Jessica Short and Abigail Johns have been friends since age 5 when students at Midhirst Primary School, but then did not dream that one day they would share a passion for experiencing other cultures.
They caught up early last week: Abigail having returned from Argentina and Jessica flying to France on the Thursday, both as exchange students.
It is Jessica's first visit to Europe. Having been to New Caledonia twice in a Stratford High School outreach for its French students, it has whetted her appetite for foreign cultures and to improve her grasp of the language.
"I speak the basics. I probably think I know a lot more than I do and will probably feel a bit lost, but I am confident I will come back more fluent."
Last year she was awarded one of 15 fully-paid AFS scholarships nationwide (three to France), having been shortlisted from 250 applicants.
In France she is staying with the Le Hein family in Nantes, Loire Valley. On return in July, she will go to Australia as part of Stratford High's Australia netball tour team.
In Year 13, she says she will be keeping in touch with her teachers and keep up to date with her schoolwork via correspondence.
"It will be quite difficult, but I think I will manage."
Her subjects this year are English, geography, history and French. Next year she plans to study communication and languages, including French, English and possibly Spanish, at Victoria University.
Abigail's interest in other cultures started when older sister Gabrielle had a friend from Costa Rica stay with their family for a few months five years ago. The Johns family has since hosted a number of overseas students and last year Abigail decided it was her turn.
She left in August, staying with a host family in a town "smaller than Stratford", near Cordoba.
What she valued most about her trip was becoming part of her host family and being immersed in a very different culture. The youngest of four siblings - one brother, two sisters - it was a new experience for her to be the elder of two "brothers", one 5, the other 15.
Last year she studied Spanish through correspondence at school, but says she found it hard going.
"I knew very little Spanish - a few phrases and I could recognise words," she says, adding that her host father could speak English, but that she and her "brothers" used Google translator to converse.
"My friends at school there helped me a lot. I can now have conversations with friends and family."
Her travels in Argentina included visiting the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, which she says was "so pretty".
Now in Year 13, she plans to attend EXCEL School of Performing Arts in Auckland next year. "I definitely want to go back to Argentina and also visit other friends abroad."