WEST POINT — West Point became the center of attention over the weekend for 19 international University of Nebraska at Omaha students.
Students from China, Australia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Vietnam, Japan, Colombia, France and the Palestinian territories made their way to Cuming County Friday and Saturday to learn more about rural Nebraska.
Dr. Tom Gouttierre, the university’s dean of international studies and programs, said UNO has officially adopted West Point as their “Nebraska Neighbors.”
The Nebraska Neighbors visit is a continuation of a 33-year-old tradition of connecting UNO international students to rural Nebraska’s residents.
The students came to share their cultures with local residents and to learn about life in rural Nebraska.
Some of the students spoke English well and are enrolled as undergraduate or graduate students at UNO, while others are attending UNO's intensive English language program.
Trung Pham, part of the Vietnam and Japanese contingency, said it was a good opportunity for students.
“As an international visitor, you tend to travel to big cities,” Pham said. “We view America through TV and media. But here we could see the underside or downside of the cities, the rural areas, the lifestyle of others.
“This is an amazing experience to be invited to get to visit a small town in Nebraska to learn below the surface, to see more than a superficial view of life of the town and to stay with an American family — a wonderful experience,” Pham said.
The group was welcomed at a chamber of commerce coffee Friday morning at the John A. Stahl Library. The international students later ate lunch with the sixth-graders at West Point-Beemer Elementary School.
Each visitor gave a report of his native country and the sixth-graders asked many questions.
“Understanding comes one student at a time,” said Gina Johanningsmeier, UNO international student adviser.
“The school kids realized the people from different countries and different religions had moms and dads just like them,” Johanningsmeier said. “The students met Moslems and Buddhists for the first time and found them to be very warm, wonderful people. Our Moslem students have a hard time being unfairly stereotyped.”
They visited St. Francis Memorial Hospital, asking about health care issues and who pays for medical coverage.
At Dan Kane’s recording studio in rural Wisner, they sang “Happy Birthday” in many languages. Evening dinner was at Dick and Gwen Lindberg’s home in West Point, from where students were picked up for the overnight stay with 10 West Point homes.
Some of the students, especially notable to the South Americans from Ecuador and Columbia, Saudi Arabians and Palestinians, noticed Saturday’s cold wind chill. But all were prepared with winter clothing.
After breakfast with their host families Saturday morning, they regrouped with Erv Eisenmenger, who gave an extended tour of West Point Implement and Design.
The entourage also stopped at Knobbe Commodities, Feedlot and Livestock Sales where Harry Knobbe spoke of his business with commodities, markets and livestock sales and the power of the Internet.