the Black Diamond Farmers Market last Friday, one would think they had known each other for years, not merely days.
The students traveled to Washington from all across France as a part of a trip with Compass USA, in partnership with the Maple Valley-Black Diamond Kiwanis club. Compass gives international students the opportunity to spend four weeks in the US, exploring, practicing their English, and learning about American culture firsthand. The program is open to students 13-18 years old, with the youngest member of the Black Diamond group being 14.
“Our host families, most of them live in Black Diamond,” Kiwanis member Becky Olness said.
All but two of the students are staying in Black Diamond, with one staying in Kent and one staying in Auburn.
Olness, who is hosting the group’s adult escort, Jule Facklam, said that the students typically spend the weekends with their host family and the weeks are filled with different activities and sightseeing.
So far the itinerary has included the Experience Music Project and the Space Needle at the Seattle Center, hiking at Mount Rainier and riding The Duck downtown. They plan to spend time at the waterfront downtown, attend a Mariners game, do more hiking and also swim and boat on Lake Sawyer.
“It’s been a big, big job,” Olness said of organizing the trip. “It’s already been fun.”
Hosting students was set in motion several years ago when a representative from Compass came to a Kiwanis meeting to share information about the program. This trip is the first time that the Maple Valley-Black Diamond club has hosted students, Olness added.
“I really, really like to work with people,” Facklam said of why she wanted to come on the trip, which is her first time in the US.
Facklam is a graduate student in international business and languages and one of her best friends told her about the program after the friend attended a trip a number of years ago.
“Everything here is… more big,” Facklam explained of what has stood out to her the most so far. With a laugh, she used her hands to show the difference in the typical size of a bottle of orange juice she would have in her fridge in France to the size of one in America. And that’s not the only thing. She also mentioned the cars, roads and the cities themselves.
“People are more open-minded,” she added.
Facklam said she has met many nice and welcoming people already.
“For me the relationships are really important, to see how I react and how others react to me,” she said. “To be here is so great.”
As for her favorite experience so far, Facklam said, “to see how people are in America.”
Richard Lachēyre, who at 18 is one of the oldest students on the trip, said he wanted to come on the trip to “discover the US, a new way of life and new culture.”
Fellow 18-year-old Thibaud Noel said the trip is a chance to practice his English, as he would like to work in the US in the future.
Both are avid sports fans and were looking forward to exploring the Seattle sports scene, and Noel had the opportunity to attend the Sounders friendly with the Tottenham Hotspurs last weekend.
Several students in the group also noted the bigger scale of virtually everything in America, as well as the lack of rainy days that they had expected.
Lachēyre said that his parents told him that he is “lucky” to have the chance to travel to America and that they were excited for him.
Facklam said that she was initially concerned about leaving her father for so long, but that he encouraged her to come on the trip, even purchasing an iPad specifically so they could still talk while she was away.
“They were happy that I wanted to do it,” 17-year-old Océane Nicolay said of her parent’s reaction to her agreement to the trip.
Nicolay has traveled to several cities in the US and said she wanted to come because she had not yet been to Washington.
Noel described his experience as “awesome” so far and that he was looking forward to the rest of the adventure.
“When I came here, it’s a new feeling,” Noel said.