From European chocolate to tater tot hotdish: Exchange students discuss life in Staples

Three foreign exchange students at Staples-Motley High School spoke about their experience adapting to life in Minnesota.

Exchange Students.jpg
Lana Schwab, left, Lula Terracciano and and Tindra Gustavsson Osterlund pose for a photo Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, at Stomping Grounds in Staples, after talking about their experiences as foreign exchange students at Staples-Motley High School. The girls are from Switzerland, Italy and Sweden, respectively.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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STAPLES — High school students Lula Terracciano, Lana Schwab and Tindra Gustavsson Osterlund play school sports, cheer on their classmates at athletic events and fondly remember this year’s homecoming events.

These endeavors might seem typical for an American teenager, but they’re brand new experiences for the three foreign exchange students at Staples-Motley High School.

Terracciano, Schwab and Gustavsson Osterlund are from Italy, Switzerland and Sweden, respectively, but chose to spend a year of their high school careers in the United States.

“I’m very shy. I don’t talk a lot, so that was a big part for me to come here to, like, grow as a person and be more confident and just learn more about myself,” Gustavsson Osterlund, 18, said during an interview Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Stomping Grounds in Staples.

Her mom’s previous U.S. exchange experience played a role in Gustavsson Osterlund’s decision as well. Terracciano and Schwab, both 16, had similar familial motivations.


Schwab’s dad participated in an exchange program to Georgia, and she grew up hearing his stories.

“And also because of the old American movies, I was like, ‘Yes, I want to do that,’” Schwab said.

Similarly, Terracciano’s sister studied in Iowa in high school, coincidentally not far from her own Staples, Minnesota, home this year.

“It was kind of always my dream to come here,” she said.

The girls, who all came to the U.S. through the Education First program, did not specifically choose Minnesota for their studies but now find themselves in central Minnesota, experiencing Cardinal homecoming festivities, taking winter all-terrain vehicle rides and discovering new favorite foods.

Terracciano is enamored with the vast selection of candy to choose from in the U.S., while Schwab and Gustavsson Osterlund have a favorite dish that’s much more Minnesotan — tater tot hotdish. The stereotypical Midwestern comfort food earned a place in the girls’ hearts — and stomachs, of course.

Deeming herself a picky eater who doesn’t even like a lot of typical Italian food, Terracciano will gladly take the large variety of candy bars and sweets offered in the U.S. versus the limited options in her home country. But all three girls agreed American chocolate isn’t quite up to European standards.

Kind of like the movies

When asked about American experiences they are looking forward to during their year in Minnesota, Schwab was quick to answer that she wanted to have a sleepover. But Terracciano and Gustavsson Osterlund, both seniors, have their sights set on prom.


“Oh yeah, prom,” Schwab said, noting she will still be able to go as a junior. “I actually think that’s more important than the sleepover.”

The prospect of shopping for fancy dresses, doing their hair, nails and makeup and perhaps receiving a prom-posal just like they’ve seen in movies had the girls giddy with excitement.

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Whether the real thing will live up to their film fantasies remains to be seen.

A movie-like experience all three girls did get to see firsthand was Black Friday shopping. Terracciano and host mom Michelle Winter got in line at Menards at 4:15 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to experience the mayhem. Terracciano loaded up with cold weather gear like snow pants and boots, while also grabbing some hats with Christmas lights on them and other items she plans to give as gifts.

“It was not as bad as in the movies, where people punch each other and kill each other,” she said. “... But it was still like a little bit of a rush.”

Dreaming in English

At times, the girls miss aspects of their home lives, whether it’s talking with their families, seeing their friends at school every day or simply exploring their home cities.

“I miss the Colosseum,” said Terracciano, who is from Rome and is used to walking around the historical landmark at night with friends.

“I love it. It’s super beautiful,” she said.


But they’re acclimating to life in Minnesota, too.

Terracciano enjoys working on the school yearbook and participates in cheerleading with Schwab. In the fall, Gustavsson Osterlund and Schwab played volleyball, as well.

The cold isn’t bothering the girls as much as they had anticipated — not yet anyway — and they found speaking in English 24/7 not to be as much of a challenge either.

“It’s so fast that you, like, think in English and talk and that you see improvements,” Schwab said.

The most obvious sign of that improvement?

“I had a dream in English like a week ago,” Terracciano said.

“I dreamed in English, too,” Gustavsson Osterlund piped in, adding she often finds herself forgetting how to say certain words in Swedish when talking to her parents.

The three girls are grateful they have one another, which made the transition easier, and the support of their host families, too.

“Host families are really appreciated from the students,” Schwab said.

Fashion forward

While looking to the remainder of their school year in Staples, there’s one thing Terracciano said she wants to do but isn’t sure if she ever would.

“People are going to school in their pajamas,” she said. “... I think it’s so cool, and I want to do it, but at the same time, I feel like if I don’t change — I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m awake and I can actually go to school and study. But I want to do it.”

But Gustavsson Osterlund had a simple solution for her.

Just change into different pajama pants.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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