Former Exchange Students Enjoy Tiny Reunion

Donna Pierce takes a couple of 1970s Scots on HPHS tour

Former Highland Park High School students peered into the Scots history display at their old campus, fingertips pressed on the glass as they pointed to tiny faces on a class picture. 

Ingrid Hoellinger and Patrick LaRocca, friends since their time in the school’s AFS exchange student club, couldn’t find their own pictures, but they recognized some faces recently as they toured the school, peered down hallways and into classrooms, and remarked on the layout.

Hoelliner, who arrived from Austria in 1974, remembers how big she thought everything was here and how she had to adjust to the language change.

“Everything’s big in Texas,” she said. “People were very nice. But I remember we went to someplace where they spoke real broad Texan, I didn’t understand it too much.”

Hoellinger was hosted by Highland Park ISD planetarium director Donna Pierce, who said her daughter and Hoellinger became true sisters during their time together. 

“You, as a foreign exchange student, have to go to others and open up,” Hoellinger said. “I mean, in my case, it has been like this everywhere. And people were thinking that I came from Australia, so I started telling the story that we rode kangaroos to school.”

As exchange students, Hoellinger and LaRocca said, they gained life experience, friends, and a second family. 

LaRocca left the Park Cities for France in 1973.

“It was just all about an experience, you know, to do something different and experience another culture and meet new people,” he said. “But when I first got to France, and when I learned a little bit about my family, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better situation.”

In France, LaRocca gained three brothers. He is still in contact with most of them. 

He lived 15 minutes from Paris, so they often took trips to the city, with friends, after school, or on weekends. 

His advice to future exchange students: Be open to new experiences, like foods.

“You’ll be offered so many different kinds of things that you won’t be quite sure of,” he said. “But you know, you just try it.” 

Pierce explained that Hoellinger and her daughter made her believe in ASF. 

The program started after WWI and the tragedy of war because people wanted a service that would connect instead, Pierce said. “That’s where the name comes from, ‘American Field Service.’ It will never drop, I hope. And they realize that spoils of war are just ghastly,” she said. “So, maybe if we had a group where you walk, as they say, in their moccasins, or their shoes, you might understand each other’s culture.” 

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