Over the past two years, June Holder has played host to a dozen foreign students who came to the United States with their respective sports teams to train and learn.

Jorge Alonso, 16, and his teammates are the most recent guests, traveling from Spain four weeks ago to improve their basketball game with the help of the Montgomery County Recreation Department. Now, at the end of their month-long trip, they have learned much about the game and about American culture.

Alonso and his team, El Grupo de Cultura Covadonga of Gijon, have found American basketball very different from theirs.

"It's much more difficult," Alonso said through an interpreter. "It's stricter, more confusing. We have learned new rules and new ways."

The difference in rules was confusing to most of the eight players on the team and even to Coach Julio Huertes.

"The officiating is different. We didn't understand some of the calls," he said through an interpreter. "The players were disappointed at some calls, but they are adjusting."

After weeks of daily practices and scrimmages, and participation this week in the Adrian Dantley camp at Woodward High School in Rockville, their game had greatly improved.

The group is here as part of a cultural exchange program organized by Sport For Understanding, a nonprofit organization in the District that aims to smooth international barriers.

The program focuses on three aspects: sport, culture and family. As many as 50 teams a year, consisting of players age 14-19, compete overseas for one month in a variety of sports and stay with host families.

Holder, a big supporter of the program, said she learns as much from the teen-agers as they learn from her and her family.

"The reason I do it is learning other cultures, having kids around," the Wheaton resident explained. "I love kids. We get very attached to them. When they leave, it's like one of my own leaving home."

The Holders have been hosts to Portuguese, Chinese, Phillipino and French athletes. The language barrier does not create major communication problems.

"They have tried to teach us their language, and they learn English from us," she said. "It usually doesn't take long for them to warm up to us."

The team has had a busy schedule since its arrival. Each weekday, the players participate in activities and trips sponsored by the county recreation department. They have seen the Smithsonian, Wild World and have gone camping in Catoctin State Park. Collectively, their favorite activity was swimming, their favorite trip to Kings Dominion.

"I was impressed with {Kings Dominion}," Alonso said. "We have some places like that in Spain but not as big." Huertes has enjoyed almost everything on his first trip to America and said he will definitely come back. The only things he hasn't liked are the weather and the distance between places.

"My city has 200,000 people, and we walk everywhere," he said. He expected it to be much the same here.

Huertes was selected to coach the team after an American team met him in Spain last year and recommended him for the positiion. He has coached for 13 years and has 10 years of playing experience behind him.

In the afternoons and evenings, the team plays basketball. For up to four hours a day, they run drills, practice shooting and passing and scrimmage area teams.

"They are from different teams in Spain and have not played with each other before," Huertes said. "They've improved a lot. They have learned strategies from each other."

Alonso, who never trained so intensively before, said the camp has helped every aspect of his game, especially his passing. And his English has improved, too.

Despite the great experience he has had in Maryland, Alonso said he misses home a lot and is eager to see his family. Once he is back home, he said, he will have many stories to tell.