Hoover High students say bienvenue

After months of exchanging letters — written in a mix of French and English — several dozen Hoover High School students are polishing conversational skills with their foreign pen pals during a two-week cultural exchange at the Glendale campus.

The 42 French visitors, including 38 students and four teachers, hail from the Lycée Polyvalent Saint-Exupéry, a secondary school about 40 minutes outside of Geneva. They are scheduled to fly home Thursday following a stay that has included outings to Universal Studios, the Griffith Park Observatory and the beach.

“It is a new country to discover,” Eric Severin, a culinary arts teacher at the French school said of the exchange. “They learn to open their eyes to something else. Maybe they can bring some of it to France and try to improve what we have in France with what they saw here.”

The relationship between the American and French schools sprung up thanks to a mutual student. After moving from France to Southern California and enrolling at Hoover High School, Eve Freedman recommended to French teacher Emily Rogers that her students correspond with Freedman’s former classmates.

The letter exchange gained momentum during the 2010-11 school year, and when a dozen Hoover High students and staff traveled to Paris in April for spring break, they met up with their friends from the lycée.

The two parties quickly began making plans for a reciprocal visit, which kicked off on Oct. 27 when the French visitors touched down at Los Angeles International Airport.

“We hear the kids exchanging all different kinds of languages,” said Hoover Principal Jennifer Earl, who was among those who traveled to France last spring. “I think it broadens their scope. It has been amazing, for the adults too.”

Participating Hoover High School students spent months raising money to provide their guests with a first-rate experience, Earl said.

“It was thousands of dollars they had to raise,” Earl said. “The agreement is you get yourself here and then we make sure that all of the major things are paid for while you are here. And vice versa — it would work that way when we go there.”

The visitors are being housed by Hoover students and staff, who have shown them Southern California’s most popular sites while also introducing them to life at an American high school.

Some of the most notable differences between Hoover and the Lycée Polyvalent Saint-Exupéry include classroom computers, 30-minute lunches — in France lunch is 1 1/2 hours — and a six-period daily schedule, the French students said.

“In France, you have a schedule based on the week,” Patrik Fortier, 17, said. “And you are always with the same people.”

School officials from both sides of the Atlantic said that they want to make the exchanges an annual event — for the cultural and linguistic benefits.

“So many of my students have said, ‘I am really making a lot of progress learning French now that I have someone to practice with,’” Rogers said.

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