When she first heard about the Rotary exchange student opportunity three years ago, Hernandez wasn’t eager to sign up for the year away from home.
The idea of experiencing another culture started to grow on her last year, but she thought she was still too young.
This year as a rising senior in high school, she decided to go for it.
Hernandez is attending Cleveland High School for the next year.
“It’s hard to make friends because of the language,” Hernandez said. “Everything is very different, but I like (school) better here.”
She said Cleveland High School has more group projects than her high school in Spain.
“In Spain, it’s more independent work,” Hernandez said.
Understanding the language here as been a bit of a challenge.
“Each person has their own accent and their own form to pronounce the word,” Hernandez said.
She said it is sometimes difficult to understand people when they talk fast in English.
Friends came to Hernandez in the form of Cleveland high’s soccer team.
“The first day of school it was like, ‘OK I don’t know anybody, but then I had soccer practice and they were really nice to me. … It was really good,” Hernandez said. “They play good.”
She said playing on the soccer team has been her favorite part of living in the United States.
“I like playing soccer. I like being here,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez played for a soccer club in Spain. In Spain, sports are not organized through high schools but rather as community clubs.
Hernandez will be staying with Tim and Cindy Spires until January, then living with another local host family. Tim Spires is a member of the Rotary Club of Cleveland
The couple have two grown children and thought it would be something good to do.
“We had always heard good things about other people who have had exchange students, and how it is as much of a blessing to the host family as it is to the person who visits,” Cindy said.
“She has given us the opportunity to think about what we would show someone if they weren’t from around here,” Tim said.
These include area mountains, Nashville, Graceland in Memphis and Savannah, Ga.
“We recommend it to anyone who is thinking about doing it,” Cindy said of hosting a student. “I was worried I might have to learn how to make all these Spanish dishes to make her happy, but she has been easy to please. … She’s very adaptable.”
Tim Spires said he has traveled in Europe while working in manufacturing.
“It made me want to give a student the opportunity to have that cross-cultural experience by coming here,” he said.
Learning about American football has been a highlight for Hernandez.
“I like the football games that they play at the high school with the cheerleaders, the dancers, and the band,” Hernandez said.
As her interest in American football grew, Cindy and Tim sat down with Hernandez to explain the game, its rules and terms.
Cindy said the couple is planning to take the student to a college football game also.
An interest in running has also developed during Hernandez’s time in the states.
Tim, who is an avid runner, introduced Hernandez to the activity. She hopes to run a half-marathon before returning home.
With Cleveland’s block class schedule, Hernandez will be able to complete the eight classes she needs for graduation in Spain by taking four classes this semester and four classes next semester.
This semester she is taking honors chemistry, anatomy, physics and psychology.
Many exchange students have to delay graduation in their home countries to participate in the exchange program. However, Hernandez’s credits at Cleveland High School will be accepted by her high school in Spain and she will be graduating on time.
Tim Spires said the school counselor at Cleveland High School spent a few hours working with Hernandez on her schedule to make sure she would be able to complete all of the classes she needed.
Hernandez, who is Catholic, has also been able to experience a Protestant church by visiting First Baptist with the Spireses.
In June, Hernandez will join other Rotary exchange students in a trip to the West Coast for two weeks.