Via\u00a0Laurie Swenson\u00a0News - When Marcos Lopez became an exchange student in the United States, he brought two families together: his host family in rural McIntosh and his family back home in Spain. Marcos, 17, who just finished his junior year at Win-E-Mac High School in Erskine, spent the school year with Shawn and Tamera Ostenaa and their son Noah, 14, and daughter Izabelle, 12, in rural McIntosh. But thanks to Skype, he\u2019s also connected to his family, and so are the Ostenaas. Marcos has been kept busy translating between Spanish and English as the two families communicated via Skype during the school year and became closer. \u201cHis parents ask when Noah will come as an exchange student,\u201d Tamera said, adding that Marcos\u2019 family want the entire Ostenaa family to visit them. This is one family relationship that isn\u2019t going to end anytime soon. In fact, the Ostenaas are already thinking that one of Marcos\u2019 two brothers could join them as an exchange student, too. Connecting with Marcos Shawn and Tamera had seen family members host exchange students over the years, a grandma for Shawn and an aunt and uncle for Tamera, so they were familiar with the process. They became interested in becoming a host family themselves after hosting two girls for a week who were Vacation Bible school counselors at Grace Lutheran Church in Erskine. Tamera and Shawn had an extra bedroom in their house, and they enjoyed having the girls for the week. \u201cIt went really good,\u201d Tamera said. So they contacted International Student Exchange and were matched with Marcos after extensive screenings and questionnaires on both sides. Marcos sought an exchange student experience to make a change. \u201cIt was the same routine every year,\u201d he said. \u201cI wanted something different.\u201d He also wanted to learn more about the U.S. culture and improve his English skills to help himself in whatever career he chooses. \u201cAt first I thought, \u2018He speaks really good English,\u2019\u201d Tamera said, adding that even so, Marcos\u2019 English is much better than when he arrived. \u201cAt first we had to talk slow,\u201d Shawn said. At the beginning of the school year, Marcos had to work hard to understand what his teachers were saying during class, but that came easier as his English improved. \u201cThey\u2019re all really nice to me,\u201d he said of the teachers, and he\u2019s made lots of friends. \u201cIt\u2019s hard to be in the same sport and not make friends.\u201d He likes all his classes, and math is probably his favorite. From small town to smaller town Marcos lives in Alalpardo, Spain, which is near Madrid. Alalpardo is a relatively small town, so living near McIntosh is not strange to him. He flew to Minneapolis last August, and his first experiences in the U.S. were in crowds: at the Mall of America and the Minnesota State Fair. Shawn makes a face over the morcilla (blood sausage) prepared by Lopez. Marcos\u2019 girlfriend, Elly, also a student at Win-E-Mac, smiles at Marcos in amusement. He misses Spanish food, like paella, chorizo, fabada (a hearty bean stew) and morcilla (blood sausage), traditional foods in Spain. One of the first foods he prepared for his host family was a Spanish omelet. He also has cooked chorizo and morcilla, prompting mixed reactions to the blood sausage. But there were no mixed reactions on either side when Marcos joined the family. The friendly, smiling young man quickly became a part of the family, Tamera said. \u201cHe\u2019s been fun,\u201d Shawn said. \u201cVery outgoing. At school, he just fit in right away with everybody.\u201d Marcos was looking forward to basketball, which he plays all year back home. In the States, he had to wait until the winter season to join the basketball team, so he decided to try football to make friends. \u201cI was pretty lost,\u201d he said, but he had fun and learned the sport. He also started dating his girlfriend, Elly Lindberg, 15. Later, he and Elly took a trip to Minneapolis with her family, making another family connection. Since he\u2019s been in Minnesota, Marcos has visited Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon with the Ostenaas tried ice fishing (Izabelle showed him how to snag a minnow and bait the hook) and gone snowboarding at Detroit Mountain in Detroit Lakes. Sibling bonds form He and Noah and Shawn are also building a tree house that began as a project for father and son and has grown into one for the two teenage boys. Elly sometimes helps out, but her presence distracts Marcos too much, Noah joked. Marcos and Noah have become like brothers, calling each other \u201cbrother from a different mother,\u201d Tamara said. \u201cIt\u2019s constantly \u2018bro.\u2019\u201d Izabelle likes to have Marcos help her with cooking and baking. All three of them play basketball, another bond they share. For Noah, being around Marcos has meant not just a brother connection, but also a conduit that\u2019s helped him come out of his shell more. \u201cNoah used to be super shy, and now he\u2019s much more outgoing because of Marcos,\u201d Tamera said. Mosquitoes: Even worse than the cold The worst thing about Minnesota for Marcos isn\u2019t the cold; the mosquitoes are what really bothers him. The stings from the pesky bugs brought out huge welts that Marcos would scratch uncontrollably, wondering why nothing could truly take away the itch. But still, the cold came as a surprise to him, especially a particularly frigid stretch of low temperatures. \u201cSometimes I was really, really cold and wanted to go outside and stuff (but it was just too cold) \u2026 but it wasn\u2019t bad. It was a new experience.\u201d Indeed, Marcos enjoyed snowboarding, getting rides on snowmobiles, and playing king of the hill; just not on those coldest days of the year. In fact, he wishes he could have done more snowboarding. Also, he had a nice\u00a0birthday surprise\u00a0on the basketball court. Also among the good things, but in a warmer setting, were s\u2019mores, which he ate voraciously, Tamera said. Marcos\u2019 time in Minnesota began Aug. 28, just before the school year began, and will end June 16 as he returns to Spain and reunites with his parents and his two younger brothers. Among the family activities before then\u00a0just might be a trip to Itasca State Park, a destination Marcos hasn\u2019t been to yet. Reprinted with permission from the Erskine Echo. We invite you to read more about hosting a foreign exchange student. If you have specific questions about hosting, check out our host family FAQ page. You can also read testimonials from our past and current host families. When you feel ready, complete our host family interest form and our area representative will get in touch with you. You can also get involved by joining our team of Area Representatives! Help match host families and exchange students and bring the world closer together, while making a supplemental income.