Thirty students and three teachers from Lyon, France, have spent the last week visiting some of Central Missouri's most-prominent tourist destinations and connecting with pen pals at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Jefferson City.
"It's our third year hosting," said Marcia Burton, library at TJMS.
The overseas visit is a chance for the students to hone their English language skills by immersing themselves in a foreign culture. The students arrived in America on April 26 and will depart Thursday.
"This is part of the policy of our school ... taking our students abroad and giving them a glimpse of what American life is like," said Vincent Barbarroux, one of the three teacher-chaperones from Lyon. "Basically it's a linguistic exchange, because we want them to have a better command of English."
In France, English is compulsory, and students there start studying the new language on a regular basis around the age of 11.
To date, Jefferson City students have traveled to France once and the French students - they attend Lyon Academy - have traveled here three times. To afford the trip, the French students held fundraisers, selling items like pizzas and Christmas trees. Once here, they stay with host families mostly affiliated with the middle school's French Club.
"The families are taking good care of the students," Barbarroux said.
Over the past years, the American and French students have become familiar with one another via Skype and mail.
During their visit here, they saw a play at Jefferson City High School, ate ice cream at Central Dairy, visited Anheuser Busch's Clydesdale farm in Boonville, hiked around Ha Ha Tonka State Park, chatted with a Missouri Supreme Court judge, toured the Capitol and, of course, hung out with their peers at TJMS.
Margot Granger said the Capital City activity she enjoyed the most was rollerskating at Sk8 Zone.
"I only fell two times," she said.
The students said one thing that surprised them about American life was the size of their host families' homes. Lyon is the second-largest city in France and it isn't unusual for families in that city to live in apartments.
"My host family said it was middle-sized," Amelie Forel said. "But for me, it is so big."
Despite France's reputation for having the finest cuisine on the planet, both the teachers and the students complimented the American meals they've tasted.
"You have good food here," Combe said. "There are no complaints."
He said teenagers everywhere appreciate the same foods.
"If given a choice, they will choose hamburgers and fries," he added.