After spending a little time in Carole Traster-Wilk's Little Neck home, the pictures of the Eiffel Tower leap out amid the clutter of photo albums, puzzles and trinkets that speak of her love of France the most.
It was during a high school trip to France that Traster-Wilk said she "fell in love with the country, and decided it should be a major part of my life. And it has been."
Now the schoolteacher is spending her time helping other high school students discover the allure of all things French. Last year, Traster-Wilk volunteered to be a chaperone for the foreign exchange program at Bayside's Benjamin Cardozo High School and helped 15 American students, including her son Dustin Herlich, explore France.
While Cardozo students got a chance to see France in 1999, the year 2000 brings a chance for 19 French students to experience New York City, and Traster-Wilk was asked to coordinate the trip.
"We'll try to mimic the trip [to France] as well as we can," she said. Traster-Wilk said the anticipated activities for the French foreign exchange students include trips to the Statue of Liberty, the Flushing library, historic spots like Sagamore Hill on Long Island, the United Nations in Manhattan and other famous sites.
She credited the help of Principal Rick Hallman and Robert Goodman, the chairman of the Foreign Language Department at Cardozo, with allowing her "to put together a great program for the French kids." The French students will spend two weeks in America in April, she said.
Even though last year's trip with Cardozo's decade-old foreign exchange program was one of many for Traster-Wilk - she lived in France for a year in the late 1970s and studied at the Sorbonne - she speaks of it with the enthusiasm of a someone who had never before traveled abroad.
"They treated us like gold," she said. "Every child was given absolutely royal treatment. And the French teacher, Francoise Guillot, was a godsend. She made it a delightful two weeks for these kids and was so welcoming, warm, and professional."
During last year's trip, she said, each Cardozo student, including Traster-Wilk's son Dustin, stayed with a French family in the town of Chateau Thierry and spent 15 days visiting castles, museums, vineyards, churches, the town's deputy mayor and Paris.
"The trip was perfect," she said.
Dustin, who has also made several trips to France and was raised bilingually, agreed.
"It was great," the 17-year-old said. "I've been able to have a lot of experiences that some people only dream about - like going to the Eiffel Tower."
The trip was also good because students spent weekends with the French families, who planned individual itineraries, Traster-Wilk said. She said that flexibility made the program ideal for Dustin, who had been to France before.
"He stayed with the Fourt family," she said. "They had the weekends free and they went wherever the families took them."
For Traster-Wilk, who teaches French, Spanish and English at The Windsor School in Flushing, immersing her son in another culture was a priority from the start.
©2000 Community News Group
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