Zambian exchange students return home after whirlwind year

Two former exchange students from Zambia — Teddy Nosiku, second from left, and Aaron Nyambe, right,  receive honorary diplomas and hugs from assistant principal Ryan Chaney, left, and principal Kristen St. Germain, second from right, as well as a standing ovation, during the  62nd  Wheeler High School Commencement in North Stonington on June 21. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Two former exchange students from Zambia — Teddy Nosiku, second from left, and Aaron Nyambe, right, receive honorary diplomas and hugs from assistant principal Ryan Chaney, left, and principal Kristen St. Germain, second from right, as well as a standing ovation, during the 62nd Wheeler High School Commencement in North Stonington on June 21. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Teddy Nosiku and Aaron Nyambe came to North Stonington last year to study at Wheeler High School. Late last month, they returned to their homes in Ng’ombe, Zambia, with not one but two high school degrees.

After arriving in January 2017, the middle of their junior year, the two students, who were supported by the nonprofit Chikumbuso, thrived at Wheeler, and the school invited them back for their senior year. But because student visas allow exchange students to study at a public school in the U.S. for only one school year, they weren’t able to finish their senior year with their friends in North Stonington.

Saint Bernard School offered to enroll them so they could finish their diplomas here; Nosiku and Nyambe continued their success at Saint Bernard and graduated May 25.

When Wheeler graduated on June 21, they also received honorary diplomas in recognition of their time there.

Sabrina Buhler, host mother for the students, said she has been grateful for the generosity and compassion shown by the North Stonington community as well as Saint Bernard and the surrounding area for allowing them to stay here and succeed.

“Can you imagine catching up to the middle of a school year? And they’ve done it twice,” she said. “They came here for education and to be ambassadors, really, of the Chikumbuso project.”

Nosiku and Nyambe first came to Chikumbuso, founded by North Stonington resident Linda Wilkinson, through the nonprofit’s education program. Buehler said her daughter had founded a Chikumbuso club at Wheeler in 2005 and been heavily involved in the organization through high school and college. She created an online book club after college for middle school students at Wheeler and in Ng’ombe, starting with “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park.

Buehler met Nosiku and Nyambe through the book club, and because Chikumbuso funds education only through grade 12, she wanted to give them an opportunity to study in the U.S.; Nosiku wants to be an engineer, and Nyambe wants to study medicine to be a surgeon or ophthalmologist. Neither had traveled before, and they were the first students to study in the U.S. for free through the organization.

Nyambe said they flew into Boston, and he was surprised by how cold it was because it was so sunny outside. The seasonal differences were also a bit of a shock, since Zambia stays relatively warm year round with a dry season May to October and a rainy season November to April.

Nosiku said going to school here was also different than what he and Nyambe experienced in Zambia. The curriculum and teaching styles were different, plus it was the first time they had gone to a school with white students.

“It was amazing,” Nosiku said. “We learned a lot of things... learning about the American culture, making new friends and being introduced to new things I never really thought existed.”

Both agreed the most memorable part of their time here was the community and the friends they made.

“The relationships that we built at Wheeler, friends at St. Bernard, including the teachers, I think were strong,” Nyambe said. “The community in North Stonington has been so supportive.”

The two consistently made the honor rolls, and Nosiku also ran track for Wheeler and then Saint Bernard, competing at the ECC and state levels. They’ve also visited Washington, D.C., and Boston and presented at the United Nation’s first observation of World Bicycle Day on June 3.

Wilkinson said this has been a big year for Chikumbuso, not only because Nosiku and Nyambe were the first kids in the education program to attend school in the U.S. but also because this is the first year that children who started in the program in kindergarten are graduating high school. She said it’s a testament to the quality of the education Chikumbuso sponsors, and the younger kids see the success of the older kids and want to do it, too.

Nosiku and Nyambe will be home for a month or two before coming back to attend Three Rivers Community College on their way to four-year degrees and beyond. After that, they’ll return to Zambia to give back to their communities.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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