WAVERLY – Four Waverly High School students are getting an extra special dose of education this year, getting up close and personal with a culture they’ve only experienced through news and pop culture.
Nicola Uguzzoni of Italy, Estefania Guerrero Burbano of Colombia and Thomas Baijeens and Lynn ten Kate, both of the Netherlands, traveled a long way to get a firsthand experience of life in the American Midwest.
The students all chose to travel to the United States. After finding a slew of families in the area willing to host exchange students, the youth found themselves on planes destined for the good life.
“It was exciting,” Uguzzoni said. He looked up Nebraska when he found out where he was headed, so he had an idea of what was in store for him across the Atlantic.
For many of the students, one of the biggest culture shocks was the food. The traditional meat and potatoes diet of the Midwest is a little heavier than Italy’s, Colombia’s or the Netherlands’ typical cuisine. The abundance of fast food was also a big change, as they don’t eat as much fast food in their home countries.
Another big change, probably the biggest, was the switch to English as the primary language, they said. That’s no problem, however, as one of the main reasons they decided to travel to the America was to hone their English skills. They all speak the language well, but thought coming to the United States would take them to the next level.
Uguzzoni, Burbano and Baijeens all live in Waverly, and Kate is staying with a host family in Lincoln, so they’ve all been getting a well-rounded exposure to all the area has to offer.
Uguzzoni said a trip to a Nebraska Cornhusker football game was quite the experience, as he got to navigate throngs of red-wearing fans and see American football in action.
“It was big,” he said.
Making friends and learning has been their primary focus, however. Baijeens said he enjoys going out on the weekends with friends he’s made at the school, which has been very receptive of its guests.
They’ve all participated in some school groups, with Baijeens playing football, Uguzzoni running cross-country and Burbano working with FBLA. Both Uguzzoni and Burbano are also involved with Spanish Club.
As winter rolls in, Burbano is looking forward to seeing something she’s never seen living in the Southern Hemisphere – snow. She hopes she’ll be able to break out the sled a few times this school year.
“I want to do sports in the snow,” she said. “I’ve never seen the snow.”
The students are also looking forward to the holiday season, especially Christmas. The students have watched American Christmas movies, like “Home Alone,” and wonder just what the holiday is like in the United States.
Thanksgiving, too, is also a big deal, as many countries don’t celebrate the holiday.
“We don’t have that,” Baijeens said.
The students still have a lot to see and do in Waverly, and they’ll have the rest of the school year to cram in as much Midwestern culture as they can before they head back to their home countries and continue their education.
One thing that’s for sure is that Waverly residents have made a good impression.
“They are really friendly and nice and talkative,” Uguzzoni said.