On June 30, a small contingent of La Cañada residents traveled to Los Angeles International Airport to greet two very special guests and, in doing so, participate in the city’s first student exchange with Spanish sister city Villanueva De La Cañada.
Students Eva Perez Prieto and Daniel Fernández Multigner were met with smiles and a handmade welcome sign by their respective host sister and brother Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy senior Catherine Condit and La Cañada High School junior Jack Applebaum.
The two local families have agreed to open their homes as hosts of the two Spanish students through Tuesday and will send their children on July 20 to Spain to stay with Eva and Daniel’s families.
The historic exchange is made possible by the formation last year of the La Cañada Flintridge Sister Cities Assn. under founder and president Vicki Schwartz, who approached city officials in January 2016 with a desire to recreate for local students the kinds of joys she experienced as a student in Tempe, Ariz., when she was given the opportunity to stay with a German host family 40 years earlier.
In less than 18 months La Cañada Flintridge courted four sister cities in Spain and Germany, formally pairing with Villanueva De La Cañada, a small inland town 22 miles northwest of Madrid, in a sister city agreement ceremony in May.
Last week, Schwartz introduced the Spanish visitors and students from all four local high schools participating in the exchange program — and a Sister Cities International conference in Virgina Beach, Va., that takes place this weekend — to members of the La Cañada Flintridge City Council.
“This is a very big moment because we are sending our first-ever two students representing La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., to Villanueva De La Cañada in just a couple of weeks,” Schwartz told the council.
Daniel and Eva presented Mayor Mike Davitt and his council colleagues with English and Spanish presentation copies of the two towns’ historic sister city agreement as well as a painting of Villanueva’s own City Hall, to be hung in La Cañada’s new City Hall building when it opens next year.
“This is a huge labor of love,” Davitt said, addressing the visitors. “We’re very excited everyone’s here — hopefully you’re going to enjoy your time here.”
Since the arrival, students and families have been partnering to show their visitors the most interesting sites and experiences La Cañada Flintridge and Greater Los Angeles have to offer. On July 1, German student Conni Bakhaus joined the Spanish students as part of a special trip arranged by Schwartz and the LCF Sister Cities Assn.
The group visited Descanso Gardens, danced at the city’s Music in the Park concert, attended a Dodgers game and toured NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On Wednesday night, they got to get their hands dirty at a ceramics class held at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge.
“It’s exciting,” Daniel said of his stay with Jack and the Applebaum family. “You don’t know how is the family you’re getting, so I kept saying, ‘It’s going to be a good family.’ But when you do an exchange, you know the people doing it are going to be a good family.”
Chief among his goals while in L.A. were checking out Hollywood and Venice Beach.
“All the people who’ve gone, when I say I am going to come to Los Angeles say Venice Beach is a good place to visit,” he said.
Jack, who enrolled in a Spanish language class recently to learn a few helpful phrases, said he was nervous about leaving the country on his own for the first time but felt better knowing Daniel would be there.
“I’m very excited to go to Spain,” he said. “It’s a new experience for me.”
Daniel and Eva leave for home on Tuesday and will have three days to prepare for Catherine and Jack’s arrival. Schwartz said it was heartwarming to see local students embark on what was sure to become a memorable journey.
“They don’t realize now this is something that’s going to stick with them for the rest of their lives,” she said. “They have so much to look forward to, and they will always have a very dear friend, and a family, somewhere else in the world — forever.”