SARANAC LAKE - It's been more than 25 years since Joaquin Amat Guarinos first set foot in Saranac Lake as an exchange student, and he keeps coming back.
The Alicante, Spain, resident arrived Wednesday at Susan and Dennis Dwyer's Lake Street house with a busload full of family and a half-dozen exchange students from Spain.
The students will be here for the next month as part of the Loyola Cultural English Exchange, the same kind of exchange program that first brought Guarinos here in the summer of 1985, when he spent six weeks living with the Dwyers. He later returned as an exchange student for the entire 1988-89 school year, graduating with that year's senior class. He still remembers those experiences fondly.
A group of exchange students from Spain led by Joaquin Amat Guarinos, far left, who was an exchange student at Saranac Lake High School in the mid to late 1980s, arrived at Dennis and Susan Dwyer’s home on Lake Street in Saranac Lake on Tuesday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"When I came here I didn't know how to do anything," he said. "I went water skiing, fishing, played American football - I was the kicker on the high school team."
"He did very well," Dennis Dwyer said. "He loved it here."
"It was a fantastic experience for us and him," said Susan Dwyer, "and we've stayed in touch with him ever since. A couple summers after he was here, we had his brother come for the summer and his cousins. He had his honeymoon here. We've been over to Spain to visit him and his family. He calls me twice a month whether he needs to or not."
Guarinos is hoping the exchange students he's brought with him from Spain, most of whom are teenagers, will have the same kind of experiences he's enjoyed here. None of them have been to the United States before, he said.
"They're going to be staying with families here, learning the culture and learning the English language, just like I did 25 years ago," Guarinos said.
A total of 13 people - including Guarinos' and his brother's families and the six exchange students - made the trip from Spain. They flew into Montreal and traveled across the border to Saranac Lake on the bus, which arrived at the Dwyers' house just after 5 p.m. Wednesday. The families greeted each other with smiles and big hugs. The Spanish kids were all wearing white T-shirts with American flags that read "First Exchange Student Program: Saranac Lake, N.Y.-Spain."
"I think it's wonderful," Susan Dwyer said. "We're all excited. We've been looking forward to it."
The local families that will be hosting the six exchange students for the next 26 days were just as excited.
"I was getting my hair cut from Susie Dwyer, Susan's daughter-in-law, and she was telling me about the program and asked, 'Would you be interested in having a kid?'" said James Carpenter of Lake Clear. "I said, 'Absolutely. What a great experience.'"
Carpenter joked that he also thought it would be a great opportunity for him to brush up on his Spanish, until he looked at the resume for the student he'll be hosting - Luis, who at 22 is the oldest of the group - and found out he is fluent in English.
"We're going to have fun with it," Carpenter said. "We'll do some hiking and climbing, and take him swimming at Lake Clear. Next weekend I'll take him down to the city. I got tickets for him to see Cirque du Soleil, and we'll take him to a Mets game."
After their time in Saranac Lake is over, Susan Dwyer said the entire group will go to New York City for a week before returning home to Spain. She's hoping the program is successful and Guarinos is able to return again next year.
"If it works out well, he'd like to do it every year, every summer," she said.
Asked what makes Saranac Lake so special to him, and why he keeps coming back, Guarinos gave a one-word reply.
"Everything," he said. "The people, the lake, the town, everything. It's a special place. And everything is thanks to the Dwyers. I keep coming back to visit and have a good relationship with them."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.