American in Paris

By Spencer Gisser

Every school day, Mary Ann Toman-Miller ‘€™10 wakes up at around 7:40 a.m. and walks to school for her 8:30 a.m. class. For her junior year, Toman-Miller is taking Chinese, English, French, 20th Century History, Biology and Philosophy. Her day is much like those of most Harvard-Westlake students, except Toman-Miler lives in France.

Toman-Miller attended Harvard-Westlake from seventh grade to ninth grade. In ninth grade, she scored 5 on the French AP test. In the summer before 10th grade, she moved with her mother to Paris to participate in a French IB program at the Fondation de France Bilingual School, from which she hopes to earn a bilingual diploma in French and in English.

The two courses offered to her were a bilingual IB course and a French Baccalaureate course. The French Baccalureate course is an intensive program primarily taken by native French speakers, yet “I seriously thought about doing the French Baccalaureate,” Toman-Miller said.

The IB diploma is awarded after a test that covers material spanning from the beginning of junior year to the end of senior year. Because Harvard-Westlake does not offer a French IB program, Toman-Miller would not be able to get an IB diploma if she were to return to Harvard-Westlake for her senior year even though she has already spent two years in France in the IB program.

She does not know whether she will stay in France or not since returning to Harvard-Westlake for her senior year would forfeit her chance of getting an IB diploma.

As part of the IB program, all of her classes, including Chinese, are taught in French.

The French course “is a really challenging course and everyone is a native speaker,” Toman-Miller said. 

A French translation of “Hamlet” by Shakespeare was “definitely challenging. Reading it in English is challenging, and reading it in French is a lot harder.”

Toman-Miller’€™s math class requires her to “show your work in the French way,” where answers to math problems must be explained through words as well as through math.

Grades are announced to the entire class as they are handed back.

“People are really open with grades here,” Toman-Miller said. “Everyone asks everyone what grades they got.”

“As a part of French culture, friends do the kiss-kiss, a bise, for hello and goodbye each time you see someone. If there are five people in a room and one person comes in, everyone says hi, introduces themselves and does the kiss-kiss again.”

Sometimes, a friendly and inclusive atmosphere becomes somewhat more extravagant. Toman-Miller went with some of her friends to La Coupole, an oyster bar started in 1927, to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The restaurant brought out a “gigantic cake saying ‘Happy Birthday’ with a fire cracker on it,” Toman-Miller said. Although “there must have been 300 people there, 20 waiters told the 300 people to be quiet so they could sing Happy Birthday.”

Toman-Miller speaks in English “about half the time,” she said. Some native French speakers taking the bilingual IB program often talk with her in English as practice.

Toman-Miller participates in the Paris Model United Nations, PAMUN, a conference with 800 participants organized by the American School in Paris, and held in the UNESCO building and is the editor of the PAMUN newspaper. One keynote speaker at PAMUN was on the actual European Parliament. 

Toman-Miller also sings. One day, she received an unexpected e-mail inviting her to sing at an event. 

“I got to the area, and it was barricaded off. There were police all over,” Toman-Miller said. While she sang, she noticed that “in the first row were President George Bush and Laura and the US ambassador.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login