Exchanging Portsmouth High School for a year in the South of France

Charlotte and her mother Betsy Akin at their Island Park home a few weeks before Charlotte left to spend a year attending school in France. Charlotte and her mother Betsy Akin at their Island Park home a few weeks before Charlotte left to spend a year attending school in France.

Charlotte and her mother Betsy Akin at their Island Park home a few weeks before Charlotte left to spend a year attending school in France.

PORTSMOUTH — As of Tuesday, Aug. 28, Charlotte Akin is living the teenager’s dream — a year in the Vermont-like mountains of the South of France, with palm trees and the Mediterranean a half-hour’s drive away.
The Portsmouth High School student is spending her junior year as an exchange student in the Lycée de la Montagne in Valdeblore, France, a small mountain town about 30 miles north of Nice. As someone who’s used to garnering support — Charlotte served as student council president her freshman and sophomore years — she won over the Portsmouth Rotary Club with a presentation on why she should receive the club’s sponsorship to be an exchange student.
At first, Charlotte had considered spending the school year in Ireland or Australia, but she opted for France for the challenge of being immersed in a different language and culture. She’s taken two years of French language classes and considers it her best subject, but expects to be challenged by having to speak French in all her classes and social situations.
“I figured that being exposed to a different culture would be very beneficial,” said Charlotte, who is 16 years old. “You become more mature and learn to handle different situations.”
New experiences
School will be a bit different from what she’s experienced but there will be some similarities. It’s coed with about the same number of students as PHS; but the approach to teaching is different, more university-style lectures, Charlotte said, and students choose to focus on sciences or a general education program. There’s a physical-education program that takes students once a week into the mountains to learn to ski, snowboard, mountain climbing and archery.
A lifelong kayaker and member of the PHS sailing team, Charlotte is especially excited to learn snowboarding. But she’ll try all the sports.
Over the year she’s staying with three different families in the area around the school. As a guest in their homes she’ll be expected to pitch in like any family member, she said, and that includes chores. She loves to cook and plans to treat her host families to some American cooking as well as try her hand at French recipes.
She knows there’s a nightlife filled with dancing in discotheques nearby because she’s seen photos on the Facebook page of the 18-year-old son of her first host family.
“Nice is where everyone goes. It’s kind of like the Newport of the area,” Charlotte said.

Charlotte will present this flag to the school in France that is hosting her for the year. The flag flew over the U.S. Capitol this year.

Working for it
The Portsmouth Rotary Club typically doesn’t send an exchange student overseas for longer than a month or so because it has limited resources to handle all the paperwork for a year-long trip. So Charlotte did most of the research herself and coordinated the paperwork. All the Rotarians had to do was sponsor her trip.
“Charlotte is an exceptional student and a very well-spoken, mature young woman,” Portsmouth Rotary Club President Peter D. Schenck said. “We are honored to have her represent the Portsmouth Rotary Club. She was the person who initiated the discussion and did most of the legwork to make her trip a reality.”
For spending money while in France, Charlotte worked her first job this summer at a Del’s Lemonade stand around Newport. If she can stretch that money she’ll also take a Rotary-organized bus trip through several countries in Europe, as far as the Czech Republic.
All the work and dedication Charlotte has put into this trip brought her parents Betsy and David Akin on board with the idea.
“Charlotte has been really focused and motivated to go to France. It’s been very exciting watching her go through the process. It was her decision and she’s done a lot of research,” Betsy said. “The benefits for her really far outweigh the anxieties I might have as a parent.”

Rotary-sponsored foreign-exchange students trade pins with exchange students around the world and wear them upon their Rotary blazers.


Want more of this story?
Follow Charlotte’s adventures in France over the year. Charlotte is writing a blog about studying in a school in the south of France and staying with three different host families. Visit http://charlotteakinexchange.tumblr.com/ to read about her trip.
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