By: Meg Carney
America. To us, it’s the land of the free, home of the brave. Our home. But for a few students at Elkhorn High, America, more specifically Elkhorn, is a place of new opportunities and a chance to experience all the wonders and soak up all that there is to see here. One of those students is Paula Lopez-Alvarez.
Paula is a foreign exchange student from Gandia, Spain, attending Elkhorn High School for the 2017-2018 school year. So far, she loves it here, but with all exchange students, there is a large problem looming: learning English. Lopez’ mother, an English teacher in Spain and former exchange student herself, taught her daughter some English, but Paula says that it hasn’t helped her much.
“When I came here, I thought that because my mother talked to me in English I was going to understand people. But, oh my gosh, I didn’t understand anything! It doesn’t make any difference if you have a higher level of talking or not because, in the beginning, you will understand nothing.”
Thankfully it has been getting a lot easier for her. Every day she gets better at speaking, but it has been challenging being in the US without her friends in Spain, she says.
“Now that I’m here I have had to make new friends. I am a person that is always with my friends, and in the moments that I am not with them, well, I miss them. I always need to be with some people that are my age.”
Other differences in Paula’s life in America and her life in Spain include the food, the activities there are to do here, and the contrast between schedule she had in Gandia versus here.
Deb Eidam, Lopez’ host while she is living here, shared what she thinks is the most helpful thing for foreign exchange students to get them accustomed to living here.
“Just invite them to do everyday activities. Going to football games, after-game parties, or invite them to go shopping… just anything that you would do with your friends, really. Say, ‘Oh, I wonder if so-and-so has done this yet?’ Even invite them over for a meal because what we do here is so different, and I don’t want her to go back to Spain with her thinking that every American family is like the one she lived with.” Eidam says.
Lopez is so excited to see what else Nebraska has to offer until it’s time for her to head back to Spain. She had already learned so much, she says and it has taught her many things.
“Not everyone can be an exchange student. You can’t be shy, and you have to be nice to everyone. You also have to be able to make fun of yourself. But make sure to be nice. ”