French Students Test Drive Careers in Loudoun

Loudoun County played host to a dozen French high school students this month, as part of the George C. Marshall International Center’s Student Partnership Exchange Program.

They welcomed six students from Metz and six from Saint Cyr-sur-Loire, a sister city of the Town of Leesburg. The teens stayed with Loudoun County high school students and their families for two weeks.

What makes SPEP different from most exchange programs is its internship component. For a full week, the students job-shadowed at Loudoun companies to get a glimpse of a career path that interests them.

Clara Lefèvre, a 17-year-old French student, got an up close look at what it’s like to work as an engineer and architect. She served as a student intern last week at O’Neil Architects in Leesburg and Timmons Group in Ashburn, and both companies put her to work.

She got a chance to help design a piping system to solve a drainage problem near the Timmons Group’s property. “I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I know for sure now I want to be either an architect or an engineer.”

The French students also took time to see the sites of Washington, DC, and spend a day at a Loudoun high school.

Jeffrey Smeraldo, a survey group leader at Timmons Group and a family of a daughter in SPEP, said he’s been impressed by every part of the student exchange program. He served as Clara’s work mentor last week, hosted another French student, 17-year-old Salomé Gama, and is sending his daughter, a Woodgrove High School student, to France in November as part of SPEP.

“It’s a great program from every perspective,” he said. Already, his family has become friends with Gama’s family in France. They talk via FaceTime and Skype, and Smeraldo said he plans to one day bring the entire family to France to visit them. “They did a really great job of matching people up. It’s producing lasting friendships.”

SPEP launched in 2007 with an exchange with Loudoun County’s sister jurisdiction in Germany, Main-Taunus-Kreis. It’s since expanded to include programs in Vaihingen, Germany; Vienna, Austria; and Metz and Saint-Cyr-Loire in France. The center is accepting applications through May 15 for its German exchanges. Learn more at

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