La Crosse (Wisconsin) -- Epinal (France)

Sister Cities


When French explorers first came to the area we now know as La Crosse in the late 1700s, they were looking for new opportunities for growth. They found them in the fertile farmland, the broad river and the abundant forests, but they also discovered new insights through their association with the area's divergent Native American culture. That first association between French and Americans more than two centuries ago continues today with the La Crosse/Epinal twin cities program. Begun in 1986 with the signing of an agreement between the cities of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Epinal, France, the La Crosse/Epinal twin cities program has the distinction of being La Crosse's first such association with a city in a foreign country. Coordinating the La Crosse activities of the La Crosse/Epinal twin cities program is the La Crosse/Epinal Cultural Exchange Association, made up of volunteers and educators from throughout the area.

Exchange program   Since the signing of the La Crosse/Epinal twin cities agreement by the mayors of each city, the primary vehicle used to further cultural understanding has been a unique program of exchanges of high school students (such as those in this photo) between the two cities. In its first five years, more than 150 Epinal and La Crosse students have participated in the exchange program. The La Crosse/Epinal student exchange program is unique in that it offers La Crosse and Epinal students the opportunity to live with each other for an extended period --usually up to three weeks--and to experience their counterparts' lifestyle and culture. For example, the Epinal student who travels to La Crosse to live with a La Crosse student and his or her family will reciprocate by hosting the La Crosse student in his or her home in Epinal when the La Crosse group travels there.   The program is also unique in its broad-based involvement throughout the Coulee Region. Support for the program comes from students in not only the La Crosse high schools--Central, Logan and Aquinas-- but also from other Coulee Region high schools such as La Crescent, Onalaska and Holmen.  

Testimonials: "I consider my experience In France to be one of the best I've ever had. Not only did I increase my understanding of the French language, but I learned more about the French people and became more enthusiastic about learning French." "Visiting and living in a foreign country is a lot different from postcards, worksheets and listening tests. If anything can make a person want to learn French more, It's knowing that when you do, you be able to enjoy exciting new places and people." "I'll never regret spending three weeks of summer vacation in France. It made all the years of French class come alive. France never seemed real until I saw it myself."

Additional student comments on their exchange experience in Epinal
Students whose families hosted students from Epinal comment

Who participates in the exchanges? Students who are accomplished in French and who are committed to furthering their education through involvement in the program participate in the La Crosse/Epinal exchange program. They are generally Juniors or Seniors in high school and have the financial responsibility for their own travel and expenses as part of the exchange program. Recognizing that students who participate in the La Crosse/Epinal exchange program are representing their school, city and country, the selection committee employs a careful process of selecting students. As a result of the care and preparation taken with each exchange group, the La Crosse/Epinal Exchange Program has an enviable record of success.

The Twin City of Epinal In addition to sharing a desire to promote understanding, Epinal (whose emblem is at the top left of this page) and La Crosse (represented by the statue of lacrosse players at the top right of this page) have much in common. With a population approaching 50,000, Epinal is approximately the same size as La Crosse. Epinal is located in the northeast corner of France, and like La Crosse, which has its roots as a trading center alongside the Mississippi River, was founded (about 980 A.D. by the Bishops of Metz) because of its strategic location as a crossroads of many routes along the Moselle River.

Epinal soon became a center of political, economic and cultural activity--a reputation which continues today. Epinal has been French only since 1766; it lies at the foot of the Vosges Mountains next to the border between France and Germany, and the landscape bears a certain resemblance to La Crosse which is nestled between the Mississippi and the Bluffs. This area of Alsace-Lorraine became a valuable prize in the early European wars. In spite of, or maybe because of, mass bombings in 1940 and 1944, for the past 20 years Epinal has been developing intense industrial and commercial activity, and today is a center for economic decision-making. Epinal offers a diverse industrial base with most of the industrial sectors represented. Just as La Crosse serves as a manufacturing and administrative center for The Trane Company, Epinal is home to Trane's International Division-Europe/Mideast/Africa Group headquarters. Other companies which have major manufacturing facilities in Epinal include Garrett and Playtex (U.S.A.), Woco (Germany) and Michelin (France). Epinal also serves as the center for the forestry industry and each year holds an International Wood Fair. Similar to the way La Crosse is linked to major metro areas by the adjacent interstate highway, Epinal's nearby motor-way road system makes the countries of Luxemburg, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany within easy driving reach. Epinal is also served by a major railway for both passenger and freight traffic, and Epinal-Mirecourt Airport has flights to 32 French cities and daily flights to Paris. And like La Crosse, Epinal also boasts an excellent educational system, with 24 primary schools, four junior high schools, four senior high schools and four technical schools. Sports and leisure facilities in Epinal include tennis courts, a golf course, a covered Olympic-standard ice-skating rink, swimming pools, local sailing and flying clubs, horseback-riding facilities, a cross-country track and one of the most attractive shooting ranges in the region. There are also nine gymnasiums, 11 stadiums and an international sports center incorporating an athletic track. But perhaps the best known aspect of Epinal's cultural and artistic history is its "images," bright, hand-painted cartoons of fairy tales and historical figures from the past. Epinal is the home of the International Imagerie Museum and each year hosts the "Festival International de l'Image." Epinal's cultural life also boasts numerous top-level concerts and shows, including an international piano competition, the Music Festival and the Nancy Jazz Pulsations Festival. Epinal also has a professional theater company. The La Crosse/Epinal twin cities program offers many benefits to both cities, but perhaps the most valuable are the lessons learned through the increased understanding of different cultures and lifestyles. While the world is getting to be a smaller piace every day, the La Crosse/Epinal twin cities program is committed to bringing ever closer these two diverse, yet strikingly similar, cities.

  Mission Statement for the La Crosse/Epinal Cultural Exchange Association
It shall be the mission of the La Crosse/Epinal Cultural Exchange Association to serve as a resource and liaison between the City of La Crosse and its twin city, Epinal, France; to strive to increase awareness of the differing cultures, to improve relations, and to foster an environment of understanding through the coordination of cultural exchanges.


  La Crosse/Epinal Cultural Exchange Association The La Crosse/Epinal Cultural Exchange Association is a nonprofit group of concerned and interested citizens which provides support and assistance to the La Crosse/Epinal twin cnies program. Membership is open to everyone.

If you'd like to become a member of the La Crosse/Epinal Cultural Exchange Association, copy and fill out the membership application below and send it to the La Crosse/Epinal Cultural Exchange Program, c/o Mayor's Office, City Hall, 400 La Crosse St., La Crosse, Wl 54601.

Membership application Yes, I'd like to learn more about the La Crosse-Epinal Cultural Exchange Association. Please contact me about the following: _ Financial support _ Cultural exchanges _ Taking part in a student or adult exchange _ Sponsorship of an exchange activity _ Volunteering to help at an exchange activity _ Serving on a program committee _ Other __________________________   Name

Document submitted by:
Dianne Seyler
La Crosse Central High School
1801 Losey Boulevard South
La Crosse, WI 54601

Webmaster Ken Fleurant
University of Wisconsin--Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54311
page added 7/11/97; modified 1/28/99