Hoover High School held a reception for 40 students from a small French town on Monday.
The exchange students from Bellegarde, which has only 12,000 residents, will spend two weeks attending Hoover. Many of the students expressed amazement at the size of the Los Angeles area and its massive skyscrapers.
For most of the French exchange students, their visit signifies their first time seeing America, or even traveling by airplane, said one of their teachers, Celine Gaucher.
“Everything is big,” said 17-year-old Thibaud Soulier, speaking of the first American city he has ever seen.
On Sunday, Hoover Principal Jennifer Earl invited the students and their four teachers over for a barbecue and an afternoon of football at her home.
In 2011, Hoover hosted 40 students from the same city. Last year, 20 Hoover students visited Bellegarde for two weeks. City officials there held a huge welcome reception.
That is when 17-year-old Hoover student Eduardo Molina stayed at Soulier’s home. Soulier said the Hoover students’ arrival in the small town was the biggest thing to happen there since the Tour de France bicycle race rolled through town last year.
The exchange program between Hoover and Bellegarde was initiated a few years ago when a student from Bellegarde, staying with her aunt in Glendale, took a class with French teacher Emily Rogers at Hoover. She suggested the kids from both countries write to each other.
Rogers said Hoover students plan to visit Bellegarde again in the fall of 2014.
“I think there will be lifelong friendships here,” she said.
While many students continue to write to each other, Soulier and Molina have kept in touch through Facebook since meeting for the first time last year. During his current Glendale visit, Soulier is staying at Molina’s home.
“I think I’m about to have the best two weeks of my life,” Soulier said.
Other French students are staying with Hoover students’ families or teachers. During their stay, the students will tour several sites, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, Santa Monica and the Griffith Observatory.
During Monday’s reception, Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan suggested the students visit Hollywood and Venice as well. Glendale Mayor Dave Weaver brought each student official city of Glendale pins.
French teacher Guillaume Tupin of Bellegarde looked forward to seeing his students experience American culture, following their exposure to it through movies and television.
“It’s a good experience for the French to discover the American way of life,” Tupin said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.