French connection: Local girl bound for France as part of Rotary’s Youth Exchange Program |

French connection: Local girl bound for France as part of Rotary’s Youth Exchange Program

Jane Reuter

SUMMIT COUNTY – When 15-year-old Bastien Spiral arrived in Summit County a month ago, he tried to eat a Claimjumper hamburger with a fork. That, after all, is what the French do.

He has since learned to eat with his fingers, smile at strangers and eat peanut butter – all everyday American practices that first took him by surprise.

“Eating with your hands, that’s the big thing,” Spiral said when he explained the differences he saw between American and French culture. Also, “You make friends easily. They’re very nice to you. Here in America, you may smile and someone and say, “Hey,’ when you’re passing by. In France, you don’t.”

Spiral is the first of a younger set of Rotary exchange students, part of a program that allows 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds to spend a summer month abroad. He returned to France Saturday, but he didn’t go alone. In the second part of the program, the teen-age member of his host family now will spend a month with his family. Summit County High School freshman Shannon Jorgenson, 14, flew back with Spiral.

Before her flight, Jorgenson said she was nervous. But not, she said, about the prospect of leaving the United States for the first time in her life.

“Flying over the sea so long is a little weird,” she said, adding she’s also worried “a little about the communication.”

Spiral’s family speaks very little English, and while she’s taken two years of French, she’s not completely confident in her ability to speak the language.

Jorgenson also is determined to break with French tradition. In France, Spiral said, everyone eats breakfast.

“I’m not eating breakfast,” she told her mom Saturday morning.

Shannon Jorgenson’s mom, K’Lynn, found out about the program last fall when she attended a chamber mixer. Shannon Jorgenson immediately said she’d like to go, and now, she said, “I have, like, 10 friends who want to go.”

Students are screened and must fill out a lengthy application. Only those with B or better grade-point averages are considered for the program.

In addition, the Jorgensons must pay Shannon’s airfare to France and send her with some spending money. The cost is roughly $2,000. Likewise for Spiral.

“We are told to treat these kids as our son and daughter,” K’Lynn Jorgenson said.

The Jorgensons have, taking Spiral mountain biking and rafting, to Elitch’s, Water World and the Silverthorne skate park. He also spent a lot of time shopping for clothes, explaining that designer brands are far cheaper here than in France.

The Rotary Club tries to match teen-agers with similar interests to one another. Nevertheless, Shannon’s mother said there are cultural differences. Spiral likes to joke around, but it wasn’t always apparent to everyone when he was doing so.

“Their sense of humor is different, not knowing when he was teasing,” she said of Spiral and her daughter. “They have typical teenage hassles, plus the language and cultural differences.”

K’Lynn believes Shannon’s trip to France will create a tighter bond between the two.

Because of the language difficulties, “she will have to lean on Bastien,” Shannon’s mother said.

In France, Shannon Jorgenson will vacation with Spiral’s family, spending two weeks at a seaside resort in Biarritz, and the remainder of her time at his family’s residence in Marseille.

As a small token of her appreciation, Shannon Jorgenson took with her gifts for Spiral’s family: chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter. They’re everyday items here, but exotic pieces of Americana to the French, who have neither peanut butter or chocolate chips, according to Spiral.

The short program is available via the county’s Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Betty Naftz of Insurance of the Rockies is a local liaison. She also can offer information on the Long Exchange Program, which entails going abroad for a school year.

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