A Tennessee high school football state championship game may be foreign to seven exchange students from Guatemala attending Friendship Christian School, but for these students, American football as a whole was unknown to them until recently.
“A lot of the activities are different here,” said Ximena Fuentes, who is visiting Tennessee for the first time. “We don’t have American football, so that is something new.”
The students, Fuentes, Katya Estavez, Juan Carlos Quiñonez, Hector Cardona, Diana Dardon, Majo Slois and Mario Mendez, started classes Oct. 15 at Friendship Christian and will wrap up their eight-week stay with host families Friday.
But the students will get to experience a state championship football game Saturday as the Commanders take on Adamsville at 11 a.m. at Tucker Stadium on the campus of Tennessee Tech in Cookeville in the Blue Cross Bowl.
The students are in Lebanon as part of the 2012 FACES program where coordinator Sandy Cardona places about 150 students annually in Tennessee and six other states. But it was at Friendship where she placed her son, Hector Cardona, and her niece.
“There is something special about the faculty, staff and students here at Friendship Christian,” Sandy Cardona said.
During their stay with host brothers and sisters Courtney Petty, Rebecca Knowles, Caleb Ross, Andrew Wood, Brandon Estes, Makayla Taylor and Courtney Throckmorton, the exchange students experienced Thanksgiving and another day unique to America.
“I got to experience a lot of new things like haunted houses,” said Hector Cardona, speaking of Halloween. “It was scary but a lot of fun.
Many of the students had previously visited other states, but none of them have experienced true winter weather coming from a country much closer to the equator.
“I’ve already visited a lot of states with my family, but I hadn’t seen snow,” said Dardon. “I like being here because I didn’t know anything about snow. But I got to travel to Gatlinburg. I saw snow.”
The students also enjoyed interacting with those at Friendship. Many of the exchange students weren’t used to the co-ed environment having attended gender-specific schools in Guatemala.
“My school is for all girls,” Dardon said. “Being in class with boys is cool.”
The exchange students also enjoyed the technology. As with all Friendship students, they were each given an iPad to use as a replacement for textbooks.
“It’s been wonderful,” Fuentes said. “Sometimes I prefer to write my own notes. It’s easier.”
The students agreed Friendship Christian was a welcoming school, and many were not anxious to return home in a week.
“I have a best friend here,” Dardon said. “Her name is Courtney Keller. She is lovely and has really made me feel at home.”
All of the students said they planned to stay in touch with their host families and friends they made while at Friendship.
“Every day is something different, and you learn something new,” Dardon said.