Foreign flavor

WEDDINGTON – As a French-born citizen of German descent who’s spent most of his adult life teaching in England, Nordine Schweitzer said coming to teach in America came naturally.

Schweitzer recently began his second year teaching French at Weddington Middle School through the Visiting International Faculty program. A “cultural exchange” program, VIF allows educators from other countries to teach in the United States for up to three to five years.

Prior to coming to the U.S., Schweitzer spent about seven years teaching French in the London area. But he always had his eye on America and Australia, he said, and wanted to pursue teaching in at least one of the two

“I was quite attracted to America,” Schweitzer said. “It’s one of the biggest countries in the world (so) it kind of made sense to come check it out.”

Schweitzer said he chose to go with the VIF program because it made it easier to come to the U.S. to teach. The program provides clients with support obtaining their visas, driver’s licenses, a place to live and other resources.

“It was a pretty smooth transition,” Schweitzer said. “The good thing about VIF is you get to meet the other (VIF) teachers, so you’re not on your own right away.”

Teaching at Weddington Middle hasn’t been that different from teaching in England, Schweitzer said. The demographics and students are similar to that of Schweitzer’s school in England, he said, with the main difference being the level of exposure to other cultures.

“The main difference here is I teach kids that have maybe never even gone out of North Carolina, may not have even met a foreign person,” Schweitzer said. “It’s something quite new for them. Things that maybe seem obvious to me (might not be) obvious to them.”

That’s why Schweitzer is working hard to bring an international perspective to his students. He draws upon his experiences living in France, teaching in England and visiting other countries and incorporates those into his

For instance, before he begins teaching his students the French language – or anything about France – he has them look at a map of the world and begin the semester by discussing the U.S.

“Before we look at other countries, we need to look at (the students’) country,” Schweitzer said. “I think it’s very important for them to know where they are, where they fit into the entire world.”

One of the greatest differences between the educational systems in Europe and America is there’s a stronger emphasis on testing and grades in the U.S., which can cause some delays in being able to incorporate more of the cultural exchange teaching, Schweitzer said. Students in Europe also have more opportunities to take field trips, particularly to foreign destinations, he said.

But one thing he loves about the school system in the U.S. and, particularly, Union County, is the inclusion of technology such as laptops and interactive white boards.

“They’re a good teaching tool,” Schweitzer said. “That’s what’s really good about Union County. That didn’t happen back in the U.K. What Union County is doing with (technology) is really good.”

For VIF teachers, cultural exchange isn’t a one-way street. Schweitzer plans to take some of the things he’s learned living in the U.S. and share them with others abroad.

“What I like about people (in America) is they’re a lot more relaxed,” he said. “You experience a bigger sense of freedom around here.”

Something else he’s learned is the value of being able to travel. Since coming to America, Schweitzer has taken a trip to visit California, the Grand Canyon and other popular geographical destinations.

Schweitzer said his favorite thing about being in North Carolina is the weather and the opportunity to enjoy sports he loves, such as tennis, soccer and ultimate Frisbee.

“People are quite into sports here,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to get outside each week.”

And what he misses most about home?

“I miss the food in France. I know, it’s cliché.”

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