Daniela, from Spain, is one of our youngest students on the PSE program this year.  At only 14 years of age, she came to America (Rochester, NY) with many dreams and a yearning for adventure.

She describes her feelings while adjusting to her new home environment:

“I was nervous and afraid. I’ve never left my home before. It was so hard for me to wake up in a place that I didn’t know, without my Dad in the living room, my Mom telling me all the things I had to do, my sister waiting for me to spend time together, and my dog in my door to jump on me and say good morning.”

Despite a bit of homesickness in the very beginning, Daniela adjusted very well to her new “home”, host family, school, and surroundings. Daniela loves high school in America and says that the relationship that is fostered between the teachers and students is special. “They are always there when you need them. I wake up every morning so excited to start the day and go to high school!”

Annamaria, Daniela’s host mother, describes her as very adventurous and sensible. David, her host father, describes her as wonderful, outgoing, excited about school, quick-witted, and interested in just about everything.

“I just adore her and her spunk, fortitude, and laughter! She works hard at whatever she tries and is very levelheaded for a 14-year-old. She is very social but chooses her friends wisely,” Annamaria shares.

One interest stands out above all the rest… cheerleading.

Daniela explains that her decision to try out for the cheerleading team at school was easy to make.  “Since I was very young, I dreamed to go to an American high school and become a cheerleader.”

Daniela says that she dreamed of being a cheerleader even as a small child. She was a dancer in Spain, but never cheered before coming to America.

At first, Daniela was discouraged about tryouts. Her best friend in America and Rochester native, Capriana, was a great source of encouragement and support. 

“Capriana has been a cheerleader since she was very little.  I remember the day before tryouts I texted her, and she gave me some advice. I was so scared!  When I finished the tryouts, I was crying.  I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”  

The next day turned out to be a pleasant surprise and relief for Daniela.  She shares, “I was waiting for the coaches’ final decision, and they called me to speak with them.  I was shaking!  At first, they told me the areas I needed to improve.  Then, they handed me a schedule with the practices and competitions.”

Daniela says that she was so happy at that moment. She ran to Capriana and shared the great news.  She thanked her for her friendship and support.  “What I like most about Capriana is that she is always there when I need her.”

Annamaria recalls, “Cheer was a long-term dream for her.  She made some very close friends, and the Cheer families were so welcoming. They really helped her assimilate into the group. I am very grateful for them.”

“Cheerleading is not a sport, it is a family!” – Daniela

Daniela says that her cheerleading team became family to her.  “When I didn’t know how to do something, my coaches and teammates were always there to help me. My team was modified, so we couldn’t go to sectionals. But we placed first in all the competitions!”

“Daniela knows that Cheer is not the same as what they show in the movies.  She learned how important and dedicated each person is to the entire team and how the lack of even one person means your team cannot compete.  Her team went undefeated, and they all got special T-shirts at the Cheer Banquet,” David shares proudly.

Daniela reflects on her experience while in Cheer and how it increased her confidence. 

“It made me realize how strong I am.  Also, with hard work, I can do anything I set my mind to doing.  I improved so much. I didn’t have any idea how to do a stunt or how to make correct facial expressions.  But with hard work, and with the help of my team, I learned so many things!  I can say… I am an American cheerleader!”

Daniela’s cheerleading success inspired her to join the cross country and lacrosse teams. “These sports taught me that I can do difficult things by working hard.  Now, I work hard to improve all my skills and reach success!”

Daniela had never heard of Lacrosse before coming to America. David played in high school, so he was able to help teach her about the sport.  

Daniela enjoyed much success on the team and remembers a game where her team won 20-15.  She advanced to Varsity and was awarded a Varsity athletic letter with a gold lacrosse stick pin.

At the end of the season, Daniela and her host family attended the lacrosse banquet, where she was presented with an “Outstanding Goalie” award certificate, noting her “willingness and strongest performance at the position.”

Daniela shares about her host family:

“My host family is amazing. They are always there when I need them.  The first few weeks were so hard for me, but they were always there to cheer me up and help me see the experience I was going to have.  It was weird, but my host family helped me adapt to my new life!”

David and Annamaria have hosted 30 international students in the past.  “Daniela and our other student from Germany get along great and have even made neighborhood friends to walk to school with. She fits in perfectly with our family’s sense of humor and environment.”

Whether it is grilling hot dogs every Wednesday, having fun at the dinner table, playing Jeopardy, or visiting Niagara Falls, the family has enjoyed various meaningful and memorable times together.

When Daniela arrived in New York she was very surprised to see a different world:

“What I like most about New York is how green everything is.  I’m from Madrid, all buildings and pavement.  When I came here, I was in the car and looked through the window.  It was green everywhere!”

David mentions that he realized he might take for granted the beauty that surrounds them.  “Oddly, one of my favorite memories of Daniela is when I took her to work with me,” says David. “I drive about 100 miles on my route, and she mentioned how green Rochester is and how many trees there are here.” 

Daniela decided to extend her exchange experience from one semester to the full academic year. 

“What made me extend my program was one simple thing… the people.  All my friends, the teachers, my host family, my coaches, my friends’ parents. All of them made me feel at home.  All of them gave me experiences that I’m never going to forget, and I didn’t want those experiences to end that early.” – Daniela

Annamarie and David agreed to continue hosting Daniela for the full year.  Annamarie states, “I really believe that staying the full year is far better than 3 months or even 6 months.  Although all durations can be a good experience, the full year has the potential to truly be a life changing experience.”

David reflects on their experience with Daniela:

“She’s been a great host daughter. I believe her experiences here will serve her well after she returns to Spain. She has accomplished so many of the things she dreamed of doing as an ‘American’ and made many real friends. Daniela now knows what it means to be ‘busy’ and that she can achieve so much.”

Cindy, her Local Coordinator, has enjoyed watching Daniela blossom during her exchange year. “She is very outgoing, and I’m so proud of her accomplishments.  I hope that her experience here in America has created lasting memories that she will cherish forever!”

“Being only 14 years old on my exchange year, this experience made me think of how important family is, and how they are always there when you need them.  It helped me learn how to solve problems on my own and helped me grow as a person,” Daniela reflects.

As for the future, Daniela is interested in becoming a Dentist like her father.  Through discussions with her best friend, Capriana, they both discovered that they both share this dream. Daniela hopes to return to America to study Dentistry with Capriana in college.

David and Annamaria close with this message:

“Daniela, you have been a wonderful addition to our extended international family, and we would love for you to return to visit us or for us to visit you in Spain. You always have a room, a bed, and a family to stay with. Love and kisses to you always!”

Written by Flo Webb; Edited by Lauren Lunt

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