Exchange student

Israeli exchange student Maria Muallim, left, is staying with Sarah Gengler, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church, for 10 months.

Christina Lieffring, Lee Enterprises

Sarah Gengler and Maria Muallim, an exchange student from Israel, had their first cultural misunderstanding shortly after Muallim arrived in Schuyler.

“When she got here I took her to see the Platte River and her mom told her she couldn't go to the river because there's crocodiles,” said Gengler, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church who is hosting Muallim. “It just shows the differences in where we live and how we understand other cultures.”

Gengler and Muallim connected through the Aspect Foundation’s exchange program. As a host, Gengler browsed student profiles to decide if they'd be a good match. She chose Muallim.

“She wants to learn Spanish, she’s interested in participating in clubs and it sounds like she's very family-oriented, which I am too,” said Gengler.

The two started communicating in April and Muallim arrived here in late August.

Muallim has been studying English since the third grade and hopes the 10 months she spends in Schuyler will help her become more fluent.

“Sometimes I found it difficult to speak, but I can understand,” she said. “I think it’s a good practice for me because everything around is just in English.”

Before this trip, Muallim’s understanding of American culture came from watching television and movies.

“I was thinking the U.S. was how I saw it in the movies — too many rich people, a lot of cars,” she said. “This experience gives me the opportunity to know the American culture, to meet new friends.”

So far, she likes how the streets are laid out in the U.S. and that most homes are only one or two stories with a lot more grass and trees. In her hometown, many residences are multigenerational with grandparents and their children and grandchildren living in a four- or five-story house.

She’s also noticed American schools are more focused on sports than Israeli schools, and the weather is cooler than she’s used to.

Muallim isn't a big fan of American food.

“Ours is more healthy,” she said. “Here in America almost all of the foods are junk food or unhealthy food.”

Her first few weeks in the U.S. have been pretty busy. She’s attended church, watched the Labor Day parade and a Schuyler Central High School football game, started school and joined the volleyball team. Muallim said she hopes to join as many clubs and go to as many social events as she can while she’s here.

“I came here, one, to build friendships with so many people and to present my culture to them and explain about my history and to learn from them, too. I should learn about their culture and they should learn about mine,” she said.

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