After listening to her best friend talk about her trip to the Augusta area, Marissa Castrellon had to experience it for herself.
"She loved this place," said Marissa, a high school senior from Chitre, Panama, who is one of 13 middle and high school pupils on a three-week visit to the United States.
For six years, pupils from North Augusta's Our Lady of Peace School and pupils at Colegio Agustiniano in Panama have made exchange visits.
The pupils arrived in the area Jan. 12 and left Saturday.
The pupils stayed with host families in Evans, Augusta and North Augusta. They travel to the area during the winter because the long break from school in Panama comes in January and February.
The high school students spent time at Aquinas and Greenbrier high schools and Augusta Preparatory Day School.
They went to Atlanta to see the new aquarium and visit CNN, and to Charleston, S.C. They also visited the Augusta Museum of History and the National Science Center's Fort Discovery.
The middle school pupils visited Our Lady of Peace School.
Sheldry Saez, a senior, was on her second visit to the area.
"I love this place. I like the people. I like the families - the different cultures and the different customs," Sheldry said.
One of the visiting pupils, sophomore Benito Garcia, stayed in the home of Our Lady of Peace Principal Karen Wilcox. Her two sons, Austin, a ninth-grader, and Garrison, a seventh-grader, met Benito while visiting Panama.
"I like the school here," Benito said of Our Lady of Peace. "I know more people."
Many of the Panamanian pupils said that working on their English was an important part of their trip.
Mrs. Wilcox said the reverse was true for her sons.
"(Benito's) been helping with our Spanish," she said.
Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at email@example.com.