A group of international high school students touring South Carolina through a Lions Club International program visited Hilton Head Island on Sunday, kayaking and enjoying the beach as part of the tour's Lowcountry stop.
The 12 students, all from Asia or Europe, spent three days in Hilton Head, staying at the First Baptist Church's Family Life Center on the island. The church hosted a dinner and meet-and-greet for local Lions Club members Sunday, on the second-to-last night of their stay in the Lowcountry.
The group started their trip to South Carolina on July 13, Lions Club member Jim Varn said. The students stayed with host families for the first two weeks before traveling around the state July 27.
Since starting their tour, the group has gone whitewater rafting and cliff diving, traveled to North Carolina to go to the Carowinds amusement park and visited Myrtle Beach. Tatu Sairanen, a Finnish student participating in the tour, said the trip was the experience of a lifetime.
"The whole trip has been amazing," he said. "Everyone has been so warm here to us, and it's been an experience we'll all remember for a long time. I want to return right away when I can."
Some of the visitors, like William Decava of Belgium, have parents who are Lions Club members that helped them get involved. Sairanen said he became interested in the program after his family hosted a Turkish girl a few years ago as part of the program.
Others have had siblings participate in the program, Silvia Brozzone of Italy, who said her sister was a former exchange student.
Today, the group will head out on the ACE Basin with members of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, who will show them how to use shrimp nets, Varn said.
From there, the group will travel to Charleston and eventually to Batesburg, where they will stay at a campground run by the Church of Nazarene.
The trip ends Saturday, a date some of the visitors aren't looking forward to. Several students said they begin school shortly after returning to their home countries, while others said they would miss the spoils of summer in South Carolina.
"I liked all the pool parties we had," Turkish native Aybike Aybal said. "I could stay here a while."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.