“Home Sweet Home” for Valeria Nussbaumer is Vorarlberg, Austria, where she resides with her parents and two older brothers. For the past six months though, this bubbly and fearless foreign exchange student has ran, danced, and vaulted her way to state and into the hearts of people in the Westby area.
While in America, Nussbaumer has become an integral part of the Peter and Michele Engh family. She enjoys spending time with the Enghs as well as all the new friends she has made since attending Westby Area High School. More than anything though, Nussbaumer loves all the new adventures she has conquered while in the United States.
An athlete to the core, Nussbaumer has been involved in some form of physical activity since she was old enough to walk. Her passion is dance, some of which she even choreographs and has been involved in since she was knee high to a grasshopper tall. She loves to sing and is a member of the high school choir and her graceful moves were visible in this year’s high school fall musical where she danced her way into the hearts of many.
Nussbaumer loves competition, which she will take to the next level on Saturday, March 3, when she represents Westby at the WIAA Division 2 State Individual Gymnastics meet in Wisconsin Rapids. She earned a trip to state performing a half on, half off, vault at Sectionals where she placed fifth with a score of 8.350.
Her American adventure has been a fun filled ride, but also one filled with her share of bumps and bruises. Several weeks ago she suffered a concussion on floor exercise and was forced to sit out while she healed. She wears a support bandage on her right forearm, an injury which requires her to attend physical therapy twice a week until it improves.
Nussbaumer said her concussion was an mind spinning moment and her forearm injury was never a reason to stop performing, but a chance to look outside the box for another way to compete. The arm injury requires her to land and push off on the vault using her fist and one open hand, instead of pushing off with both hands planted flatly on the vault.
“All judges score differently, but I am hoping to improve my score on Saturday and make Westby proud,” Nussbaumer said.
Although Nussbaumer is performing on vault at the state level she enjoyed floor exercise the most since it provides her a place to express herself with dance. She found the balance beam an ongoing challenge and her arm injury took her away from the parallel bars and out of the all-around competition part way through the season.
Athletically, Nussbaumer has been on the go since the school year started. She was an intricate part of the girls cross country team on their return trip to state last fall and is hoping to reach new heights as a pole vaulter for the Westby Norse track team this spring.
“I have never pole vaulted in her life, but I thinks the challenge makes it worth trying,” Nussbaumer said.
If pole vaulting is a flop she can always put on her running shoes, since that is in her blood. She competed in her first 5K race at the age of 8, alongside her grandmother who ran the same at age 80. Her father is an avid runner and they will both be running a marathon this summer back in Austria after Valeria returns home in June.
Nussbaumer is considered a senior at Westby High, but in reality at the age of 17, she still has one year left of high school to complete next year when she returns to Austria. She said there are notable differences in American school systems compared to those in Austria. Grade school is 1-4, middle school is 1-4 and high school is grades 5-8. Students do not get to pick their classes, but are assigned to classes and they must take multiple foreign language classes. German is her native tongue, but she also took English and French. She added that math in American schools is not as challenging and homework isn’t an option, but a nightly task.
Residing in a very environmentally friendly town of 2,100, located in the mountains, Nussbaumer was surprised by the amount of waste, especially of food in this country. She said back home recycling isn’t a choice and it was an adjustment not to have a public transit system to get around.
“Everyone here has a car, which creates a lot of pollution. Back home public transit is the most popular way to get around and if you have a vehicle it is an economical car, not trucks,” Nussbaumer said.
In Austria at the age of 16, teenagers can legally drink alcohol and attend bars and dance clubs. She said drinking is not a priority for her, but she misses the dance clubs, which are swinging with activity every weekend.
Nussbaumer also noted a big difference in housing and she didn’t know what a ranch style house was until she moved in with the Enghs. In Austria houses are designed narrower, have multiple levels and spacious rooms, but are not necessarily open concept.
This vibrant and energetic teen couldn’t stop smiling even if you told her not to. She is very health conscience and enjoys eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, another difference she noticed between American and Austrian teens. After graduation she plans to become a personal trainer and nutritionist, which might explain why she has only ate one burger since arriving in the United States.
Nussbaumer said she will miss her new friends and her host family when she returns home. As for her friends she knows the true ones will stay connected via the internet and as for the Enghs she hopes they never forget her or “Kasknopfle and Grumprosqlol”.
Good Luck Valeria at State!