Two languages, one friendship

One Abbotsford family will have some special French flavour this Thanksgiving holiday.

Alexandra Johnson and Melanie Kneisky at the Johnsons’ Abbotsford home.

Melissa WELSH


One Abbotsford family will have some special French flavour this Thanksgiving holiday.

Melanie Kneisky, a student from France, has been staying with the family of Alexandra Johnson for just over two months.

Both teens are part of an exchange program run by French institution Organisme de Sejours Educatifs Francais (OSEF).

Alexandra, who attends Yale secondary, is the only Abbotsford student participating with OSEF this fall.

The two Grade 11 students have found that while discovering new cultures and surroundings, sometimes the best of friendships are formed.

The two girls describe their bond between bursts of laughter.

“I don’t feel homesick, because I feel like this is my own home here,” Melanie says.

With a few, sometimes humorous, differences.

Sitting in the kitchen, Melanie laughs at the jingle coming from the dryer, indicating the clothes are done. She’s never heard it before.

Just like she never tasted peanut butter before coming to Canada.

“They put it on toast,” she says in disbelief. “Oh, I don’t like it.”

Alexandra’s mom Daphne mentions that the program coordinators described two stereotypes of French students – they hate peanut butter but are addicted to Nutella; and their rooms are immaculately kept.

While the first statement is true – with Melanie going through an entire jar of Nutella in only four days – the latter is not.

Melanie’s laissez-fair approach to her bedroom may be due to the fact that Daphne has focused on treating her like family instead of a guest..

The contrast in cultures has resulted in some adjustments for both Melanie and the Johnson clan.

The most apparent is food – not the type, but the quantity, and time it takes to eat.

While students at Yale Secondary have 40 minutes to gather their lunch, eat and head back for class, Melanie says that back home in Belfort, France, lunch is an hour minimum.

“At lunch we eat a lot. We have one plate, one little thing like that and one dessert,” Melanie says, gesturing with her hands to indicate  generous portions.

“So, we need time.”

At her school, cantina supervisors will not let students leave before a half-hour has passed, to prevent eating too fast.

Daphne notes how at home, Melanie has had to adjust to the fact that Canadians usually only eat one large meal a day, for dinner, and that there isn’t always dessert afterwards.

What does follow, however, are some interesting conversations.

Learning about the Canadian government has been something Melanie has enjoyed, and often she and the family will talk about the political differences between this province and her country.

Other subjects have proved difficult.  Melanie had to transfer out of psychology because she could not keep up due to the dense reading material.

Language issues are something Alexandra may experience travelling to France in January for her three-month stay.

A French-immersion student up until Grade 9, Alexandra will be exposed to a new version of French, rather than the Quebecois she was taught.

Melanie’s history teacher classified it as the French Parisians spoke 200 years ago, most likely preserved because Quebec is sandwiched between English-speaking provinces.

Meanwhile, other observations are made.

Everything else is bigger here, Melanie says, like the houses and even the cities.

After a shopping excursion to downtown Vancouver, Melanie said she could not live in the city.

While she may go to Paris to have fun, at home there is one street in town lined with stores.

“It is impossible to lose yourself there.”

But there are other things in the Lower Mainland that she has fallen in love with – one being the abundance of trees.

To Melanie, driving between cities here is like driving between forests, because trees are everywhere.

It is not like that in France, she says.

“There’s something about the colour of the leaves with the sun coming through. I love it,” Melanie said. The maple tree is her favourite.

The exchange has been one of the best experiences of her life, Melanie says.

And while she has enjoyed the beautiful landscape B.C. has to offer, it is the friendship with Alexandra and her family that has made the trip so memorable.

That relationship is what both girls say they’ll be thankful for this holiday weekend.

It will be the first Thanksgiving Melanie will experience.

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