When Altesia Ribaj heard at her school that applications were being accepted for an exchange program, she and her friends decided to go through the testing process, even if they didn't think they would be chosen.
But then, she passed the first test, and the second and ultimately was chosen to be one of 10 foreign exchange students from Albania to the U.S.
"I could not even believe it," she said. "Then I thought, oh no, I'll be leaving for a year."
Altesia, who is known at Triton as Tess, arrived in the United States in time to get settled with her host family, the Groll's, and start the 2017-2018 school year at Triton.
"I was so excited to meet my host family," she said. As an only child, she said, she had to get used to being in a family with three sisters and a brother.
She also was informed on her arrival that for this family she needed to "learn sarcasm," she laughed.
Her first few weeks at school were difficult, she said, but once she became familiar with the school and began making friends everything changed.
"I enjoy it here. At first I wanted to go back home," she said, "but now I don't want to go back."
In the months since she arrived, Tess said, she has made friends and gotten involved in the school community.
She was a member of the volleyball team last fall and worked with the sound system in the fall play, "Greater Tuna," she said. Greater Tuna featured southern accents and stereotypes that were sometimes hard for her to understand.
"I didn't understand it at first," she said, "but I got it."
She plans, she said, to be involved in the One Act Play also.
She also is learning to play the saxophone and is hoping to be in the band the second semester.
"I love it," she said, "Mr. Miller is so kind... Read the rest of the story in the print edition of the Star Herald.