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From English to football, Guatemalan students experience plenty in Morris

Guatemalan students Fernando Quevedo (left) and Elias Sanchez spent 2-1/2 months at St. Mary's School through the "Friendly Exchange" program.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Two young boys from Guatemala couldn't wait to get to Morris this fall with the idea that they might get to eventually build a snowman or start a snowball fight.

Fernando Quevedo and Elias Sanchez saw a light coating of snow on the ground this week, but that hardly means they'll leave the U.S. disappointed. Their experiences during a 2-1/2 month stay as students at St. Mary's School run deeper than even the largest pile of the white stuff.

Fernando, 13, and Elias, 12, came to Morris through the "Friendly Exchange" program, which brings Guatemalan students to locations in Minnesota and to Washington D.C. during a time of year that would be their summer vacation.

"We get to learn more English," said Fernando, who is also called Pepe. "We see other countries and we learn more about the world and other cultures."

Fernando and Elias, both from Guatemala City, met for the first time on the airplane trip to the U.S. Elias' older sister lived in Minnetrista during a "Friendly Exchange" last year and told her family interesting tales of her time in Minnesota.

"My father said he wanted me to go," Elias said. "He said it would be cool to go to other places and learn other things."

Fernando said his family wanted him to work on his language skills.

"My grandfather said, 'You have to learn English.' I said, 'Why?' " Fernando said with a smile. "Two months later I was on the Exchange."

Fernando has been living with the Casey and Dan Sayles family, and Elias has lived with the Chandell and Jay Dietz family.

Both got to take in hunting trips with their families. In addition to a trip to Duluth, they also got to see what it was like to operate a combine during the harvest.

Best of all, they say, they got the chance to learn and play American football.

And the strange tales they heard about how Americans celebrate Halloween turned out to be true.

"We did a lot of fun things," Fernando said. "Like Halloween, with all the people dressing weird."

"It was a new experience," Elias said.

One of their primary goals was to learn more about the English language and their brief time in Morris has helped, they said. At least at times.

"Sometimes people talk to you and you don't understand," Elias said. "People will talk really fast, and I'll go, 'Ah, hmmm.' "

Both said that at first they were nervous about meeting and staying with their host families. But both had great experiences, and their 6th-grade teacher, Tricia Rohloff, set up a Web site for them so their families in Guatemala could keep track of their adventures through messages and photos.

Fernando's future ambitions right now include studying to be a dentist or possibly a career in the military. Elias wants to become an engineer.

But as they prepare for their Dec. 14 departure, both said another trip to the U.S. would be included in any of their plans.

"I would like to come back again, during the U.S. summer vacation," Fernando said.

"I like it here," Elias said. "You get used to being here."