Taking a shot as Comets

Sofia Barbosa, at left, of Brazil and Emma Ettle of Germany are taking their best shots at Cameron High School.

You have to shoot to score. Life is about taking risks, and no one can relate to this more than foreign exchange students and their host families.

Leaving home for 10 months to live with complete strangers in a foreign country is a risky business, and teenage students have to be very brave to pursue such an adventure. Host families must have courage to open their homes to a teenager from a different culture. What if personalities clash or it doesn’t work out? The experience could be a fantastic life-changing event or a devastating disappointment. Fortunately for Cameron High School’s exchange students, Germany’s Emma Ettle and Brazil’s Sofia Barbosa, and their host families, the Schuebels and the Sayles, they shot, scored, and are winning in this adventure of a lifetime.

Participation in a foreign exchange program is a win-win for the visiting students, their host families, and the school. Cameron High School Principal John Meznarich believes that hosting exchange students is a great experience for CHS students because they get to learn about other countries and cultures, while at the same time, share their own culture with the visiting students. 

He stated, “One of my favorite parts of hosting students from other countries is giving our Cameron students the chance to realize that even though someone comes from a different country with different cultures and beliefs, they have a lot more in common with each other than they would have thought.”

Amy, John, and MiKayla Schuebel have opened their home to Emma Ettle from Rietenau, Germany. The Schuebels decided to adopt an exchange student after MiKayla had become close friends with an exchange student from Germany during MiKayla’s sophomore year at CHS. MiKayla, an only child, wanted to bond with a sibling she never had, and the family was interested in learning more about another culture. The timing was right, and the potential for a rewarding experience outweighed the risk.

Kelly, Mikelle, Kenzie, and Maddy Sayles are hosting Sofia Barbosa from Piracicaba, Brazil. CHS Senior Mikelle was introduced to the idea of getting involved with hosting an exchange student when a substitute teacher mentioned it in one of her classes. Kelly thought it would be a great experience for her three daughters, and she was willing to take the risk of sharing her home with a stranger.

Thanks to technology, the Schuebels and Emma started corresponding before her arrival in America, and they realized they would be a good fit due to the similarities in size of their communities; also, MiKayla’s and Emma’s personalities seemed to blend well. Coincidently, the Ettle and Schuebel families both have a dog named Snoopy—a sign this was meant to be.

Even though they had previously corresponded, Amy was both excited and nervous to meet Emma at the airport. “It was so exciting to meet Emma in person; it made it all seem real,” she said.   

Emma had a really good first impression of her host family.

“As soon as I talked to them, I knew that I was going to fit in their family perfectly. We soon found out that we have a lot in common and that we’re gonna have a good time together,” she said.

Amy is happy her family took the risk of hosting an exchange student.

Amy said, “It doesn’t feel like there is a guest in our home; she’s part of the family.”

Sofia is also delighted with her host family and is thankful they decided to participate in the exchange program.

“This experience so far has been incredible. I can say for sure that my host family is the most important thing that happened to me. They have always been nice to me, and it has been awesome having three sisters, even if only one is living with me, since I’m an only child.”

Kelly is also pleased with their win-win situation. “It is such a great experience to have someone in your house that you can teach all about your culture while they are teaching you as well. Sofia doesn’t have any siblings, so I think it is so awesome seeing her interact and become a part of our family and bond with my three daughters.” Kelly admits that at first it could be a challenge getting used to having a stranger in your house. Getting to know each other and being comfortable sharing a home is important as well as establishing rules as a parent of a teen you also want to treat as a guest.

Sofia definitely has experienced both lifestyle and climate shock. Her family lives in an apartment in the large city of Piracicaba in SE Brazil. The diverse riverside city of about half a million people is a water sports haven known for its seafood cuisine. Sofia’s city is considered one of the hottest places in Brazil. Although Sofia is not a fan of the cold weather, she is delighted to encounter snow for the first time. “What I miss the most from Brazil is enjoying the nice weather and having barbecue with my friends and family. I miss my routine. I used to go to the club, to the beach, or to my farm on the weekends.”      

Emma’s family resides in Rietenau, a small village of about 1,200 residents in southwest Germany. Although the population is similar to Cameron’s, Emma says that Cameron is much larger in area. Homes in Rietenau are much closer together; whereas, in Cameron, everything is spread out.

One of the things Emma misses the most about Germany is the convenience of public transportation.

“Here I always have to ask people to drive me somewhere. What I also miss is going out into discos on the weekends,” she said.

Being far away from home, family, and friends is tough. Emma and her family stay connected via Skype/Facetime, but the 7-hour time difference makes is challenging.

“When I go to bed, they wake up for work/school and when I come home from school and basketball they go to bed. So, I try to Skype them sometimes on the weekends but that is also hard because there is always something going on; so, I only talk to them like once or twice a month, which is not too bad, because my family knows I’m okay and that I am in good hands here.”  Sofia communicates with friends and family back home once a week, usually on Sundays,” said Emma.    

Youth sports are very popular in Germany and Brazil; however, sports are not affiliated with school, and there are no sports seasons. Sports are year-round, but practices are usually only 2 or 3 days per week. Soccer is Emma’s sport back home. Sofia is a swimmer.

Both students realize that part of the American high school experience is getting involved in a sport. Emma and Sofia play on the JV basketball team to the delight of Coach Kim Weber.

“They are absolutely so fun to work with,” said Weber. “They both have great attitudes. We have been blessed to have them and are enjoying learning their culture.”

Coach recalls when Emma scored her first two points.

“The crowd went wild and she was beaming. It was awesome to see and be a part of,” she said.

Because swimming is a low impact sport, the impact training for basketball has been challenging for Sofia, but she hasn’t let it discourage her. Coach Weber is impressed with her determination and loves her shy, but funny, personality. It is a goal to have Sofia make a basket by the end of the season, too.

Neither Sofia or Emma have played basketball before. This has been a challenge since they have been immersed in the complexities of advanced levels of basketball, not the basics.  The start of the season was rough for them, not just learning the basic skills, but the terminology, rules, and team plays. Both players enjoy it, but both claim there are too many rules and that it is hard.

Emma always wanted to play basketball.

“It’s just so much fun,” she said. “At first, I really struggled with the rules and I didn’t know what I was doing, but it’s getting better and better and just more fun.”  

Sofia joined basketball because, “It is a sport that I always loved to watch and then I wanted to try since it is not a popular sport in Brazil. It is really hard for me, but the coaches and the teammates are awesome, and they motivate me to continue even with the difficulties of not being so good.”

Both players have earned the respect of their teammates. CHS Junior Avery Krahenbuhl stated, “They are both really hard-working and do their best each and every practice even if they may not have a clue about what they’re doing. They have had to learn the entire game of basketball from scratch and are doing a really good job of it.” Freshman teammate Zoe Rubenzer noticed, “From the first practice until now, I have seen so much improvement in their offensive and defensive skills; however, that didn’t just come from practice. They work so hard to improve every day. Their attitudes are great considering the fact that they are learning something totally new and out of their comfort zones. Overall, I think they are having a great season.”

Although Sofia and Emma have had a positive experience in America so far, there are challenges to being an exchange student. According to Emma, “Sometimes it can be really hard to fit in, because it is all very different than what you are used to.” Sofia’s first weeks were the most challenging because of language. “I used to mix Portuguese with English that made it difficult to understand and communicate.” Although it was a bit rough at first, Sofia definitely has seen an improvement with her English skills.

Both students had to adjust to the differences of American education. Sofia reflected, “About school I can say it was a big shock for me, school here is much more fun compared to Brazil. In Brazil you have to take only the mandatory classes. In Brazil, school is a place that you go exclusively to study, and here I feel that people interact much more, since they have lunch and much time together.”

Emma noticed that, “CHS students don’t usually hang out after school because a lot of people here start working when they turn 14—which I think is crazy because I think you have your whole life to work and you should concentrate more on your education.”

Although there are risks, the Schuebels encourage others to get involved in foreign exchange programs. Amy proclaimed, “It has been a great once-in-a-lifetime experience learning about the German culture and Emma’s family. MiKayla plans to travel to Germany this summer to visit both Emma and Milena. We look forward to staying in touch with Emma, our new daughter and lifelong friend.”  

Sofia also encourages other people to get involved. “This is an experience that I think everyone should go through; it opens your mind, and you realize that your reality is nothing compared to so many diversities around the world. My host family: I can say that I now have two families.”

When it is time for Emma to end her adventure, her family, including her older brother and sister, will be coming to stay in the U.S. for 2 weeks to get to know her new family. The Ettles will return home together. Emma is very excited to get her two families together and continue to expand the reach of her cultural exchange.

The brave Sofia and Emma, and the courageous Sayles and Schuebel families, took the risk. They shot, scored, and won—a slam dunk for a lifetime experience they will never forget.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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