By Ashley M. Casey
When 15-year-old Lander Ezama first arrived in Hannibal, the only “football” he’d ever encountered was soccer.
He’d never had a pet, and he’d always lived in a city.
Nearly a year later, Ezama, who hails from Gijón, Spain, has become an aficionado of American football, a lover of cats and dogs, and an admirer of the Oswego County countryside.
Ezama signed up to study in the United States for a year through ASSE International Student Exchange Program.
“In my school, a teacher worked for the exchange program organization,” Ezama said. “We had a lot of meetings with my parents and me. My parents said it would be good experience.”
In August 2013, Ezama arrived in Hannibal and has been staying with Linda Matteson and her son, Kevin. Matteson said Ezama is the second exchange student she’s hosted, the first being a young man from Tajikistan a few years ago.
“The hardest part is when they first get here and everybody’s awkward,” Matteson said.
She said Lander is the oldest in his family, but in his host family in Hannibal, he became the baby brother to her three children, only one of whom lives at home.
“It’s nice to have a full house,” she said of taking in students.
“I was nervous at first, but I think it worked pretty well,” Ezama said of the Matteson family. “They helped me a lot. They were a really good host family.”
Ezama said moving from city to country was a big adjustment, but added that Hannibal is a “really pretty town.” The wide open spaces weren’t the only difference.
“People don’t really have pets in Spain,” he said. The Mattesons have two dogs and two cats. “I have fun a lot with them — I’m going to miss them,” he added.
The family brought Ezama with them on a trip to Orlando, Fla., where they visited Walt Disney World. They also traveled to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
American sports — especially football — has been one of many highlights of Ezama’s year in the U.S. He has also participated in Hannibal basketball and spring soccer at Jones Road in Baldwinsville.
“In Spain, if you want to play a sport, you have to find one outside of school,” Ezama explained. “Here, you have so many options.”
A soccer player, Ezama chose to join the Hannibal football team.
“I had no idea about it,” he said. But he was a quick study and became a kicker for the team.
“I became a football fan. My teammates were really nice to me all the time and taught me,” Ezama said.
In September, Ezama kicked a field goal in a game against Jordan-Elbridge.
“Hannibal hasn’t had a field goal kick in so long,” Matteson remembered. “The stands went nuts.”
Ezama is headed back to Spain in July. He said he’ll miss his host family, new friends and football — but hopefully the separation won’t be for long.
“A year from now, his parents say they’re going to bring him back to us (for a visit),” Matteson said.
There’s one more thing Ezama will miss when he departs July 3.
“I’m going to miss Fourth of July,” he said. “Everyone’s telling me I’m going to miss the most amazing (celebration).”
As for anyone considering studying abroad, Ezama recommends it.
“I’m sure they’ll have a good experience learning about a different culture and living far from their families,” he said. “I think everyone should give it a try.”
His advice for other foreign exchange students is to try to fit in.
“Be integrated. Try to be like you were an American, like you were born here,” Ezama said.
Wanted: host families
ASSE International Student Exchange Programs is looking for families to host exchange students in Oswego County. To find out how to get involved, call 800-677-2773 or visit host.asse.com.