Payson High School Spanish students were paired up with students from Instituto Regional de Guaymas in Guaymas, Mexico last week for the first half of the Hands Across the Border exchange program.
They lived together for a week immersed in each other's language and culture.
"Our kids were supposed to try their Spanish, and their kids (were supposed to try) English and it's been difficult for them but I think they really rose to the challenge," said host family member Steve Stevens. "I think it is a great experience."
Stevens, his wife Diane and daughter Haley hosted a teacher and a bus driver as well as a student named Cecilia Noriega.
While the students were attending classes Monday the teachers and administrators who came with them toured Frontier Elementary School. The group spent the rest of the week touring the Grand Canyon and Tonto Natural Bridge.
"After (our students) go to Mexico we see a big jump in their ability and understanding," said Bill Bowling, a PHS Spanish teacher and one of the exchange coordinators. "In fact, last year, we had students come back from Guaymas answer in Spanish without realizing it when talking to their American friends."
This is only the second year of the cultural exchange program.
Spanish class students are encouraged to participate multiple years so they can guide new participants.
"We want to transcend from a small understanding of each other's cultures to a bigger one," said Enrique Rangel, Academic Director of Instituto Regional de Guaymas.
"I thought it was quite amazing how I understand as much Spanish as I did," said Ryan Ammann. He has only been taking Spanish since the beginning of the school year.
Surprise at the discovery of just how much they had in common was par for the course.
"We have a lot in common," said Jennifer Hayes of her guest Paola Lopez. "I was expecting to not have much in common. We like the same kind of music."
"Like Green Day and Avril Lavigne," Lopez said.
"And we both love Harry Potter movies," Hayes said.
"We are taking proverbs that they have in Spanish and we have to translate them to English and explain where we would use them."
"Ver es creer," Hayes gave one example. "To see is to believe."
The project will continue through the end of April, then compiled for next year's PHS Spanish class.
"Our mission is for students to learn to live with a different person, culture and get along," said Cecilia Ramirez, teacher at Instituto Regional de Guaymas and coordinator of Hands Across the Border.
Her students had to have good grades, a positive attitude and a desire to learn in order to be eligible for the exchange.
Gladys Murgia is anxious to show off her city (population 100,000) to her new friend Mollee Lee.
"Guaymas is bigger and there are more places to go with your friends," Murgia said.
Murgia really enjoyed hiking down to the Tonto Natural Bridge because the terrain is so different from the beaches of Guaymas.
"School is different here than in Mexico," Maria Luisa Duarte said during the group's last dinner together. "We don't have a cafeteria and the teachers go to the classrooms."
Hands Across the Border was paid for by PHS, the Payson Unified School District and Credit for Kids money in 2005. This year, the program was funded by Credit for Kids and proceeds from an Enchilada dinner fund-raiser held in February.
Payson students need to raise $3,000 if they want to charter a bus to go to Mexico at the end of April.