Sunday, March 23, 2003

French students postpone visit

Tristate reacts to war

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Twenty students from the Blanche-de-Castille school in France wanted to experience Cincinnati's racial tensions.

But their exchange trip was canceled over concerns about a different kind of tension - anti-French sentiment in America - and the war with Iraq.

The French students were expected to visit St. Xavier in Finneytown and St. Ursula Academy in East Walnut Hills March 30 to April 12. But their parents, concerned over escalating anti-French attitudes in the United States and mounting international problems, canceled the trip Wednesday morning.

"Ultimately, it came down to an issue of safety," said Marguerite Bourgeois, St. Xavier French teacher and a coordinator of the program. "It's just that the climate right now was difficult."

Parents from the two private schools will decide Sunday if they still want their children going to France for the exchange in June.

This would have been the first French exchange ever between the schools.

Blanche-de-Castille is a co-ed school in Le Chesnay, a small suburb outside of Versailles, about a 30-minute drive from Paris.They first made contact with St. Xavier, where the staff had been deliberating an exchange program, by e-mail on Sept. 11, 2001.

"They said they were gathering the student body together to pray for us," Bourgeois said. "That to me was a sign that this school was the right one to go with."

"I told them that at our school, I think we would be able to transcend that. We can differentiate between the people and the policies of a government," she said. "But the reality is that there is a lot of French bashing out there right now."

St. Xavier Principal David Mueller echoed that sentiment in his e-mailed response to the French school leaders.

"The tensions provide an opportunity for our students and for us as adults to learn here and now the kind of lessons that we hoped to raise through the history of race relations and the Civil War," he wrote. "Respect for all people and friendship with people ought to transcend differences in culture and squabbles between governments."

The French students' visit has tentatively been rescheduled for October.


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