French students visit Natchez during Gulf Coast trip

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 9, 2010

NATCHEZ — The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians was the perfect place for an impromptu soccer match between the Cathedral Green Wave and high school students from Puteaux, France.

With goals marked off by backpacks and no jerseys differentiating the teams, the game more closely resembled a match between friends and not students separated by thousands of miles, language and culture.

The French students were visiting Natchez as part of trip to the Gulf Coast states sponsored by their hometown, a suburb west of Paris.

During the trip Cathedral High School French teacher Jean-Claude Coullerez acted as the group’s translator and invited a few of his students to join the group.

“I thought this was an opportunity to expose them to people and culture they might not have otherwise seen,” Coullerez said. “I wanted to show them that teenagers are basically the same everywhere in the world.”

And if the soccer match was any indication, Coullerez’s assertion is correct.

A slight misunderstanding when a Cathedral student referred to the game as soccer, instead of fooball, was the only indication that the students hadn’t been classmates and friends for years.

“We talked a lot about sports,” Cathedral junior Jadarius Ealey said. “In France, soccer and tennis are big deals. A couple of them talked about going to the French Open.”

The consensus among the local high school students was that no matter the country, high school students like the same things — music, sports and hanging out with friends.

“We are pretty much the same,” Cathedral junior Daniel Huffines said. “Mr. Coullerez said that they would be just like us and he was right.”

Madeline Beard, a junior at Cathedral, said there were small differences between the cultures, but for the most part, she said, teenagers are teenagers.

“In addition to music from Europe, they like a lot of the same music we will listen to,” Beard said. “On weekends, they hang out with their friends just like we do. They do some different stuff, but they still like just hanging out with friends.”

The visiting group toured Frogmore Plantation, the Natchez Visitor Reception Center and the Grand Village and visited the Mississippi River while in town for a day.

The first group of approximately 35 students arrived Wednesday and subsequent groups will follow daily until July 18. A total of 250 students will make stops in Natchez in the coming days.

Each year students from Puteaux are sponsored to travel abroad. For the past three years, the trips have been to the United States with groups visiting the west coast, east coast and now the gulf coast.

This year’s trips will make stops in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

“It is really a good, good program that is offered to these students,” Coullerez said. “I’d like it if I could take some of my students to France to see that country and culture.”

The group arriving today will be met by Mayor Jake Middleton, who will present the students with Natchez pins. The mayor of Puteaux, Joelle Ceccaldi-Raynaud, will also be in Natchez with the group.

No winner was declared on the soccer field, but Cathedral sophomore Dale Matheny said French students were probably a little more skilled than he and his friends.

“They have more of a soccer culture than we do here,” he said. “I don’t think we compared badly to them, but they are probably a little better than us.”

But all the students agreed that while the French students might get the best of them on the soccer field, there were other sports in which they were sure they’d come out on top.

“American football and baseball — there’d be no competition for us,” Huffines said.