The students here in Toulouse experience many things. They learn French not only in the classroom but also with their host families, program leaders and experiences in the community. When doing the various afternoon and week-end activities, students learn different cultural aspects of the town and people. This allows them to compare cultural values as they learn about the differences between their own culture. All of these learning engagements enhance the students' appreciation for their new surroundings. But how do they make sense of it all? How do the students understand the changes they, personally, are experiencing? An integral part of the HSSA summer program are the weekly Journal Debriefs. Throughout the program students respond to weekly journal prompts in order to help them pause and think about their journey here in Toulouse. On Fridays, students meet with their program leader to unpack their thoughts and reflections.
Here is an example of a question which developed into a very interesting discussion: What are some cultural norms and values that you see here that you connect with - ones that you don't see back home?
While visiting the organic dairy farm and a facility which re-purposes and sells unwanted items, students began to appreciate and articulate their understanding that French people are more aware of the environmental impact of certain human activities. Students also noticed the wide use of public transportation and other forms of transportation than cars. Our discussion opened up the minds of the students whom I have no doubt will return home with a deeper understanding of world perspectives.