Tale of two cities
An exchange program sends Tulsa students to Amiens, France.
Roberts’ son, Jack, and his Amiens host exchange student, Cyprien Gudin, in front of the cathedral
Once a year in Tulsa, a dozen intrepid 10-year-olds trade their families, pets and iPhones for three weeks of analogue discoveries in France. Escargot and cow tongue. The beaches of Normandy. The effervescent glow of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées at twilight.
These budding navigators aren’t heirs of privilege. They attend Tulsa Public Schools, but thanks to faculty involvement from The University of Tulsa and two nonprofits — Alliance Française de Tulsa and Tulsa Global Alliance — they can have an experience that may give them a better worldview.
What began as a dream of members of Alliance Française de Tulsa’s “comité de jumelage” (a group of TU professors, parents, TPS teachers, health care professionals and others interested in developing a Tulsa-France partnership) in 1996 has slowly turned into a love affair between two cities.
The Tulsa committee chose to partner with Amiens, France, based on the cities’ similarities in business, arts, geography and other areas, says Judy Glenn, communications director for Alliance Française de Tulsa and TGA vice chairwoman of volunteers.
As early as 1997, TU hosted exchanges of Amiens students in business and literature courses and Eisenhower International School launched a fifth-grade study abroad program in Amiens. An exchange program followed between Eisenhower and Amiens students.
Holland Hall and Thoreau middle schools later developed their own study abroad and exchange programs with Amiens, Glenn says.
After what French officials referred to as a “courtship” of approximately nine years, according to Glenn, Amiens became Tulsa’s eighth Sister City in 2005 through the TGA-managed Sister Cities program to promote cultural understanding and stimulate economic development.
Pronounced “Ah-ME-on,” this historic city in the Picardy region of northern France is situated equidistantly from London, Brussels and Paris.
For most of the 20th century, the only American “kids” who traversed the cobblestones of Amiens were young men pulled off family farms and factory floors to fight in World Wars I and II.
Liberated by the United States in 1918 and again in 1944, Amiens has long held a deep and ritualized regard for the U.S., according to many locals. That said, it wasn’t easy convincing French teachers and parents to send their elementary school students to Oklahoma.
“We had to convince Amiens school officials to choose Oklahoma over England,” says Caroline Berry of the Tulsa-Amiens partnership at TGA. “They eventually partnered with us because of the idea of allowing their students to truly experience the ‘American Dream.’”
Suzanne Schreiber, a TPS board member, recently sent her daughter Sadie to France through the Amiens exchange.
“The personal and cultural growth that a trip abroad brings during a kid’s formative years cannot be gained by any other experience,” Schreiber says. “Sadie will be a better person for her travels — certainly more tolerant, sensitive and interested in the ways different people live. She’s also more appreciative of the comforts of home.”
Glenn, who also is the global education and exchange coordinator for Eisenhower, sums up the Eisenhower program: “We educate children for six years so they are prepared to live and learn in their second language: French or Spanish, which they are taught from kindergarten. And after three short weeks in Amiens, they come back to Tulsa as citizens of the world.”
Editor’s note: Noah Roberts is the founder of BETTER (www.btyfi.com) and a proud Eisenhower International School parent of two Amiens Ambassadors.