NorthWood's Poblador not your normal newcomer

NAPPANEE — Since August, every day has been a learning experience for NorthWood High School tennis player Gabriela Poblador.

That has been Poblador’s daily routine because she has taken advantage of the opportunity to be a foreign exchange student.

“It’s my first time in the United States and the first time out of Europe,” said the 16-year old Poblador, who lives in Zaragoza, Spain.

“I’ve had opportunities to travel across the world. I stayed three years in France because my dad had has his job there. I was born in the Canary Islands. I love the experience of learning about new culture. You always learn something new.

“I had some high school friends go to Canada as foreign exchange students. They told me how good it was for them. Being 16-years-old, I thought it would be a good experience now to be a foreign exchange student and I decided to do it.

“My mom was supportive about me being doing it. The hardest thing was leaving my dad. My dad was wondering why I was going so far away. He wondered why I didn’t just go to the South of France.”

Poblador has been living with the Porter family in Bremen.

“They’re my host family and they chose me after I filled out some documents about myself,” Poblador said.

The Porter family and Poblador have a strong connection with tennis. Poblador’s host sister Emery Porter plays number one doubles for the Panthers and Pobador’s host brother Mason Porter is an assistant on NorthWood’s girls tennis team. Marcy Porter, who’s Poblador’s host mother, teaches at NorthWood High.

Poblador had a tennis background in Spain, but it wasn’t structured like high school tennis in the United States.

“Tennis is a competitive sport in the United States,” she said. “We don’t play that higher level of tennis in Spain. We don’t play matches. You just study and go home when it comes to high school in Spain. You pay for tennis lessons in Spain.”

Poblador wanted to continue her tennis career at NorthWood and Panthers head coach Tif Schwartz welcomed her to the team.

“She has trained in Spain, so she already know how to hit the ball, but she didn’t really have match-play experience,” said Schwartz.

“We worked on her serve quite a bit in the limited contact time (before the girls tennis season) and helped her get some experience in playing out points.”

Poblador was a good listener and a fast learner, as she became the number three singles player for the team.

“At the start of our season, Gabriela and two others were in a three-way triangle for the three singles varsity position. After spring break and more challenge matches, Gabriela moved into that number three singles position permanently.”

Entering the Northern Lakes Conference Championships, Poblador owned a 14-5 record for the Panthers, who shared the Northern Lakes Conference regular season title with Northridge and Warsaw. All three posted a 6-1 league record.

“I was excited about how everything went with my (high school) training (at NorthWood),” Poblador said. “I was so happy when I got number three singles.

“I can’t complain about anything this year,” Poblador said. “I’ve met new people and my teammates have been so nice. I gained friendships, which is something I didn’t expect. I enjoy the sport of tennis more now because we play matches almost every day of the week. When we win I feel happy.”

Poblador’s play and personality have uplifted the tennis team.

“Gabriela brings a fun personality to our team,” Schwartz said. “She was a manager for the boys tennis team this year so she got to know some of the girls that she would be playing with this season. She’s always willing to help out and hit with anyone. Gabriela fits in with our team and its like she has been with us for several years. She also has a great accent to listen to when she talks.

“Emery Porter and Mason Porter have helped Gabriela make the transition to America. Her host parents, Drew and Marcy Porter, have been very supportive of her. They’ve helped Gabriela get out and get to know people and helped her get involved with sports.”

During the winter, Poblader competed in another sport at NorthWood. She was on the swim team and mostly swam the 200 free.

“My sport always has been tennis,” Poblador said. “The winter was depressing and cold and you couldn’t get out of your house. It isn’t as cold in Spain as it gets here in Indiana. I wanted to spend my time doing something so I decided to join the swim team. I don’t regret doing that. It’s a hard sport, but I liked it.”

Poblador remembers one day during the winter and the effect it had on her.

“It was one of the coldest days in Indiana,” she said. “Snow was everywhere and it was freezing. My hair was wet and I was wearing a hat and all my hair outside of the hat was frozen. It was like breaking. It was really bad.”

Poblador also got introduced to the English language and some foods in the past several months, which made her miss back home.

“The most challenging thing for me was listening to everything in English,” Poblador said. “When I used to go to class (in Spain) everyone spoke Spanish. I remember going home with headaches. It was exhausting more at the beginning. Now I’m used to it.”

Being classified as a senior at NorthWood gave Poblador the opportunity to enjoy more social activities.

“It was nice of NorthWood to do that,” Poblador said. “Being a senior I was able to experience things like the Prom and other events. Things you aren’t able to do as a sophomore or junior. Next year it will be my senior year of high school in Spain then I’ll be done and go to college.”

Poblador isn’t looking forward to June 9th, which is the day she heads back home to Spain.

“That’s the thing that makes me sad,” she said. “I wish I could extend my visit another year and stay a little longer.”