From Paris to Austin

Published 12:20 pm Saturday, April 24, 2010

Patrick Heestermans is the curious sort so an internship that has placed the Parisian in French classes at Austin High School was a natural fit.

“I’ve had a lot of experiences,” Heestermans said. “I’m curious about many things.”

Those experiences includes trips to both Asia and Africa, with the trip to Africa centered around his degrees in civil engineering and urban planning.

At Austin High School, it’s both something much different from his college studies yet related at the same time.

Heestermans, working through a program at the Amity Institute in San Diego, Calif. that places French interns in schools, gives the AHS students a first-person connection to France through the five different French classes.

Heestermans applied for the internship and then the school sent his application to schools around the United States. It was AHS that contacted Heestermans.

Heestermans’ contributions range from telling the students about his country to giving presentations about French culture, to helping the students with pronunciations of French words.

“To have someone who is a native speaker of the language, it brings and extra dimension to the classroom,” French teacher Emily Wakefield said.

Although Heestermans is 23 and graduated from college there has been an obvious connection to the students even if the initial meeting between intern and students was a bit slow at first.

“It’s been fun to see it build over time,” Wakefield said. “The students were pretty timid, but now they’ll stop in just to say hi to him or tell him jokes.”

Part of what stands out for Heestermans is how interested students have been.

“They ask about life in Paris; very curious,” he said adding that sometimes in class there is a question period where, “students can prepare one question. They are really, really curious.”

He’s also enjoyed watching the students come along in their ability to speak his language.

“There are some really good students,” he said, admitting, “The pronunciation of French is hard for some.”

The journey to learn a language has been in some aspects a two-way road for Heestermans who from time to time has relied on the students to point aspects of English out for him.

“Sometimes it has happened,” He said. “There are some thing’s they’ve explained to me, which is really nice. It’s more like a conversation.”

The internship does more than introduce cultures to one another. Though teaching and civil engineering seem opposite of one another, it will lend those areas he has degrees in.

“When I go back to France, I will look for a job,” Heestermans explains. “In France it’s important to be open to learning. It shows you can adapt yourself.”

After more than two and a half months, Heestermans’ time in the U.S. is winding down with a little more than a month remaining.

“It’s been a great two and a half months,” Heestermans said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.

“If someone asks me it’s worth it to do this I’ll say, yes.”