Javier Gomez-Obregon Patron still is amazed by what occurred during his first day of school this fall at Gahanna Lincoln High School.
Born in Mexico City but living most recently in Los Cabos, Mexico, Patron had heard that he was one of just two exchange students from his home country at a school of more than 1,700 students.
It didn't take long, however, for Patron to meet Miguel Castaneyra, an exchange student from Puebla, Mexico.
The juniors both had enrolled in the same first-period math class.
"I was sitting there and I already knew there was another Mexican exchange student," Patron said. "Five minutes after school began, I looked around, and I thought that had to be the guy. It was like a 'Ha!' moment."
The two struck up a friendship that has continued in a new way this winter as members of the Lions' boys swimming and diving team.
Both Patron and Castaneyra have been living in the district for five months and plan to move back to Mexico for their senior years.
Castaneyra ended up in Gahanna with a host family whose father is friends with his father.
He participated on a swimming team while he was living in Mexico but it wasn't affiliated with his school.
Castaneyra, who has competed mostly in the 50-yard freestyle and on relays, is in the mix to compete on the Lions' sprint relays during the postseason.
"I was on a team when I was in Mexico, but it wasn't at the same level as it is here," he said. "It was more like a club team. We didn't have meets every single week like they do in America. I like it. It's a real challenge for me because my conditioning isn't that good."
Patron previously swam for a club team in Mexico.
He has two older siblings who are married to Americans and his older brother, who is 33 and living in San Diego, was an exchange student in Louisiana.
Patron said the family he is staying with in Gahanna housed other exchange students in the past, including one from Austria who recently visited.
Patron's mother speaks English and French in addition to Spanish.
"I love the swim team," he said. "It's one of my favorite sports by far. It's such a tight team. In Mexico, the school never really supports the team so you have to find a club.
"Here everything is so hectic. You have to get up in the morning and go to class and then have practice, and they have tons of homework. In Mexico you always hang out with friends, but here everybody is so busy."
Senior Mitch Courtney and junior Jon Chang of the boys team and senior Allison Mason, juniors Morgan Belli and Kirstyn Thomas and freshman Regan Nolan of the girls squad competed in the Northeast Classic on Jan. 12 in Canton.
The Lions also faced Westerville South on Jan. 11, with the girls winning 97-69 and the boys losing 123-46.
Courtney, who is the boys team's captain, said it's been enjoyable for him and his teammates to get to know the two exchange students.
"Miguel's freestyle is getting a lot better," said Courtney, who was a district qualifier last year in the 200 free. "He's probably progressed the most out of a lot of our guys.
"It's been great. I love having them on the team. They bring some cultural diversity. A lot of times after practice we talk to each other and I've learned a lot about Mexico and about some of the differences in our countries. They're two outstanding young men."
Both Castaneyra and Patron said they have enjoyed interacting with the other members of the team.
"Another reason I joined the team was to get acquainted with more people," Castaneyra said. "They're all really welcoming people. I think my English is getting worse, but all of my friends have said that my English is way better than when they first met me. Javier's parents talk to him in English a lot. I consider Javier my best friend in America."
"He's from the center of Mexico, so it's like I live in (the equivalent) of California and he lives in the New York of Mexico," Patron said. "We use some different words for things, but it's fun. He's a real cool guy."