Each May, the St. Croix Swim Club hosts a meet at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. This year, 16 international swimmers from Ecuador joined the competition.

The swimmers are students at Academia Cotopaxi American International School, located Ecuador's capital city, Quito. Greta Stacy, a former Woodbury resident, teaches chemistry and coaches the swim team.

Stacy, who used to compete with the St. Croix Swim Club, said the team had been looking for another chance to travel internationally and was lucky her former club could offer the opportunity.

"We were looking for some higher level competition so the kids can see what that's like," she said before the meet, which took place May 4-5 at the Aimee and Patrick Butler Center for Sports and Fitness.

It wasn't the team's first trip abroad - they competed in Santiago, Chile, earlier this year. The team often competes at home in Quito, though Stacy said it isn't common for schools in Ecuador to have pools. She and other swim coaches are actively working to build a stronger swim culture in the country, using American teams as models.

Academia Cotopaxi's swim team captains, David and Noemi, both 16, said they were enjoying being back in the United States and the challenge that comes with competing here.

"In the States they train harder, they spend more time training during the week and they have more of a drive to do better and be first," Noemi said.

Stacy began as a teacher in St. Paul but knew she ultimately wanted to teach abroad, starting her first international placement in Ecuador three years ago.

The international school educates a mix of students: some whose parents are on diplomatic missions in Quito or are employed with a large international company, and some local students, many of whom want to study in the U.S., Canada or the United Kingdom later on.

"We're all very privileged to call Ecuador our home, at least for right now," Stacy said.

In addition to racing alongside them, Olga Espinosa, the founder and head coach of St. Croix Swim Club, said club members and their families were also able to have dinner with the Cotopaxi swimmers and coaches.

"We hope to see them again and really enjoyed this experience," Espinosa said.