Daniel Maring arrived in the United States just five months ago, unsure of the road ahead.
He had vacationed before with his parents to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco, but spending a whole school year in a new country alone was an entirely new experience.
A native of Nieuw-Roden, a village in the Netherlands, Maring flew to New York and then Chicago in August right before the start of Kankakee Valley's school year. He is spending his senior year with Wheatfield residents Troy and Michelle Hanselman, and as a member of the Kougars' varsity basketball team.
"It was scary in the beginning, living with a family I had never met before," Maring said. "I maybe sent four or five emails and some pictures, but that's about it. They're a nice family. They take good care of me."
It's not every day a high school student from the Netherlands walks through the doors of Kankakee Valley High School. It didn't take long for people to show interest in Maring.
"It made it easy for me to make contact with people," Maring said. "I'm a foreign exchange student, and people like my accent. Plus, I'm tall. I had like five or six people asking me the first day, 'how tall are you?' It was not hard to get to hang out with people. I got used to it pretty easily."
At 6-foot-6, Maring is the tallest player on K.V.'s roster this season, and has come off the bench to provide significant minutes and obviously, height, for the varsity team.
"He is very skilled, and you can definitely see a little bit of the European flair," K.V. coach Nathan VanDuyne said. "The first half of the season was a major adjustment of how to defend, how to play offense within our system and how to play with contact. My only disappointment is that I can't coach him for four years."
Maring has had to get used to eating more fast food than what he's used to back home. He joked that he is surprised that he has lost weight since coming to the U.S.
All kidding aside, however, Maring said he is glad he made the decision to attend school here.
"It's a life-changing decision for me, my basketball career, my English and my education," he said. "I learned a lot about America. My English has improved."
Uptempo game from Spain
South Central sophomore Ane Osante had never previously visited the United States. However, her brother Diego spent last school year at Batesville High School in southeastern Indiana.
After hearing the positive experience Diego had as a soccer, swimming and track athlete at Batesville, Osante wanted to try her hand at her favorite sport — basketball — as well as experience the American culture.
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Osante flew from her home country of Spain to the United States before settling in with LaPorte residents Steve and Rhonda Killingbeck. For Osante, spending this school year in a country she had never visited before was nerve-racking at first.
"At the beginning I was nervous," she said. "I didn't think people were going to understand me. I just started making friends and became more confident. People can understand me better than when I first came."
The Killingbecks have been helpful with Osante's American experience, she said. She also doesn't hesitate to help out with chores around the house, as it's something she is used to back home.
"It's been pretty nice," Osante said. "They try to help you with everything they can. They introduce you to people. It's become a lot easier."
Basketball-wise, Osante has a ton of experience. The 15-year-old has played since she was 6, but admitted the sport is taken much more seriously in the United States. Osante averages eight points per game and has 40 steals in 12 games as a junior varsity starter.
"She has great skill and knowledge of the game already," Satellites coach Rick Budka said. "She's an extremely good dribbler and shoots the ball from the outside well. Her offensive skills are fantastic and she's picked up defense tremendously."
From skiing to dribbling
Hebron junior Emma Asberg, who is from Are, Sweden, also had never visited the United States. She is staying with Hebron residents Larry and Linda Neace.
"I was kind of nervous to leave my family and friends," said Asberg, who played soccer for Hebron in the fall. "As soon as I came to the airport in America and met my host family, the nervous feeling went away."
Basketball is not overly popular in Sweden. Asberg has plenty of experience with cross-country skiing, but had never played organized basketball before. She had to learn everything, beginning from the basic rules of the game. Now, Asberg has a spot on the Hawks' JV team.
"She was really hesitant to play," Hebron coach Doug Godbolt said. "The first time we got her in you could see she was scared to death. But she's very athletic. I think she's adapted to (organized basketball) She's got a lot of confidence in her shot."
Asberg is sharing her experience living with Karin Rademar, a fellow native of Sweden and the Hebron girls basketball team manager. The two live hundreds of miles apart in their home country and have never previously met, they have helped each other through their American experience.
Living in the United States has been a surreal experience for Asberg, but it's an adventure she will never forget.
"I feel like I am living in a dream," Asberg said. "I'm happy I made this decision."