Southwestern High School has nine Program of Academic Exchange students this year from six different countries. Front row left to right: Anja Nurski of Belgium, Jin Ketthong of Thailand, Opel Punkiriya of Thailand, Blanca Durantez of Spain, Natalia Martinez-Cutillas of Spain, and Ebtehal Alenezi of Kuwait. Back row left to right: Rodrigo Sosa-Mendez of Mexico, Michael Arberg of Denmark, and Markel Goikolea of Spain. (Staff photo by Seth Grundhoefer/sgrundhoefer@madisoncourier.com)
Southwestern High School has nine Program of Academic Exchange students this year from six different countries. Front row left to right: Anja Nurski of Belgium, Jin Ketthong of Thailand, Opel Punkiriya of Thailand, Blanca Durantez of Spain, Natalia Martinez-Cutillas of Spain, and Ebtehal Alenezi of Kuwait. Back row left to right: Rodrigo Sosa-Mendez of Mexico, Michael Arberg of Denmark, and Markel Goikolea of Spain. (Staff photo by Seth Grundhoefer/sgrundhoefer@madisoncourier.com)
A new school year means learning new faces and names. But for the nine exchange students at Southwestern High School this year, every classmate's face is new.

The school's exchange students gathered outside the library Tuesday morning with members from their host families, who also are their new classmates.

Ebtehal Alenezi of Kuwait and her host sister, Elizabeth Scianni, posed with the other families.

Scianni, a sophomore at Southwestern, said she and Alenezi have become friends in the short time she's been in America.

"We get along really well," she said. "She's a member of the family. We played putt-putt golf and she beat us all."

Some of the students have been at the school since the first day, while others arrived Monday.

Three students - Blanca Durantez, Markel Goikolea and Natalia Martinez-Cutillas - are from Spain; two -  Jin Ketthong and Opel Punkiriya - are from Thailand. The others are Michael Arberg of Denmark, Anja Nurski of Belgium, Ebtehal Alenezi of Kutwait and Rodrigo Sosa-Mendez of Mexico who is still waiting to be placed in a home.

"It's a really good experience for our own students to get to know other cultures and how other people live around the world," said high school principal Jeff Bates. "And it's good for these guys to get to know America a little better."

Bates said the school had four exchange students last year, adding that this year is the first time they have hosted someone from Kuwait.

All the students are visiting through Program of Academic Exchange, a program that Southwestern has worked with for several years.

Carol Schroeder, community coordinator for the exchange program, said the students are often required to have at least three years of English experience - depending on what country they are from - but most have more. This year, Schroeder is a host mother to Punkiriya.

"Some of them have studied it for 10 years," she said.

Several also are involved in a number of extra curricular activities including sports and music.

While in the U.S., Schroeder said the students live with host families "just like any other member of that family, not as a guest."