BELOIT - Traveling thousands of miles from home to a foreign country isn't your typical school trip.
But three Beloit Memorial High School international students made the trek across the pond, putting conventional European schooling on hold for a chance to immerse themselves in American culture over the course of a year.
Valentine Duval, of Chartres, France, Moritz Mueller, of Hamburg, Germany, and Didac Llido Piquer, of Valencia, Spain, didn't know each other before meeting in of all places, Beloit, Wisconsin.
"My dad joked that I was going to be put in Alaska," Duval said. "When I heard of Beloit I was initially like, what is that?"
"In the beginning I was pretty scared," Piquer said, noting he had never been on a plane before the transatlantic flight. "But when I came here, I saw that the people are really nice and in fact, I am learning a lot."
"It was surprising," Mueller said of Beloit. "I was hoping to get like California or something, and I had to Google where Wisconsin was, but in reality I got lucky."
The trio, smiling, wide-eyed and full of wit, all agreed they wanted to come stateside to get a better grasp on the English language. Along the way they've made friends, bonded with host families and explored all corners of the U.S.
The three said some of the biggest academic differences compared to European schools were the access to prep athletics and classes, noting its typical in a European school to go to each class with the same classmates, rather than having multiple periods in a day with different students.
"Some people in Germany like the typical American high school system," Mueller said. "People love it. The hallways, the lockers, everything."
Duval's eyes lit up when he talked of playing on the high school boys soccer team, while Didac said it was "a lot of work."
Mueller was on the junior varsity team of the Beloit TIDE swim/dive team, and said seeing the team's success was energizing.
"Playing soccer is my favorite thing," Duval said. "If you are passionate, it's so great. You can play every day the thing you love the most."
"Swimming was a great way to make friends," Mueller said. "It was really fun and really challenging."
Some of the worst parts about being away from home?
The food and the extreme winter weather, the boys said.
"I don't like the bread," Mueller said of Wonder Bread.
"I miss the seafood," Piquer said. "Octopus - it's really good."
"I miss baguettes a lot ," Duval said. "Every meal, baguette. Here you don't have anything like that."
All three have been able to travel around the county, with Duval spending time in Chicago and Orlando; Mueller in Hawaii and Washington, D.C. and Piquer in Nashville and Memphis.
An unexpected challenge the students encountered was that they started to think in English before their native languages when speaking with friends and family.
"Now talking with my family, I really have to concentrate on speaking German," Mueller said with a laugh.
"Sometimes I am on the phone with my family and I am like, how do you say that in French," Duval said.
American oddities to the young foreigners range from the alarming amount of fast food restaurants - and portion sizes.
"What is weird is that you get a big plate of food and then you bring it home," Duval said. "In France, you would never do that. People would think you were crazy. It's little things like that."
"A shock for me was what some here consider mashed potatoes," Mueller said. "From what I know, it's real potatoes that are mashed, but here sometimes they are just like these add-water thing."
They all urged American students to consider studying abroad, risking familiarity for the unknown.
"You learn a lot more if you are younger and you travel," Mueller said. "You can make more friends, too. I want people to visit, I tell them they are always welcome in Germany."
"Everything is different, It's completely the opposite," Duval said. "You learn a lot here."