PHS Cultural Immersion and Exchange

graphic by Ben Chao

graphic by Ben Chao

On November 14 and 15, French and Italian students returned to Princeton after participating in PHS foreign exchange programs. The students did a variety of things, ranging from staying with native families to traveling to famous museums. Every year the trips are enhanced, and more and more students partake in them. For example, the French trip included a visit to a perfume factory for the first time this year. These trips not only strengthen PHS’ relationship with sister cities, but also allow students to take out-of-classroom learning to a whole new level.

photo by Anna and Rutha

photo by Anna and Rutha

On October 6, 40 Japanese exchange students from Izumigaoka High School were welcomed to Princeton by the PHS Japanese Club. The Japanese students met the people who would be hosting them and also had the opportunity to sample American cuisine. While in Princeton, the exchange students played “getting to know you” games with the PHS students to practice their English while also allowing PHS students to practice their Japanese.

With the accompaniment of their hosts, the Japanese students toured Princeton University and attended classes with their hosts.

“I was really surprised about how much they enjoyed each other. I got a great thank you letter from them about how much they enjoyed it, and they were almost begging us to come [to Japan], because they had such a great time,” said Natsuko Buurstra, Japanese teacher at Princeton High School.

Buurstra facilitated the creation of this program, and believes that foreign exchange programs help to improve both language proficiency and cultural appreciation. Currently, she is in the process of scheduling a trip for PHS students to Izumigaoka for later this year. Up until now, American students have not traveled back to Japan as part of this program due to funding and timing concerns. However, it is possible that the exchange will be a two-way event either this year or next year.


“PHS and Japanese students are still exchanging messages even though the Japanese students already went back, so that’s why it would be great to go this year, but we don’t know,” said Buurstra.

“On top of learning a lot about the language, the benefit of exchange programs is that rather than going as a tourist, you’re going during the school year, and getting to learn about people’s day to day lives,” said PHS student and host Morolayo Ayodele ’18.

The Italian exchange program, more recent than the Japanese one, is two years old. Despite this, the Princeton community has a strong connection with the town of Pettoranello, the namesake of the local Pettoranello gardens.


“Two years ago I made contact with some of the teachers that were language teachers in Pettoranello and we communicated. We decided that since the two communities already had a sisterhood, we should to do that with the schools as well,” said Italian teacher, Joe Mazzarella.

In addition to visiting Pettoranello, the Italian students also traveled to Isernia, Rome, and Carpi. PHS has multiple sister cities in Italy, so students from both Petronello and Carpi will visit Princeton this spring.

“[The students] were able to enrich their language and cultural skills a lot more, and see more of Italy,” said Mazzarella.

For first time travelers, it was interesting to see how they and their host families related to one another. Students and their hosts were paired up by common interests, to allow for an easier connection between one another.

“My partner and I did Tae Kwon Do so we bonded over that,” said Villana Tkac ’18.

Interactions with host families also allowed students to get a better sense of the cultural disparities between Italy and the United States.

“Being an Italian American, the most interesting part of the trip was realizing that the culture and traditions that Italian-Americans have are completely different than what [Italians] have in Italy,” said Michael Arato II ’18.


The French Colmar exchange is the longest standing exchange program, and has been in place for almost 20 years. After arriving in Paris, the French exchange students spent three days sightseeing. They saw the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs-Elysees, among numerous attractions. Following sightseeing, students took a train to Colmar to stay with their host families and attend classes at Lycée Bartholdi with the French students.

This year, the program added a day-trip to Basel, Switzerland, instead of touring of a Muenster cheese factory. Two years ago they went to the factory, but several students passed out due to the strong aroma.

Almost everyone who was on the trip said that language immersion was definitely the most important part of the trip. While there were many other interesting things going on, the main goal was to become more comfortable while speaking the French language.

“We wanted them to step out of their comfort zone. To be able to make themselves understood, and to be able to navigate the language and use their different communication strategies,” said French teacher Malachi Wood.

French student Zainab Qureshi ’18 wrote, “I think it significantly improved my language skills given that in my situation with the parents, I couldn’t resort to speaking English.”

Exchange programs have been a major component of world language at PHS due to the various educational opportunities they provide. These include the opportunity for students to have real-world connections with their studies, and the chance to be immersed in the culture of a foreign country.

“The heart of exchange programs is the connections that we make, the friendships, and getting to know people in another country,” Wood said.

photo by Anna and Rutha

photo by Anna and Rutha

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