Students of the Month - April 2023

This month, it is our pleasure to recognize not just one Student of the Month… but to shine a light on our ICES StudentS of The Month.  In an exciting change to the normal nominating process, one of our double placements (two students in the same household) was nominated and WON!  So we are awarding the Student of the Month to two young men living in Crab Orchard, Nebraska: Marc Barbera-Baltran from Spain and Nicola Spiga from Italy.

While interviewing Marc and Nicola for this blog post, one thing became immediately clear: Why they were nominated. These two young men are not only fun, they are living examples of why cultural youth exchange exists: they care.

When they were nominated, their host mom and ICES Local Coordinator, Beckie, shared a variety of difficult circumstances that her family--including the boys--had to deal with, and she states “…the boys were always there being supportive and helping in any way they could. They said 'we are a family and we stick together.'  We as a host family are blessed to call Marc and Nicola our kids. We have their parents to thank for raising amazing young men.”

family selfie with plains in background

But the boys didn’t simply respond well. When asked how an exchange student that is thinking about coming to the U.S. next year should handle difficult circumstances or struggles, Nicola’s response explains it perfectly.

The first step to do this is having a good relationship with your host family. Don’t hide anything, and don’t be afraid to talk to your host family about your problems. Because they are going to come to you and talk about their problems too and that emotion sharing is always a benefit for both the host family and the student. Showing that you care makes them more than a host, it makes them a family”

    family at college football game

Marc jumps in to share “They are there to help you with whatever you need because they are a family. They invest their time with you, so just to give that time back shows your appreciation for all that they are doing. And that’s what makes me more than a guest in that house. It makes me a member of the family, a brother, a real member of the family”.

The examples from Nicola and Marc exemplify the precise purpose of intercultural student exchange!  In facilitating a caring, encouraging exchange of cultures, students and their host families become more than just new friends. They build lifelong bridges of communication that transcend culture.

But these two didn’t just share a great family and growth through struggles-- they had a lot of FUN as well!

When asked about fun times with their host family, Nicola exclaimed “We went to a [Nebraska Cornhuskers] game and it was like I had known that team for ten years! It was an amazing experience. I had went to some NBA games before but it was nothing like this. It was loud, with, like, 90,000 people, and I was cheering with all of my family and with all the exchange students. It was amazing”.

group of exchange students at football game

Marc says that his favorite experiences were the normal things, like “going to the mall with my host brother, or just playing ball, or going to Chick-fil-A.  And none of that is big, like a Huskers game, but just spending time together--we really like that.”

Nicola says they are very close as a family, and are truly sharing life. “We went on a trip, in a car. . . we went to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and it was like 7-8 days, and we spent all this time together in a car and we were just talking and enjoying each other."

Marc agrees, “That was like 27 hours together in the car, just talking, listening to music, playing games, and sleeping, and it was really good”.

family at Grand Canyon

Both boys had emphatic thoughts about the size of their American town and high school. The population of Crab Orchard, Nebraska is 39. Yes, you read that right--39. But the boys wouldn’t have their exchange in any other place!


teen boy hugging momMark says, “The high school is like a family, the school spirit is great. It’s a small town and everyone is related to something about the school. I play basketball here and just seeing how many people come to the high school basketball games, and our school is not big. But everyone comes to the games. They are representing the town, and the school spirit is the full representation of high school in America.”


When asked if they would recommend a small town placement to other future exchange students, both boys responded with a resounding “YES!! ABSOLUTELY!”.

teen boys in front of Nebraska sign

Nicola says, “A small town is way for me better than a big town, everyone knows you," Marc says. “I was nervous about a small school in a small town, but now I’m here and I know everyone at the school and everyone knows me. I was at the gas station the other day, and a dad says to me 'Hi Mark,' and I was like, 'Do you know me?' And everyone cheers you on, and at games and stuff they are like, ‘Lets go!' and now I would say go to a small town!”

It’s obvious that both of these young men got a wonderful sense of American culture and community in this little town in Nebraska.

teen boy and momAbout becoming an exchange student, Nicola said, “I would say definitely you need to experience this. You have another family, another home."

And Marc says, “From the first month, the year flies, and everyone is ready to help you with anything. Your classes, your friends, everyone wants to help you.”

Several words were woven throughout the discussion with the boys that show the strength of cultural exchange: family, sharing, friends, kindness, caring, awesome, and finally… ChicK-fil-A! 😊

Congratulations Marc and Nicola on being chosen as our ICES Students of the Month for April. Enjoy your final weeks in Crab Orchard, and thank you Zyla family for opening your hearts and home to these wonderful young men.

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Tags: Exchange Student, Student of the Month, Host an exchange student

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