By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
They use “funny” words like fringe and plait instead of bangs and braid.
But just by looking at them, you can’t tell that the students from Biddick School Sports College in England are any different than their new friends at Central Middle School.
The Central students said they are learning there are fewer cultural differences between the two countries than they had imagined.
Nineteen students from Biddick boarded a plane in England and landed March 15 in Indianapolis.
For the past few weeks, the English students have been living with seventh-graders from Central Middle School and have been going to school with them, too, as part of a sister-school exchange program set up last year.
Seventh-grader Lauren Hickey said she was nervous to meet her exchange student Charlotte Berriman at the airport.
It was the first time she met the English student in person. She thought it might be awkward.
“But getting off the plane, we just hugged,” Hickey said. “It was perfect.”
Now the two are like sisters, she said.
Biddick hasn’t brought its students to the United States in more than a decade. The school had an exchange with a school in Munster, but that fell apart after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
When Kokomo-Center Schools last year sought out a school to develop an exchange with, it seemed like a natural fit, officials have said.
This trip is all the Biddick students have been able to talk about. They’ve been talking about it for months, teacher Fiona Sturrock said.
“It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “They’re getting the true American life.”
That snapshot of American life included trips to an Indiana Pacers game, a visit to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, a weekend excursion to Chicago and a day roller skating and visiting the zoo in Fort Wayne.
The Pacers game was a favorite among the English students.
“They see sports in America as a big thing,” Sturrock said.
That’s not the only big American thing they noticed, though.
The portions here are “massive,” the students said. One teen said she ordered an extra-large drink and was shocked when she got it and it was more than 40 ounces.
Teacher Paul Eastwood said he noticed that American schools are big and the classrooms and hallways more spacious. He said he wished they had as much room at Biddick.
Meanwhile, Central Middle School students have been picking up on subtle language differences.
“The slang is really different,” Andrea Stout said.
She was confused when her exchange student used the word “fringe” when describing someone’s bangs. Stout said they also call a hair braid a “plait.”
These kinds of exchanges are good for the students, Eastwood said.
“They grow up on these trips,” he said. “They gain an awareness of how other people live. They have to become tolerant. Families might not do things their way.”
Their families might take them to church on Sunday when they don’t normally go to church at home, he said.
Sturrock said her favorite part of the trip is talking to students about what life is like with their exchange families.
“I like seeing how the students adapt to family life here,” she said. “They come back with stories. It’s an experience they won’t forget.”
The Biddick students are teaching their Central Middle School friends about more than life in England, though.
Central teacher Julie Canady said her students in Spanish class have learned more about Spain from the English students. While Biddick teaches its students French instead of Spanish, most of the English students have visited Spain. Canady said that’s where they go in the winter to get away from the cold.
And Biddick sends its students to other countries to learn on a regular basis.
Students visit France and have an exchange with a school in Poland.
Sturrock said when her students go to Poland, they sleep in a school and help organize festivals in the country.
Though Central’s students aren’t as well traveled, they will be making the trek to England this summer.
Students will spend two weeks in June studying at Biddick and traveling. Canady said this is quite the opportunity for them.
“This isn’t offered typically at a middle school level,” she said.
This may become common practice in Kokomo-Center Schools, though
Superintendent Jeff Hauswald said it’s his goal to establish at least one exchange program at every grade level.
Canady can understand why. She said these trips are invaluable.
“To learn and experience another culture, it’s really going to prepare them for the workforce,” she said.