Many Americans dream about trips to Europe or Hawaii.
For three Costa Rican teens, a trip to eastern Nebraska has been an opportunity to make memories and develop new dreams.
This week, members of Salem Lutheran Church in Fremont have been taking the students on a whirlwind tour of the area. The teens are part of the church's sister congregation, Sola Fe Lutheran in San Sebastian, a suburb of San Jose, Costa Rica.
Two years ago, that church's pastor, the Rev. Sergio Talero, came to Fremont for a visit. Teens were given the opportunity this year to experience a different culture.
The students - Marta Cruz, 19, Julio Cesar Cruz, 17, and Bryan Gonzalez Lopez, 15 - came Jan. 20 and will leave Monday. During this time, they've seen the Blue Man group in Omaha, gone bowling, played pool and laser tag. They've visited Camp Carol Joy Holling in Ashland and the Dunklau dairy farm at Arlington. They've met first lady Sally Ganem, toured the State Capitol and parts of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
They've helped package food at the Low Income Ministry, worked with Salem's daycare children and visited an English Language Learners class at Washington Elementary School, all in Fremont. They're still scheduled to visit the Western Heritage Museum in Omaha and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and attend an Omaha Lancers hockey game. Other activities have been included as well.
"We like to work with young people and children to show them what's possible for their future," said Salem member Sharon Carlson.
Speaking with the help of translator Barb Bloemker of Fremont on Tuesday - before they'd embarked on several of the activities - students told what they'd enjoyed about their trip to that point.
Favorite activities included seeing the Blue Man group - and snow for the first time.
"It was so fun," Marta said. "I think it's the best thing that I've seen in my life."
The Blue Man group provided complimentary tickets for the students, who were able to meet some of the performers.
"I still have my ticket with a blue kiss," Marta said.
Julio and Bryan were excited to see the snow - because they don't have that in their country - but were a little disappointed that there was such a small amount of it. Their pastor had talked about seeing mountains of snow during his visit here. The students did get to catch snowflakes on their tongues. They wrote their names in the snow at the Orpheum before the Blue Man show and while visiting the Holling camp.
It gave Marta a good feeling to know that the parents of a girl who died in a traffic accident had donated the land for the camp as a memorial to their daughter to benefit other young people.
The students were impressed that scholarships were available that would allow youths, who otherwise would not be able to afford to go to camp, an opportunity to attend. That possibility doesn't exist for youths in their neighborhood.
Carlson noted that when groups from the U.S. visit that area, they take youths on outings such as museum and botanical garden visits and on retreats.
"Most of their parents have not had these opportunities and they're wanting their children to have the opportunity to do these things," she said.
Youths in the Sola Fe church have had fundraisers to help defray expenses in bringing the teens to Fremont. By taking the teens to the LIM food pantry, Salem members hoped to show the students what local residents do help others in need. Salem's congregation and other Fremonters have helped provide many experiences for the teens.
On Sunday, the students will read Scriptures and conduct the children's sermon at Salem.
Marta, who has the strongest English language skills, already has sermon plans.
"It's going to be about (how) we need to love each other because it's not important if you have dark skin or are a white person or a black person - we are children of God and everybody is the same," she said.
The teens already have plans for the future. Julio wants to be a mechanic, Bryan, a doctor, and Marta, an accountant. All three want to help their families.
The three also have sensed God's presence on this trip. Marta knows that God is always with them. But when they were lost at an airport on the way to Nebraska, they were able to find a man who helped them. That was God's presence.
Carlson also noted that God was with them when a mix-up occurred with Julio's travel papers. Everything came together on the morning the students were scheduled to leave and Julio got on the plane just hours before takeoff.
Before long, the students will be headed back home, but Marta is looking ahead to the future. She knows one thing:
She wants to come back.