From France to Edina: EHS’s French interns


Jane Porter

Pictured left to right: Elisa Lesauvage, Alexandre Bafoil, Melissa Destrac

Lainey Maniak, Copy Editor

Tucked away in the hallways of the language classrooms at Edina High School, there are three seemingly normal teachers. However, Elisa Lesauvage, Melissa Destrac, and Alexander Bafoil are anything but. The trio are French citizens, part of this year’s group of 27 young interns providing Edina’s French students with a glimpse into native French language and culture—an opportunity the three have taken advantage of while in the United States. 

As part of the high school’s staff, the interns have the opportunity to take part in all the events put on throughout the year at EHS. Hockey games, POPs, pep fests: scan the crowd, they’re probably there. More uniquely Minnesotan activities also made their to-do lists: ice-skating, skiing, and of course, the polar plunge. “I wanted to die, but at least I can brag about doing it,” Bafoil said, laughing.

Overall the group has made it a goal to make the most of their time in America. Vacations organized by the intern committee included visiting New Orleans and Chicago, while individually they’ve gone on smaller trips with their host families. To ring in the new year, Bafoil and Destrac went to New York City for some lighthearted tourism. Others were not as fortunate, enjoying other American traditions instead: expensive healthcare. “I went to the hospital for New Years,” Lesauvage said. 

Despite all their traveling, none of them have seen their families in-person since they left France at the end of the summer. Cost, jet-lag, and short vacations are all limiting factors, but the emotional toll is the most significant. “The idea of leaving and then coming back to the United States again, say goodbye to our families a second time, that can be really hard, versus if we were to remain here, [the time here] moves faster,” Lesauvage said. “Plus we’re going to see them again,” Destrac said. “There’s lots of technology, so it’s a little easier.” 

Weekly Facetimes and family Whatsapp groups help shrink the distance, but technology doesn’t solve everything. “I don’t really see my brothers and sisters often, really they don’t send messages,” Bafoil said. “My grandma, who isn’t that much of a fan of technology, sends me letters.”  

Destrac has a similar situation, as she can only see her grandmother when she happens to be with her family and Destrac can Facetime them. News is often slow to travel as well, with Lesauvage not knowing a 2.3 ton shipment of cocaine washed up on the beach near where she lived in Normandy until an article was casually sent in her family group chat. 

Some major events transcend distance, however, and the current workers strikes in France were hard to miss. French president Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 have led to major social unrest, impacting the interns even from thousands of miles away. “My mom is a personal care assistant and she has shoulder and arm problems because of that. She’d never make it to 64 years, that I know,” Destrac said. 

First-hand stories of the protests have also made their way to the interns from friends. “In Reims, everyone was protesting, and they were throwing tables and chairs at the police and the police were sending them back!” Destrac said. “In France, when you’re protesting, often you get tear-gassed…I know that every protest I do in Bordeaux I get gassed, [the police] love it, I don’t know, and in Reims…all the bars were filled with smoke!” 

Overall, their feelings regarding the distance from the strikes are mixed. The frustration was undeniable as Macron pushed the bill through without a vote from the National Assembly, also known as doing a 49.3, which seemed like an affront to democracy to the interns. “He’s decided on something, and either he eventually gets the votes [to get it passed] or he does a 49.3 and we don’t have a choice. He’s not even reacting to the protests,” Bafoil said. 

At the same time, though, there was a sense of relief that they weren’t there. “It’s not that we’re happy we’re not in France. It’s just that if we were in France, we would be enraged and angry all the time in our daily lives,” Destrac said. 

Part of the emotional distance from French politics is due to the physical, but the trio has also placed emphasis on Americans’ political disinterest and good-old fashioned Minnesota nice. “There’s an artful passive aggression here,” Lesauvage said. Edina especially feels divorced from reality. “We know we’re in a bubble at Edina, and our travels really helped confirm that,” Destrac said.

Despite the problems, the interns have overall enjoyed their time here: the school, the travel, and their host families. The group began referring to their hosts as mother and father and emphasized how much they cared for them as though they were truly family. “My host family, my host mother, now she’s my American mother. I know I’ll always remain in contact with my [host] family,” Lesauvage said.

This piece was originally published in Zephyrus’ print edition on April 20.