It's April in Paris. An American high school student at the Louvre Museum asks her teacher, "Are all these pictures original?" A few days later in Madrid, a girl asks the tour guide, "Do they have TV in Spain?"
Thousands of inquisitive teen-agers, innocents abroad, will be asking similar questions next spring as they catch fleeting glimpses of the Old World on one-week educational travel programs.
It's hard to determine how much a young person absorbs in a whirlwind tour, but he or she certainly returns with a myriad of impressions and perhaps a few deeper insights into foreign cultures.
Nearly 50,000 students between 15 and 18 years old will spend their spring break overseas, according to the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), of Greenwich, Conn., an organization that annually takes 10,000 students to Europe on March and April "miniprograms."
A wide variety of educational travel organizations and local travel agents arrange spring hops for high school groups. Most groups, consisting of 5 to 15 students, are accompanied by a hometown teacher.
A week-long program in Europe costs about $1,000 from New York. While a brief stint abroad carries a high per-day cost, it is still within the financial reach of many students who cannot afford a longer summer program, said David R. Horn, AIFS vice- president for admissions.
"A week overseas, moreover, is enough for the majority of students this age because they just want a taste of foreign travel," Mr. Horn said. "A short trip opens their eyes and prepares them for an extended visit later."
What do teachers think of the educational value of a brief tour abroad?
Mrs. Helene Weintzweig, a French teacher at Martin Spalding High School in Severn, Md., said a week is plenty for most students, because they go mainly for the "adventure of it."
"But even in a short program there is a lot to be learned insofar as up to now everything has been book knowledge," she said. "It becomes a reality."
Claire Putterman, a French teacher at Carmel Junior High School in Charlotte, N.C., said, "Students have the opportunity to use the foreign language in a natural setting, rather than in the classroom. And they are better able to relate to their own culture and customs by becoming more aware of others in a new environment."
A short program is best for young first-timers to Europe because "they tire quickly and their attention span is limited," Mrs. Putterman said.
Longer programs, besides costing more, may interfere with summer jobs or family vacations.
The least expensive minitours are based in one country because costs of intra-European travel are kept down. Some programs are spent entirely in one city, like Londons or Paris, with excursions to outlying towns. Package prices hover around $800 from New York.
More ambitious programs touch three, four, or five countries in a week. The AIFS's "Great European Adventure," for example, barnstorms through the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium, in addition to London and Paris. A special feature is a home stay with a Dutch family in suburban Amsterdam. The tip costs
A teen-ager's typical day in Europe includes pilgrimages to sights like the Roman Forum or the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. In spring such attractions are mobbed with busloads of American adolescents toting pocket cameras and flight bags furnished by the sponsoring organization.
During free afternoons and evenings, the teachers take their groups on public transportation to other points of interest. Organized evening activities might include a flamenco show in Madrid or a play in London. These events may or may not be included in the program fee.
The basic fee generally covers round-trip air fare, simple accommodations in budget hotels or dormitories, bus or train travel within Europe, sightseeing tours, and some meals. Air fare accounts for at least half the cost of a week package.
Not all student tours concentrate on the big cities. The Educational Cooperative of Chicago sponsors a series of spring programs based in Limburg, a tranquil Dutch province wedged between Germany and Belgium. Students stay in a 1,000-year-old abbey in Kerkrade, where meetings and parties with local youths are arranged. Day excursions include German cities like Bonn, Aachen, and Cologne, plus a Rhine River cruise. Belgian cities and France's vineyard country are also visited.