MARYSVILLE — Ask 16-year-old French exchange student Helene Maleval what she thinks of America, and the odds are she’ll wind up using the word “awesome” multiple times, as she did during a recent presentation to members of the Marysville Noon Rotary, through whom she came to America.
“It’s very different here from how it is in France,” said Maleval, who arrived in the United States on Aug. 23 of last year, and is set to return to her home country on July 17 of this year. “It’s much more friendly here. The United States is all big and new. My school building is very old and very small. It’s like a castle, like in Harry Potter,” she laughed.
Maleval stayed her first five months with Don and Debbie Whitfield, who described her as “a wonderful young lady,” even as Don teased that, “She’s a typical teenage girl, who doesn’t want to get up before 10 or 11 in the morning.” Since her Feb. 6 presentation to the Rotary, she’s been staying with Kim and Julie Kron, and taking advantage of Kim’s offers of assistance on her homework every chance she gets.
“I have also gone to Canada and met other Rotary exchange students from Germany and Spain,” Maleval said. “We grew very close, because we all have the same feelings about being here. I miss France, but I am so lucky to be here.”
While Maleval has tried to sell the Rotarians and other Americans on the culinary appeal of French delicacies such as snails and frog-legs — “Frog tastes like chicken, while snails are like shrimp” — she also wishes that French culture could adopt a bit of America’s gregariousness.
“We French are much more reserved,” Maleval said. “American teenage boys aren’t as concerned with how they look, while French boys love fashion and are like, ‘Oh, I’m beautiful.’”
One significant difference between France and America lies in their schooling. French students spend at least eight hours of every day in class, and Maleval herself will have to repeat the current school year when she returns home, because the French schools won’t count any of her credits from her American classes.
“French classes are work, work, work and don’t ask any questions,” Maleval said. “My mom gives me pressure, but she has to, because she’s my mom.”
Maleval would like to enter the perfume industry once she graduates, but in the meantime, she’s looking forward to taking a trip with her fellow Rotary exchange students this summer, from California to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.