Like I said before, the Institut was one of my favorite places that I've visited so far. The children and the staff are very friendly, and extremely open.
But when I say open, I mean really, truly open.
I arrived with another American and we sat in a private classroom with a couple French children, because the English teacher had that day off. The French teacher let us sit and listen as she taught some French exercises to the children who are about 15 years old. I listened, understanding the questions but not the answers.
At one point, the teacher looked up at me, pointed to one of the students and said "He has dyslexia." (In French. The word is really similar, so I understood.) I didn't know what to make of this. I looked at him (he was sitting next to me) and I said "Pas de problem!" (No problem!) and the teacher agreed, the student smiled. He was not phased at all.
My brain: What is happening?!
In the second classroom, a different girl had stood up and said, "I am here because I have arthritis."
When recess began, I talked to the teacher who spoke some English, but he explained to me in French that in the French culture, especially at the institute/hospital, they encourage children to be open. He said they should feel comfortable asking questions and being around other people who have different ailments. For children especially, maladies can be confusing and this way they feel free to ask questions and not be ashamed of being different.
He said they will talk about anything! I challenged this: Anything? Really? Well, serious mental illnesses and very serious terminal problems are not really discussed.
Ah, okay. So that's very different from the American culture, where normally medical history is kept private or shared with close friends and family, and there tends to be a lot of medical stigmas. This environment appears to be a very healthy one, with a very different outlook. While I have a lot to learn about this...
Maybe our institutions could learn a thing or two?