The exchanges began with an April visit to Crestview by a 29-person delegation from Noirmoutier, including 19 students. Subsequent exchanges will see Northwest Florida State College choral students and a Crestview High School student group heading over to the French island next year.
They’ll be followed by a Crestview adult group in June 2024, the return to Crestview by Noirmoutrin students in October 2024, and a visit by Noirmoutrin adults in 2025.
Throw in a French business student attending NWFSC this fall and the prospect of an intern in Crestview, and the national award-winning Crestview Area Sister City Program has been busy working with its partners to strengthen ties, friendships and reciprocal visits.
“Educational opportunities, cultural experiences and lasting international friendships are huge components of our program, on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Brian Hughes, the Crestview Area Sister City Program president. “To achieve these goals, we are working with our friends in France on a series of adult and student exchanges.”
In fact, the active involvement of the program’s Crestview High student partners, the Sister City Ambassadors, led to Crestview receiving Sister City International’s Best Overall Program award last year.
In April, the Noirmoutrin committee met with Crestview High Principal Jay Sanders and his staff to discuss future exchanges between their students. The Noirmoutier leadership hope for more reciprocal visits by Crestview High students.
“It is really important to have a genuine exchange program,” Noirmoutier Sister City Committee secretary Gérard Moreau said. “Our students really want to welcome their Crestview friends to Noirmoutier.”
“I’m all for it!” Mr. Sanders said. “It’s a great experience for our kids and the French kids.”
This summer, the CHS Ambassadors’ faculty adviser, Suein Archie; her successor (upon Ms. Archie’s May 2023 retirement), Amy Mertens; and parent Erika Follmar are developing plans for a 20-student visit to Noirmoutier in June 2023. While introducing new visitors to Noirmoutier, it will also allow CHS students to reunite with Noirmoutrin friends whom they hosted in April.
Noirmoutier leaders also met with members of the Northwest Florida State College performing arts faculty, which, through Crestview’s Sister City relationship, has partnered with Noirmoutier to send its show choirs on performance tours of the island.
In May 2023, fine arts professor Dr. David Simmons will lead the NWFSC Voices of Northwest Florida chorus on a concert visit to the island, reviving the college’s show choirs’ performances that were suspended by COVID.
“Our students were always received in Noirmoutier like rock stars,” Dr. Simmons said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to experience a new culture, make new friends in France, and share their talents in another country.”
The college also welcomes business students from the University of Nantes, near Noirmoutier, to study at the Niceville main campus. This year’s French student is Sébastien Besnard, who will stay with local host families during the school year.
“This marks a new chapter in my life that I look forward to: A once-in-a-lifetime experience across the Atlantic,” Sébastien said.
The positive experiences young Noirmoutrins have had in Crestview over the course of more than 20 years were evident during Mr. Hughes’s May visit to Noirmoutier.
Previous Crestview visitors greeted him, including Théo Toulat, who was a summer intern at the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce; Nicholas Corbrejaud, who visited with the 2012 student delegation; his little brother, Romaine, who visited Crestview several times with their parents and will return with the October 2024 student group; and Mattise Voillet, who visited with the April student contingent.
“Staying at my hosts’ home and interning at the chamber allowed me to meet so many different American people from different backgrounds,” Théo said. “I improved my interpersonal and communication skills, while practicing my English.”
During a Memorial Day weekend ceremony to honor a World War II American B-17 crew shot down on a nearby beach, it was Mattise who was selected to raise the Stars and Stripes over a memorial to the aviators.
“It was very special to me to help raise the American flag, because it made me think of my friends back in Crestview,” Matisse said. “Everyone there was so kind to me, so I was very happy to raise their flag.”
“These exchanges open up new cultural, educational and social horizons for people in Crestview and Noirmoutier,” Mr. Hughes said. “Crestview’s is the only Sister City relationship between Tallahassee and Pensacola. It’s an extraordinary cultural opportunity afforded few other communities.”
Want more information?
Membership in the Crestview Area Sister City Program is open to anyone in the tri-county area. Visit www.facebook.com/CrestviewSisterCity to learn more about the organization, or contact program president Brian Hughes at the Crestview Cultural Services Division, 850.398.5459.