REFLECTING ON THEIR YEAR: Exchange students, from left, Milan Tornier of Germany, and Carmen Velasco, Santiago Gonzalez-Juste and Elias Azzam, all of Spain, talk about their year in Madison. Tornier, Velasco and Azzam attend Madison Consolidated High School and Gonzalez-Juste is at Shawe Memorial. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
REFLECTING ON THEIR YEAR: Exchange students, from left, Milan Tornier of Germany, and Carmen Velasco, Santiago Gonzalez-Juste and Elias Azzam, all of Spain, talk about their year in Madison. Tornier, Velasco and Azzam attend Madison Consolidated High School and Gonzalez-Juste is at Shawe Memorial. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
After traveling thousands of miles from their homelands, four teens have found a temporary home in Madison.

Milan Tornier, Carmen Velasco, Santiago Gonzalez-Juste and Elias Azzam arrived in Madison in July and August last year as exchange students.

Tornier, Velasco and Azzam are juniors at Madison Consolidated High School. Gonzalez-Juste is a junior at Shawe Memorial Junior Senior High School.

While they admit they miss their homes, friends and family, each said they expect to feel the same way about their new friends and host families once they return home next month.

The return trip home is close enough that they're beginning to think about it more and more.

"It's getting sad," Velasco said. "You want to leave, but then, at the same time, you don't want to leave."

Velasco is from Spain. When she first came to Madison, she said she knew English well in the academic sense but wasn't comfortable speaking the language around people who spoke it as a native tongue.

"It's really complicated. In Spain, we're learning it but it's not the same English. It's kind of more from England, so it's really different. I couldn't even say anything when I came here and now I can talk."

Tornier, from Germany, felt the same way.

"When I first arrived, everything was really different and it was hard to speak English actually," Tornier said. "Even though I knew the vocabulary and the grammar pretty good, it's hard to talk if you've never really talked in class."

Tornier lives in the heart of downtown Berlin, so he also had to adjust to the size and number of people living in Madison.

"Everything else was really different," he said.

Azzam, also from Spain, said Madison was very different from the cities in Spain he's used to.

"It's pretty small. There's not as many people. It's different," Azzam said.

Adjusting to the new culture and people in their lives took time. Each said they were initially overwhelmed by their new surroundings.

While the start of the experience was intense, Gonzalez-Juste - also from Spain - said his host family helped make him feel comfortable.

"I feel like the most important thing is the family. If you're not in a good family or you don't like your host parents or siblings, it would hard. Because you spend your most time with them at home," Gonzalez-Juste said.

After school activities also helped the students feel more comfortable and meet new people.

Tornier, Gonzalez-Juste and Azzam each play soccer for their schools.

"With soccer, it's a team of 23 people, so you've already met a lot of people," Gonzalez-Juste said.

"I met like half of the boys in my high school class on the soccer team."

Azzam and Velasco also play golf.

"When I came to the team, everyone started talking to me and I couldn't talk at all. Now I can't stop talking," Velasco said. "It was maybe a month later and I had made so many friends."

With less than a month left in Madison for the students, many are already thinking about a time when they might be able to return to the Madison area again.

"I'd like to come back," Azzam said. "Maybe in the summer sometime."