CRESTVIEW — When Nina Métier and Vincent Fouasson, both 15, arrive in Crestview from France in a few weeks, organizers hope any qualms they might have about plunging into a new country and culture will vanish when they discover they’ll be in the hospitable care of Amarissa Marrero and Kyle Davis and their respective families.
Amarissa and Kyle, both Crestview High School juniors, are among the student hosts with whom 21 students from Crestview’s island sister city, Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, will stay during their Oct. 26-Nov. 8 visit. For most of the French students, this will be their first experience in the United States.
Crestview’s student hosts said they anticipate the opportunity to discover similarities and learn about the differences between our cultures. Amarissa and Nina have been corresponding on Facebook in advance of Nina’s arrival.
“I’m looking forward to learning about her way of life,” Amarissa said. “I want to get a better understanding of her culture and the way French people see things.
Kyle said he learned he and his guest already have something in common.
“I can’t wait to share my musical interests with Vincent,” he said. “He plays bass and I play guitar. I’m excited to play some music with him and show him around.”
City leaders noted the opportunities the upcoming exchange brings to the community.
“It’s great for our citizens to learn more about another country, its culture and traditions, as well as being available to our visitors to teach them about our American culture,” Mayor David Cadle said.
From the Noirmoutrins’ last visit, Cadle also had a cultural lesson, learning something about the French palate.
“The last time they visited, I hosted a fish fry for them but they were a little unsure about the grits, so we’re providing barbecue this time,” he said.
Sisters since 1995
Crestview and Noirmoutier united in 1995 under the auspices of Sister Cities International, part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1950s citizen diplomacy initiative. Aileen Barley and her son Joe helped start Crestview’s participation in the program. Several area communities were vying to be chosen by Noirmoutier’s committee as their twin city.
“My mother and I were the first ones to go over there,” Joe Barley said. “Shalimar didn’t get it. Niceville didn’t get it. Fort Walton Beach didn’t get it. Crestview got it!”
He said the late Russell Sneddon, former director of the Air Force Armament Museum, was a driving force behind organizing a local Sister City organization. Once the Crestview City Council, spearheaded by late Councilman Sam Hayes, approved the partnership, an initial exchange of visitors was arranged. The French hospitality immediately captivated the local contingent.
“Oh, we had such a good time,” Aileen Barley recalled. “They are such very nice people.”
Exchanges between the two communities include educational, cultural and economic components. When a group from Crestview last visited Noirmoutier in 2010 for the 65th observance of France’s liberation at the end of World War II, two members of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce went along and studied the island’s industries.
During this year’s visit, a member of the University of Nantes faculty will meet with chamber of commerce leaders to establish student internship exchanges. Informal exchanges have already been taking place. Last summer, a French journalism student interned with the News Bulletin.
Every two years, the Soundsations and Madrigal show choirs of Northwest Florida State College travel to Noirmoutier for performances, and Crestview High School French Club members have also made visits to the island. During the exchanges, participants always stay with host families to experience more fully the local culture.
During Monday evening’s host orientation at the Crestview Public Library, Sister City members told host families that how they welcome their guests will help form lasting impressions of the entire country. Noirmoutrin students who visited in Crestview in 2009 recently said their memories of their experience are all positive.
“I was struck by the desire of my host family to share their culture, welcoming me into the family so that I felt at home and consider myself a part of the family,” Bruno Gallais said.
“I have very fond memories of my host family,” Rozenn Relandeau said. “I was received as the daughter of the house and they did everything to make my stay as pleasant as possible. I liked their kindness. They spoiled me and gave lots of gifts. I much appreciated all they did.”
“I would really like to return to Crestview,” Bruno said. “The trip was for me a true sharing of culture, life and friendship. I loved it.”
Members of the local Sister City organization hope Nina, Vincent and their classmates leave Crestview with equally fond memories. And Crestview hosts hope they can soon reciprocate and visit their new friends in France.
“Oh definitely, I want to visit her,” Amarissa said. “I can’t wait.”