Naugatuck, French students build bond

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Naugatuck High School senior Sebastian Santarsiero, right, shares a laugh with Louise Michel High School student Morgane Toullec April 2 at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck. Students from Louise Michel High School in France were in the borough as part of an exchange program with Naugatuck High. –LUKE MARSHALL
Naugatuck High School senior Sebastian Santarsiero, right, shares a laugh with Louise Michel High School student Morgane Toullec April 2 at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck. Students from Louise Michel High School in France were in the borough as part of an exchange program with Naugatuck High. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — For the third year in a row, Naugatuck and French students came together to share culture, traditions and music.

Students from Louise Michel High School in Gisors, Normandy, arrived in the borough March 30 as part of an exchange program organized two years ago by the French faculty and Naugatuck High School band director Robert Hughes.

“It started two years ago with a small pilot of having them come over and us host them. It worked out very well,” Hughes said.

Students from Naugatuck went to France last year to visit Louise Michel High School.

“I thought that might be it but they enjoyed the stay so much that they wanted to come back again this year and we were happy to host them,” Hughes said.

The French students shadowed their Naugatuck peers.

“It’s completely different from France. [Naugatuck High School] is really big and we can see that art is very important in the school. Compared to France, it’s really nice,” French student Morgane Toullec said.

The students also came together to perform a concert April 2 at City Hill Middle School. The French students played selections from the musical Moulin Rouge. The Naugatuck students played more traditional American music, such as the Washington Post March by composer John Philip Sousa.

Hughes said the French students were welcomed back to Naugatuck by the entire school.

“When the French students came two years ago they were treated like rock stars then, and they are kind of like rock stars now. All the NHS students are very excited to see them, meet them, interact with them, and introduce themselves. I think it has been a really beneficial experience not just for the band students, but for all the high school students,” Hughes said.

Naugatuck High senior Jake Gibson traveled to France last year. This year his family is hosting French students.

“It’s been neat, talking about our different cultures and what is different over there compared to here,” Gibson said.

Gibson said his favorite moment has been watching a basketball game with the French students staying with him.

“The two staying with me are very big basketball fans, but they can only watch it online. They don’t have it on TV like we do here. So that experience of something new for them, where it is so common for us,” Gibson said.

Mehdi Vennier, left, helps his classmate Louis Etienne learn how to hold a violin April 2 at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck. The students are from Louise Michel High School in France and were in the borough as part of an exchange program with Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL
Mehdi Vennier, left, helps his classmate Louis Etienne learn how to hold a violin April 2 at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck. The students are from Louise Michel High School in France and were in the borough as part of an exchange program with Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL

Hughes said one of the reasons the students have hit it off so well is that they are able to stay in touch throughout the year.

“We’ve really built up a great partnership with the students. We’ve taken it beyond a one-and-done sort of experience. The students, thanks to social media and the internet, have been able to maintain contact and keep in touch. They sort of look forward to being able to see each other once a year. They have the familiarity, unlike just coming once, seeing each other for a couple days, and that’s it. They’ve been able to create and maintain those bonds, which I think is pretty unique,” Hughes said.

The French students have also been enjoying themselves during their time in America.

“It’s wonderful because America is so big. It’s giant. It’s an awesome trip,” French student Louis Etienne said.

Louise Michel High School music teacher Sophie Etienne said she was glad to have the opportunity to bring her students to Naugatuck and work with another music teacher.

“I wanted to share musical practices with someone who, like me, is very interested in music,” Sophie Etienne said. “Mr. Hughes is a music teacher with motivation.”

The French students were also able to take in some American experiences during their trip, including a visit to New York City, sailing around the Statue of Liberty, and seeing a Broadway musical.

“I think it’s an awesome human adventure,” Sophie Etienne said.