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Exchange Gives French Teens Taste of U.S. Culture in La Crosse

July 9, 2008

By KJ Lang, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jul. 9–From July 4 fireworks to trap shooting, Bill Rockwood is excited to show Matthieu Goral of Epinal, France, some parts of American culture he’d never see at home.

Bill, an engineer at Trane Co., is hosting the 16-year-old Goral in his Onalaska, Wis. home as part of a sister-city exchange. Goral and 26 other Epinal teens arrived in La Crosse on June 28 and will stay through July 17. Epinal and La Crosse have been sister cities for 22 years. The bond started because both are home to Trane facilities, said Sandy Wiggert, an organizer of the exchange.

Because Goral’s father also works at Trane and often communicated with Rockwood on business, they decided long ago they’d like their teen sons to meet. They were happy to see that happen through the exchange program.

Tuesday afternoon, Goral played “football” — or soccer, as we call it in the U.S. — at a picnic for the exchange students and host families.

The goal of the exchange is for students to get a good grasp of culture beyond the classroom, said Wiggert. All of the Epinal teens were placed in La Crosse area homes that have high school-age kids taking French, she said.

“They learn about the everyday life of kids their own age,” Wiggert said.

Heloise Mas, 20, of Epinal, has learned a lot about American culture during her two trips to La Crosse, first as a teen and now as a chaperone. She talked about the endless free refills on coffee, the large servings of food, the very expansive city designs and having to do math because prices don’t include tax and tips.

Despite the differences, she said she’s fond of this place and will encourage others to come when she returns to France.

“I love the town and I love the U.S.,” she said. “It is cool to be back.”

The exchange students have several other activities planned, including a Loggers game and a ride on the La Crosse Queen, said Wiggert.

Next year, during a similar time period, La Crosse area high school students will go to Epinal. Steve Rockwood, Bill’s son, plans to be among them.

“People don’t get a good perspective on a county until they go outside of it,” said Bill. “It is important for kids to see that.”

KJ Lang can be reached at (608) 791-8226 or klang@lacrossetribune.com.

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