Aspect in the News

Italian student staying in Blair, studying in Tekamah

Italian student staying in Blair, studying in Tekamah

Published on 10/01/2015 by Emily Nield on Washington County Pilot-Tribune & Enterprise

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Shannon Smithson of Blair, right, is hosting Italian exchange student Teresa Lugnan, left, for the fall semester. Lugnan attends Tekamah-Herman High School and gets along well with her host sister, Jadyn Smithson, center, age 5.

When Teresa Lugnan arrived in Omaha on Aug. 12 to study abroad for a semester in the U.S., she was greeted at the airport by her host family holding balloons, flowers and a banner that read, “Welcome to our family and Nebraska.”

“It was so sweet,” Lugnan said. “I still remember every word.”

She gets along well with her host family, including 5-year-old Jadyn. Her host mother, Shannon Smithson, works for the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce. Lugnan says her parents and 15-year-old sister back in Italy miss her and she misses them as well, but it’s hard to dwell on it when she is experiencing so many new things in America.

“The first thing I noticed is the organization of the spaces. Here all the spaces are a lot bigger. All the corn fields, and towns with ten minutes between them. It’s more populated in Italy,” Lugnan said.

She also noticed differences in food. Dinner in Italy is eaten much later, around 9 p.m., and food is served in courses instead of all at once. She was surprised to find that Americans drink milk with salty foods, because in Italy it is only served with dessert.

Lugnan has settled in well, but earlier this year Smithson wasn’t sure she’d be able to host a student. Four Blair families had planned to host foreign students through the Aspect Foundation this year, but Blair schools declined Aspect’s applications, citing budget issues. Smithson was determined to be a host, and thought she might have a better chance after the other three families dropped the program. She called to Blair High School and asked again. The principal told her the answer was still no. Smithson decided to send her exchange student to Tekamah-Herman High School, though she has to drive her to and from a bus stop every day.

Since Lugnan is out-of-district she cannot participate in athletic games, but she still attends practices. She is learning to play softball—there is no softball in Italy, and baseball is not that popular. She is excited to play basketball, because she played it with friends back in Italy and here in Nebraska with her host father. She enjoys drama class, plays piano in jazz band, is learning the violin and recently started gymnastics.

Lugnan will turn 17 on Oct. 8. She’s excited to experience a birthday with her host family in the U.S., as well as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. She plans to go to haunted houses with her friends from school. She’ll return to Italy on Dec. 27.

“I think this is an incredible opportunity for young people to open their mind and learn a new culture,” Lugnan said. “I think this experience will really change me. I had friends who did it and I saw when they came back they were a little different.”