International interns enhance language-learning experience

All foreign language students have discovered, at one point or another, that speaking with peers in the classroom is very different than conversing with a native speaker in the real world.

Thanks to the Amity Foundation, Interlochen’s French and Spanish students have had native speakers in their own classrooms throughout the fall semester.

The Amity Foundation was founded in 1962 to “meet the needs of American foreign language teachers and students for direct and personalized contact with world languages and cultures.” The Amity program brings international college students to the United States to teach their native language under the supervision of a certified American teacher. Amity interns serve as living models of the language and culture that students are studying in their chosen foreign language courses.

Interlochen has been partnering with Amity interns since 1988. Instructor of French Teresa Hittner has worked alongside Amity interns since she started at Interlochen nine years ago.

Each year, the Liberal Arts department sets aside funds to support one Amity intern for a full year. “Amity sends us just one file,” said Hittner. “They have a profile on us and know us very well, so they know what kind of intern we need. All I have to do is say, ‘Yes, I’m interested in this person.’”

Clarisse Commauche, of France, was the Amity intern who assisted Hittner with her classes. Clarisse is an Amity veteran, having completed a previous Amity placement at a primary school in Oklahoma.

Commauche was excited to be working with teenagers for the first time. “The students are really interesting,” she said. “They ask a lot of questions about life in France.”

Hittner said such cultural questions are exactly why the Amity internships exist. “The interns are closer in age to our students, and even though they’re no longer teenagers, they can talk about what it’s like to be 16 in France or in Spain,” she said.

Commauche also hosted “culture nights” throughout the semester, giving students the opportunity to learn more about French culture. She was also available around-the-clock to assist students with homework questions.

Typically, Interlochen’s Amity interns alternate by year—a French intern one year, and a Spanish intern the next. This year, however, Interlochen decided to split its funds and host two interns for one semester each.

Commauche’s Spanish-speaking counterpart, Marta Ballester Navarro of Spain, assisted Brittany Adams with her Spanish classes. “I really wanted to find a way to teach in the United States,” Ballester said. “I found the Amity program online. At first, I was worried it wasn’t real because it sounded so amazing!”

Ballester enjoyed her semester teaching at Interlochen. “I like to see different ways of teaching,” she said. “I was also really interested when I found out where I was placed, because I heard that all the students had an artistic background.” An artist herself, Ballester enjoys graphic design and illustration outside the classroom.

Ballester believes that artistic rather than cultural backgrounds are what differentiate Interlochen’s students from the students she taught in Spain. “They’re all really talented,” she said. “Coming to a boarding school shows how serious they are about their art. They’re all hard workers, very mature for their age, and really interested in the language. It makes teaching easier.”