Calling Neisse Totland a world traveler would be an understatement.
The words explorer, crusader or adventurer might better describe the foreign exchange student who is attending Hall for her senior year.
The United States is the third country un which she has lived.
She was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before moving to Norway when she was 7.
“People are super nice. It was surprising how I was greeted with open arms,” Totland said. “I was really scared to come here, but I have a lovely host family that have taken me in as their own kid. I feel like I have my own home here.”
Totland’s host family, Brian and Nicky Duffield, have shown her some of America’s luxuries.
Nicky’s lasagna has been Totland’s favorite cuisine in the new country, while she has enjoyed trips to Starved Rock, Chicago and — her favorite — the water park at Wisconsin Dells.
Totland, who has been in the states since July 17 and will be leaving after the school year is over, has also been introduced to American sports, especially volleyball.
“Coach (Demi Salazar) and the team greeted me very well,” Totland said. I have felt so welcomed and have got so much help from them. I have learned so much already. I’m really grateful for that.
“I did know a little about volleyball at first but not much. They taught me a lot. I’m always trying to pick up new things that I see. The game is really fast, but I picked it up really quick.”
Before enrolling at Hall and moving in with the Duffield’s Totland had only played one sport.
Salazar has enjoyed having Totland on the team since she is always smiling and learning.
“I love her to death. She is just a funny kid. The only organized sport she has ever played is handball,” Salazar said. “She’s learning a lot. It’s pretty interesting to watch because all of our kids watch her. She is improving a ton. She can pass pretty well, but she still hasn’t got the serve down right. Everyday she takes a step back. We started her at the 10-foot line and we have her take a step back each time. She’s getting better.
“She’s starting to understand our humor a little bit. At first, she didn’t really understand our humor. It has been a lot of fun. There isn’t a language barrier at all because when she moved to Norway, they speak English.”
The long-time volleyball coach who is in his fourth season in his second stint with the Lady Red Devils had a foreign exchange student from Amsterdam when he was the Putnam County coach.
Instead of throwing a team off because there’s a new member from another country, Salazar said it helps bring everyone together as they learn from each other and enjoy the game of volleyball.
“She went from being quiet to bantering with us. I think she was always a noisy kid, but with us she was real quiet in the beginning,” Salazar said. I think she’s starting to realize she fits, so she’s OK with it. She’s kind of a big pick me up. Every time she does something new, the kids get pretty pumped about it. She took a hard-driven spike that bounced off of her and everyone was worried. She got up laughing. It was pretty cool.
“When there is a foreign exchange student, the kids here want to know what’s new to them or different. But a lot of times, there isn’t much that is different for the player from another country because kids do the same things. They listen to the same music and do the same activities.”
Totland hasn’t played in a varsity match this season but was a fixture in the preseason lineup. Salazar hasn’t entered the new player into the lineup early on this season because Hall has played hard hitting, fast teams such as Princeton and Newman.
However, Salazar said he wants to give Totland the experience of her first match at some point this week.
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.