When he returns to his hometown of Nové Lámky in Slovakia in June, he will have plenty to tell his family and friends about the people and places of California. A big part of his experience will be his role on West High’s wrestling team as the Wolf Pack goes for its third consecutive league title.
Misko, 17, thinks of athletics as a way to get the most out of his adopted high school in the 10 months that he’s in Tracy.
“If somebody is doing a sport you’re in close contact with people,” he said. “Like the wrestling team, we have practice every day after school, three hours, so the relationships between the guys is very strong.”
While wrestling is a new experience, intense competition is familiar to the West High junior. Misko competed in martial arts and kickboxing in Slovakia.
He considered playing basketball at West, but wrestling coach Carlos Salazar offered him greater flexibility with his practice schedule.
Misko is happy with his choice. At the start of the season, he earned a spot in the team’s varsity lineup in the 195-pound weight class and won by pin in the Wolf Pack’s first two dual matches.
He considers the tough conditioning workouts one of the main benefits.
“The coach is trying to make us get in good shape,” he said. “The match shows how hard you’re working.”
Salazar said Misko’s martial arts experience gave him a good foundation, and he is well-suited to the workouts required of wrestlers.
“He likes a challenge and is getting accustomed to it pretty good,” Salazar said.
While in the U.S., Misko is living with the family of Robert Erler, who works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and is a former golf pro.
Erler said his wife’s family introduced him to Misko’s brother, Viktor, when he lived with them eight years ago in Valley Springs and was a student at Calaveras High School.
Erler said he and Viktor Misko stayed in touch through email and Facebook, and he was glad to offer a place in his home when he learned that Robert Misko would make his own exchange trip.
The younger Misko also shares the house with Erler’s wife, Anne Marie; 22-year-old daughter, Caitlin; and 18-year-old son, Robert Jr.
“I think it was easier for everyone involved that he was somebody we kind of knew,” Erler said. “Robert fits in well. You can obviously tell his parents have raised a good young man. He’s taught us as much about his country as we’ve taught him about the United States.”
Misko said his brother’s experience as an exchange student motivated him to spend a year in the U.S.
“When he went to the United States he was a teenager, and when he came home he acted more like an adult because of all the experiences after one year,” Misko said of this brother. “After that, we decided it would be good if I could go and try it for myself.”
Misko said that he worried at first that a new life at a new school where he barely spoke the language would be intimidating. But he made friends at West High more quickly than he expected.
“After like five days, a week, it was good because I found a couple friends and we started to hang out, and my English was getting better.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.