Ecole Française, an exchange student’s view of OIHS

Orcas Island High School has had several new students come to the school at the beginning of the year, and Madeleine Treneer is one of them. Although she was born in Seattle, she was raised in France and has traveled a great distance to be on the island. Since she has come to Orcas, Treneer has constantly made a positive impression upon the people of the island, being described as “always smiling” and “super cute and super sweet.” She has been involved in activities ranging from the Lady Vikings Soccer to the Gender Issues Club. Also enjoying fashion and art, she is currently working on her AP Studio portfolio—a collection containing lively artworks, some with political statements. Despite loving it on Orcas Island, Treneer has frequently stated that there are big differences between her two homes. Devon Mann interviewed her to learn about the differences between our two countries, specifically the schools and students.


Madeline using the ever-international technology, a phone / Image Credit: Anneke Fleming

The contrast between Paris and Orcas Island are endless. While one is a prosperous European city famed for being the “City of Love”, the other is a quaint north Pacific island community known as the “Jewel of the San Juans.” These two incredible destinations offer very divergent benefits and atmospheres. Fondly reminiscing about her transatlantic home, Treneer stated: “I love Paris, it’s my home and it always will be, although Orcas has a unique beautiful quiet nature-y feel to it though.” Indeed, it is the stunning wildlife and scenery that often draws people to Orcas, but has failed to retain Treneer while she longs to be back in bustle of her beloved city.

Focusing less on the differences of the two communities, she has also noticed some significant divergence in the school systems. When asked what the first thing she noticed about the schools, she answered that, “Here you get to choose which classes you take. [In France the school] choose[s] all the courses you take, except you get to choose which language you take.” Treneer commented that most students end up with three languages under their belts because “for most kids French is their native tongue but they learn English early on from their parents”, and then they choose an additional language, such as Spanish, German or “even Latin.” It may seem strange to students at Orcas High School, but the French school system is structured in such a way that the students have less freedom to choose what they study. For students, such as Treneer, who have spent their lives in a system that gives fewer options, Orcas High may be a relief and a positive change. Missing her friends, family and city, Treneer commented: “I miss France a lot and can’t wait to go home, but I like this school better because students get to choose their own classes and the teachers are also a lot nicer and more supportive than in my French school. Academically though, the schools in France are more vigorous.”

Treneer attended a kindergarten though university Catholic school in the Maras District of Paris. Apart from the academics the two schools varied in many other aspects as well. She stated that the school day is “from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on normal days and then Wednesdays are 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.” That is a 10-hour school day! For Treneer it was a huge change to come a school with only seven to 8-hour days. Her school in France was also “way bigger” than the school here, with class sizes being “150 people at least.” That is quite possibly more than the whole high school population. She later commented that her school was not exactly normal as “it spans from kindergarten to university all in one location. Usually schools are from kindergarten to ninth grade and then kids go to college, which is our version of high school except that there’s only three years of high school. So most schools are smaller than mine.” The differences between the U.S. school system and Treneer’s school, the French school system, are varied, but they are numerous. The school food at Orcas High is better, according to Treneer, but for the most part the two schools are almost incomparable.

One of the main aspects of Orcas life that Treneer has noticed is that while “Most of the kids from my old school come from middle-class families just as on Orcas”, there are a few notable differences between the students.  She stated that “In France there’s more school spirit and student togetherness. I don’t think there’s as many cliques at my old school either. I think we are more involved in the community as well.” While she seems to be very fond of her French school,  Treneer noted, “I’ve made a lot of good friends on Orcas since I’ve gotten here and everyone is super friendly. I’m going to miss it when I’m gone, and I’ll count the days until I come back in the summers.”