HELENA — Two foreign exchange students living in Helena this year had two very different introductions to an American Thanksgiving.

However both featured the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins football game.

The Cowboys were leading 17 to 6 when Lucie Marques, a junior from France, was about to sit down to eat turkey with David and Colleen Smith’s extended family at their home near Lake Helena.

Meanwhile, Emma Hagenau, a sophomore from Germany, was sitting with her Helena host family in the eighth row above the goal line at AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Marques, who is from the small town of Massiac, France, and a student at Helena High School, has been immersed in Smith family holiday traditions the past few days.

Wednesday, much of the day was spent cooking — making stuffing, and cooking cranberries, vegetables and soups. “I prepared a chocolate cake from a French recipe.”

“Yesterday night we decorated gingerbread houses,” Marques said. “I never decorated gingerbread houses before.”

And turkey is new for her, too.

“It’s a big, big turkey,” Marques said. At some 22 pounds, it's much larger than the chickens or ducks she's familiar with.

While the Smiths waited for the turkey to finish cooking, it was football time on TV, with the Cowboys facing off against the Redskins.

“I love American football,” said Marques. "I prefer American football to soccer." She’s been to a Montana State University Bobcat game, and they’re now her favorite team.

After the Smiths sat down to a festive turkey dinner, they likely would settle down to a night of games, said Colleen Smith, who is the director of Youth Connections. It’s also the time for secret Santa assignments.

“Tonight we draw names,” said David Smith, who is CEO of Helena YMCA. “We keep it a secret.” Instead of secret Santas buying surprise gifts they make and gift a favorite home-baked treat.

Some 1,500 miles away from Helena, Hagenau has been immersed in a big-city Dallas experience the past two days.

“I like big cities,” she said Thursday, as she and her host family, Travis and Shannon Johnston and their kids, McKinley, Ty and Chloe, were all arriving at AT&T Stadium. “Oh my gosh, it is awesome here.”

Yesterday they were tourists. “We’ve been to George W. Bush Presidential Library. That was interesting," said Hagenau. “And we went to where JFK got shot,” where they went on a tour. “It was really interesting. I really like Dallas.”

Not only was this Hagenau’s first chance to attend a professional NFL game, but it was her first concert as well. Country music star Eric Church performed during halftime.

Once she was inside the stadium Thursday, Hagenau was thrilled. “We can see all the players, and we saw them warming up. It’s so cool.”

“She’s in awe,” said host mom Shannon Johnston of Emma. “She is very excited.”

“When she walked in the stadium, her jaw just about hit the floor when she saw our seats.”

Turns out, Hagenau is a longtime NFL football fan. Hailing from Bad Schwartau, Germany, she’s a sophomore at Capital High School this year, and started following football at an American sports club in Germany, where she plays lacrosse.

"I'm so thankful for being able to be here," she said at the end of the game, which the Cowboys won.

"It was the best Thanksgiving ever!" texted Shannon Johnston. "Emma says it was the best day of her life!" 

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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