Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Nigerian teen adjusts to America ‘beautifully’

Exchange student, 15, at high school for year


Esther Ibrahim, 15, a Nigerian exchange student at Bedford High School, pauses with her host ‘mom,’ Teresa Arnold of Lambertville.

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LAMBERTVILLE — Nigeria is a long way from Bedford Township, but an exchange student from that country fits in quite well as a Bedford High sophomore.

Esther Ibrahim arrived in the United States on Aug. 20, and three days later found herself at the Lambertville home of her host “mom,” Teresa Arnold. The 15-year-old acknowledged Michigan has been something of a revelation: It’s not all urbanized as she expected it would be.

“I thought there would be big cities everywhere,” she said. Another oddity for her is wearing jeans, which would be a terrible faux pas in her hometown, Gombe, in Nigeria’s north.

“People would think of me as an immoral girl if I wore jeans at home,” she explained.

Despite these adjustments, “she’s doing beautifully,” said Lara Taylor, her English teacher. “She’s a very, very, sharp girl.”

Esther became something of a school star when she organized a Nigerian Cultural Extravaganza in observance of her country’s Oct. 5 independence day.

She wore her gorgeous pink-and-blue native dress and served a spicy dish called egusi, a sort of West African stew made from yams. She also put together a PowerPoint presentation with photos and maps of her country.

Ms. Taylor lent a hand too, making pounded yam. More than 100 students packed into the classroom at one point, the teacher said. “The kids were fascinated to hear about Nigeria and everything she had to say. She opened their eyes.”

One of her more eye-opening experiences has been the two football games she attended at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. She found the Big House, to be, well, that, but only more so. “I’ve never seen so many people in one place, she said.

Esther said English is Nigeria’s national language, but residents also speak their tribal languages, and any particular state can have a predominant tribal language. Hausa and Tera are the tribal languages in Gombe. She is a member of the Tera tribe, but speaks Hausa as the common language.

Esther’s year in Bedford is sponsored by the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program set up by Congress in 2002 in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. Scholarships are given to high school students from countries with large Muslim populations. Esther, a Christian, lives in the Muslim north of Nigeria, where, she said, discrimination against non-Muslims is common.

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