Celebrating 20 years of entente cordiale

S08020H13 Jean-Luc Mignon, who was instrumental in setting up the French side of the exchange visits
S08020H13 Jean-Luc Mignon, who was instrumental in setting up the French side of the exchange visits

FRENCH students were in Steyning last week, celebrating 20 years of entente cordiale at Steyning Grammar School.

Students from the Lycée Sainte Ursule in Lucon have been involved in annual exchange visits with Steyning since 1993, and Jean-Luc Mignon, who helped set-up the visits in the first place, has been over on 19 out of the 20 occasions.

He told the Herald: “All of it is about language and culture and experiencing new situations and maybe they grow up a little bit more.

“We must try to make them citizens of the world.”

He explained a former Steyning teacher had a mother living near his school in France and during one visit, he came to them saying he wanted to find a school to organise an exchange with.

Mr Mignon, who has been at his school for 35 years and was deputy head until last year, was instrumental in setting up the partnernship on the French side and has been coming over each year ever since. The only time he missed the visit was when he was asked to accompany a school visit to Autralia one year.

“I have met quite a lot of people here, including four different head teachers,” he said. “We have been building a good relationship. It is good because we now know each other quite well.

“It is really interesting to see, you have so much to learn from the others.”

Students are paired up in advance and when the Steyning students make their visit to France in March, they will stay in the same pairs.

This year’s group, aged 15 and 16, arrived last Saturday for a week-long programme arranged by Steyning’s head of French, Katie Brownings.

She planned visits to Windsor Castle, Brighton Pavilion and London, as well as a talk at St Andrew and St Cuthman Church in Steyning and a visit to Steyning Museum.

Mr Mignon said: “We always have a long walk around the streets of London and get a tour of the National Gallery, because it is our duty as teachers to give them some culture and introduce them to places like that.”

French students Juliette Rabille, 15, and Marielle Farny, 15, said it was their first time in England and they were finding it rather cold.

Steyning was a smaller town than their own, they said, adding they enjoyed the trip to London last Tuesday.

Juliette said: “It is quite difficult because of the language, we have had to speak it all the time.”

But they both felt the exchange trip was valuable experience.

The French students were mostly staying with the families of their Steyning partner, though three of them were paired with boarders at the grammar school and one was actually staying in the Church Street boarding house.