Elon families host French students for American visit

Special thanks to Larry Vellani, director of corporate and foundation relations, for submitting information for this article.

Two young French women are taking advantage of an opportunity to spend the last two weeks of their summer vacation in and around Elon.

Marine Wannyn, far left, and Anne-Sophie Pathé, second from right, are friends from the Department (similar to an American county) of Yvelines, approximately twenty minutes southwest of Paris. The girls first met two summers ago when they participated in a two-week structured English language program in the seaside town of Bournemouth in the south of England. The girls became fast friends during the summer of 2003, but lost contact, as they immersed themselves in the social and academic life of their separate high schools. However, as fate would have it, the girls passed each other on the streets of Versailles last September and immediately reestablished their friendship.

When Marine’s grandfather, Christian Wannyn, asked Marine earlier this winter if she knew of a friend who might be interested in joining her for a two-week, home-based English language immersion experience in North Carolina, Anne-Sophie was the only person Marine considered asking.

Through his work with his local Paris-based chapter of the Lions Club International, Mr. Wannyn had become acquainted with Jim Romer, whose wife, Jane, is associate professor of foreign languages and education at Elon. As the president of his local Lions Club, Mr. Wannyn had spearheaded restoration of a WWII historical marker that hangs in the former main terminal of Le Bourget airport northeast of Paris. The marker commemorates the heroism and tragic death of Jim Romer’s uncle, Col. Augustine Little of Louisville, Ga., who died from wounds suffered rescuing his military driver from hostile fire during World War II.

When Jim and Jane Romer visited Paris in 2002, they met Mr. Wannyn and became fast friends. When Mr. Wannyn considered his contacts in the United States, the Romers were the first people he called upon to help him find home placements for his granddaughter, Marine, and her friend, Anne-Sophie.

The girls arrived in North Carolina Aug. 13. Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, associate professor of psychology, and her family are hosting Marine, while Anne-Sophie is staying with the family of Larry Vellani, director of corporate and foundation relations.

The girls have marveled at how much the pomp and spectacle of the Eastern Alamance-Western Alamance high school football game so closely mirrored scenes from American movies. On the other hand, Marine was quite surprised to find that people here routinely bring home unfinished portions from restaurant dinners, and that Americans don’t take more frequent and lengthier summer vacations. Anne-Sophie was unprepared for the degree of regulation controlling access by young people to purchasing alcoholic beverages: the checking of IDs, systems of stamping hands or placing bracelets on club patrons, etc. Additionally, Anne-Sophie did not expect to find teenagers working regular full and part time jobs during the summer, noting that college-bound French students usually do not engage in these kinds of work experiences until later in their young adulthood.

The girls will be busy soon after their return to France Aug. 27. Marine, who will soon turn 20, is in the second year of her preparatory studies for a career in agroalimentation, a curriculum that combines agriculture and crop science with human nutrition and public health, at the Grand Ecole Lycée Hoche in Versailles. Anne-Sophie, the great granddaughter of one of the founders of the Société Pathé Frères, a pioneering French film and recording corporation, will soon turn 19 and begin her studies in literature and theater in September at the Lycée de Blomet in Paris.

Both Marine and Anne-Sophie have been impressed with the many community building aspects of American student life, such as team sports and student organizations. And both women found school yearbooks uniquely American, and of great personal appeal to both of them.

Though they found the weather quite scorching, they noted that Americans are equipped for the weather with air-conditioning in the homes, offices and cars, and refrigerators durable enough to keep the food fresh!