Sisters Study for High-Stakes Exam in France

By Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief

While many West Bend students are preparing for the ACT, Pauline and Julianne Buisard are studying for their “bac” exam in France.

Pauline and Julianne, twin sisters who spent their ninth and tenth grade years at West Bend West High School, returned to their hometown of Nantes, France last August. Now juniors, they have been preparing for their upcoming baccalauréat exam, which they must pass in order to graduate from high school.

According to Pauline and Julianne, this exam is known to be extremely challenging. Unlike American standardized tests, the French baccalauréat exam, otherwise known as the “bac,” is taken over the course of two years. This June, Pauline and Julianne will test for only a couple classes, then complete the remaining examinations for each of their other subjects as seniors next year.

Those subjects were determined at the start of this school year, when Pauline and Julianne were required to select one of three different academic groupings: literary, scientific, or social and economic studies. Pauline selected the scientific grouping, while Julianne chose to follow the social and economic track. This affects the portions of the bac exam that they will take, as there will be an emphasis on their chosen area.

Other portions of the exam cover the remainder of their classes, such as English, math, history, geography and more.

“I also took an English option so I’ll have two more tests, one in English and it will be an oral exam, and another one that will be a math problem which I will have to solve orally in front of a jury,” Pauline said.

Christi Fischer, an East French teacher, explained that the bac exams are typically a four-hour written essay per subject, plus a one-hour oral exam.

The preparation for the bac has proven to be quite stressful for Pauline.

“The bac exam makes me really nervous, and it actually makes everyone nervous,” Pauline said. “We are all scared to fail and lose points for our overall score on the bac exam, which you have to pass in order to continue your education and go to college. As I prepare for this exam, I’m not exactly sure what to do and that makes me even more anxious.”

“The bac exam makes me really nervous, and it actually makes everyone nervous.”
– Pauline Buisard

Julianne also said that there is an intimidation associated with the bac, emphasizing that if she and her sister fail, they must redo their senior year.

“That’s a lot of pressure because we have to study everything we did during junior and senior year, every single thing, so that’s a lot of work and study that we have to do,” Julianne said.

Pauline and Julianne have been preparing for the bac since the start of their high school careers in West Bend. Since returning to France, though, they have had to take a preparatory “bac blanc” exam, which provides a model for what the true bac exam will be like. Julianne also says that they must take two-hour-long tests every week to help train for the bac.

Pauline does not believe that so much emphasis should be placed on just a single test like the bac. She thinks that it does not show what students truly know and are capable of. However, Pauline and Julianne agree that it is important to have a test at the end of high school to help evaluate what type of college students should go to.

Thanks to an engineering class that she took at WBHS, Pauline hopes to attend an engineering school in France.

“I would probably have had no idea that I liked (engineering) if I hadn’t moved in West Bend and had the opportunity to try it in school for an entire year,” she said.

Fischer indicated that students in France do not have the same volume of elective classes that are offered at WBHS. In terms of academics, French students do not have many choices.

“(Pauline) wouldn’t have had an engineering class in France,” Fischer said. “It’s definitely a much more rigid program of study in France.”

The Buisard family in front of Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers. From left: Julianne, Magali (mother), Pierre (brother), Pauline, Franck (father). Photo courtesy of Pauline Buisard.

Coming to America

After their father, Franck Buisard, was hired by West Bend’s Gehl Company, which is now owned by the French company Manitou, Pauline and Julianne moved with their family to the United States. They arrived at their home in Kewaskum in the spring of 2016, several months before the start of Pauline and Julianne’s ninth grade year.

Pauline believes that her experience in West Bend, though it only lasted about two and a half years, has changed her.

“I remember when the teacher said that we had a presentation to do in front of the class, I was terrified,” Pauline said. “Talking in English in front of people who speak it perfectly was really scary, but it made me stronger. It was really, really hard at first but then it was alright. There was time we all felt alone in my family and we didn’t know if we had made the right decision when we decided to come. Then it got better and now, I think that it was probably the best experience in my entire life.”

It was ultimately because of their father’s job that Pauline and Julianne had to move back to France. They had hoped to stay at least one more year, but Pauline admits that it was the right choice to return home before their junior year in order for her and her sister to do well on the bac exam.

Returning to life in Nantes hasn’t been an easy transition for Pauline. She acknowledged that she has had to adapt due to the vast differences between French and American cultures.

“I realized that now I didn’t always think the same way French people did,” Pauline said. “I also don’t always agree with them and they don’t understand why.”

Julianne has also had a difficult time re-adjusting to life in France. She says that she did not want to move back to Nantes and would have preferred to stay in America.

“French school is a lot of work compared to the American school,” Julianne said. “I started with really bad grades (after coming back to France) because I haven’t been studying the French program like everyone else did.”

Though returning to their old home in Nantes has reunited her family with friends and relatives, Pauline misses many things about West Bend. Perhaps the thing she misses most is the way people live.

“It is way less stressful and complicated (in America) and I loved that,” Pauline said. “People in America are really nice and simple, they make things easier and not stressful.”

(Top image: Julianne (left) and Pauline Buisard in front of Le Loquidy, their high school in Nantes, France. Photo courtesy of Pauline Buisard.)

Julianne Buisard (left), her brother Pierre and sister Pauline stand outside their Kewaskum home after a snowfall. Because they do not get snow in Nantes, France, the siblings were excited for this Wisconsin experience. Photo courtesy of Pauline Buisard.

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