French exchange students explore the Golden State


Camille Ching

Carlmont sophomore Sanvi Adusumilli tells her exchange student, Eugénie Dupre, about Carlmont High School.

For most American teens, spring break is a time of relaxation and fun away from school. However, for six students from Lycée Saint-Michel in Annecy, France, spring break meant visiting Carlmont High School.

Carlmont students taking French hosted the exchange students for two weeks, and the students participated in a cultural and linguistic exchange.

Carlmont has hosted French exchange students every year since French teacher Katya Burton started organizing exchanges in 1999 through Friends of America Cultural Exchanges and Terre des Langues.

“It’s a linguistic stay for them that helps their English, and it allows them to experience American family and school life,” Burton said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is the first year since 2019 that Carlmont has hosted exchange students. 

On April 5, the students arrived and met their host families to participate in their activities for two weeks. They also shadowed their host students in classes to learn what American high school is like.

“I really enjoyed being in class with Americans because the classes are different and the teachers are more cheerful than in France,” said Eugénie Dupre, an exchange student.

It’s a linguistic stay for them to help their English, and it’s also for them to experience American family and school life.”

— Katya Burton

The students also bring little pieces of France into the French classrooms when they talk about their observations of cultural differences.

“Americans are more open-minded than the French. They accept more things that we wouldn’t accept in France. For example, there’s less judgment about dress code,” Dupre said.

Then, during spring break, the students visited many famous destinations in California, including Disneyland, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma, universities, and beaches.

“The sites are among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Gabriel Durye, another exchange student.

The students then returned to Carlmont for three days and observed more differences between French and American approaches to education.

“In France, the courses aren’t at the same time every day. We don’t have as many sports as Carlmont and we aren’t free to do what we want, like go out to the bathroom or have our phones with us,” said Clothilde Gay, an exchange student.

At Lycée Saint-Michel, the students have school from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a 1.5-hour lunch break. 

In France, the courses aren’t at the same time every day. We don’t have as much sports as Carlmont has and we aren’t free to do what we want, like go out to the bathroom or have our phones with us.”

— Clothilde Gay

They take 10 or 11 required subjects, including French, English, math, languages, history, and sciences, to prepare for the French Baccalaureate, a demanding set of exams at the end of high school. They stay in one classroom with the same group of students all day with teachers for each subject coming in to teach. 

In contrast, Carlmont High School students pick five to seven classes to fulfill graduation requirements, and they change classrooms and classmates for each class.

“I think the school system in California is better than in France because you’re free to learn whatever you want here,” Durye said.

The exchange students also had the opportunity to practice their English during their stay.

“I think I’m more comfortable talking now. I talked a lot with my host student,” Dupre said.

While the exchange students explored Californian culture, the host students learned more about France.

“It was nice because I got to experience a different point of view of France,” said Tiphaine Goertz, a Carlmont freshman who hosted Durye. 

Carlmont students taking French also gained a valuable learning experience.

“It was cool to see the differences between American and French culture,” said Carlmont sophomore Adam Man.

It was nice because I got to experience a different point of view of France.”

— Tiphaine Goertz

On April 20, the students left their host students to spend two days in San Francisco with their other 21 classmates who went to different high schools in the area before returning to France on April 22.

“It was an amazing experience. It was fun having someone to come along with me to all of my classes and to talk about cultural differences between here and France,” said Sanvi Adusumilli, a Carlmont sophomore and Dupre’s host.