New friends from a land down under

COSTA MESA — With big smiles and waving hands, Victoria Elementary School's fifth- and sixth-grade student council members welcomed a delegation of high school students from Australia.

"I'm so excited," said Arielle Esparza,10, as she waited for the Aussies. "I might explode."

Victoria Elementary was one of the stops Monday morning for a group of seven students from Hoppers Crossing Secondary College in Wyndham, a Melbourne suburb, during their nearly monthlong visit as part of the Sister City Education Exchange program between Costa Mesa and Wyndham.

The Aussie students visited the K-6 Costa Mesa campus for its name — they live in the Australian state of Victoria — and its connection to the program. Three former Victoria Elementary students participated in the exchange, said Principal Linda Tenno, adding that one was her son, Alex.

"It's such a great experience, and truly, truly the friendships they make last forever," she said.

The Australian students visited several classrooms where students asked them questions about life down under.

What does Vegemite taste like? "It really is an acquired taste," replied Aussie Josh Ferguson. "It's salty."

Have they seen a kangaroo in the wild? "Yes," the delegation laughed.

"It was interesting," said student council member Kelsey Bond, 10. "They were different. I liked having them answer the questions because I don't know very much about them."

During the nearly month-long visit, the Australian students have experienced American high school life by shadowing and living with Estancia High School students; attending a pep rally and winter formal; and watching a number of sports events.

The competitive high school athletics is much different than in Australia, where most sports are done outside of school, said Aussie Josh Ferguson.

His favorite part of the trip so far was the Battle of the Bell, where he got to experience high school rivalry and competition at its highest. The 16-year-old said the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"It's like, we can come back and everything, but it won't be the same," Josh said. "I've been wanting to get involved with this for like six years."

Seeing the Australian students had the Victoria Elementary students thinking about how much they'd like to be in the program when they get to Estancia.

"I would be excited to see new things, and the other side of the world that I haven't seen before," said fifth-grade student council member Alyssa Miro, 10.

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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