At the moment, I am sitting in my host room attempting to somehow sum up my last nineteen days here in this small, picturesque village known as Edolo. Writing this isn't going to be as easy as I thought. Some of the feelings that you experience on exchange are extremely difficult to explain.
The beginning of my exchange hasn't been easy, but then again, I had never heard a Rotarian say the word "easy" so... it's expected. But when I say that it hasn't been easy, I'm not referring to saying goodbye to my family though, that wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I couldn't hold back a smile as I said my goodbyes and even though a few people were crying, I was just too excited to hold it back. As I walked towards my gate, I saw the singer Fantasia from a distance.
Fast forward two boring flights, and I was in Paris. It was here that I got more lost than I had ever been in my entire life, because no one spoke any English or Spanish. What a confusing airport! Luckily, however, I had made plans to meet up with a Canadian exchange student whom I had met on Facebook (we had the same four hour lay-over there). After having walked around for about an hour, I was about ready to give up searching for her when we ran into each other. After having coffee and breakfast, we excitedly talked about our expectations for exchange and just had an overall good time. Since French was here native tongue, she helped me find my gate and we said our goodbyes. After a 40 minute flight delay, the plane took off and I was on my way to Milan.
When I arrived, I headed to the Baggage Claim. After waiting for about an hour, I realized that my bags weren't coming, and walked over to the information booth. There, the lady told me that the bags had been left in Paris, and I gave her my Italian address and headed out to find my host family. As soon as I walked out I saw them, and they were holding a large sign with my name on it. All of my worries faded away when I saw they're smiling faces. I slept the entire way home, so I didn't get to see Milan or the suburbs at all. I awoke the next morning with a sore throat.
Over the next few days, my sore throat became inflamed, and I could hardly eat or drink anything. I also caught a fever and was in bed for the next few days. After about a week, I was finally healthy. And my luggage had finally arrived after about a week.
The kids that go to my school don't speak much English.. but I really like school, it gives me a chance to study my Italian and to think a bit. I've made multiple good friends at school, and have gone out with them a few times. I really like them, they remind me of my friends back home.. and a fun time is always had with them. My Italian has very much improved since I've been here and can basically say most of what I want (with the help of hand signals of course). * Future outbounds, study your target language! I know it sounds cliche'...but the Rotarians are right, come prepared...trust me. Also, buy a verb workbook...it has been a tremendous help for me. * I am going to conclude this journal with a list.
Notable features of my host town:
- A clock tower
- A piazza with a few restaurants, Gelaterias, and a bookstore.
- Multiple water fountains (very different than American fountains)
- A narrow river that flows beside the piazza complete with two bridges and two waterfalls.
-Multiple clothing stores
-A small church
-Extremely narrow back roads
-A small cinema
-Soccer field and outdoor basketball court
-Indoor community swimming pool and tennis court
My host town looks like something out of a film... it's unreal. As I walk to the bus in the mornings the clock tower with the mountains in the background never seize to amaze me. I hope I never take this experience for granted... Huge thank you's to Mrs. Cameron, Ms. Martin, and my family for all of the support. Rotary: I could never thank you enough for this opportunity, thank you for all of your sacrifice.
So I've been in Italy for almost 3 months now. This is what has been going on recently in my life.
About a month and a half ago, my host family invited the other exchange student Zach and I to spend a weekend with them at their house in north Sardinia. Obviously when I found out I was going, I was thrilled! (For those of you not familiar with Sardinia, it is the big rectangular shaped island off the west coast of Italy). In Sardinia, we visited family friends and had typical Sardinian dishes. I was so surprised at just how different it was from my host region of Lombardy. The cuisine was different, the accent was different, and the landscape was too. The differences when it came the food was that the Sardinian dishes were more fish-influenced. Their signature bread is also very different, as they eat a lot more flat bread. The landscape and scenery was a big strange, but extremely beautiful. The water is spectacularly clear, however, strangely enough the vegetation is very dry and consists of shrubs and cacti, as it seldom rains. Think of a tropical island, just more desertesque, if that makes sense. Unfortunately though, we had picked one of those rare weekends in which it does not stop raining. Because of this, we didn't t get to see as much as we would have hoped.
Two weeks ago, my family and I visited my host aunt who lives in a city called Merano. What's special about this city is that it is located in a region called Trento-Alto Adige. This region belonged to Austria- Hungary before World War 1, which basically means that they don't really consider themselves Italian, and most signs were labeled in both German and Italian. Most of the architecture was Germanic, and almost everyone spoke at least some German. It was pretty interesting seeing such a multi-cultural city, and to me it's the Italian version of Miami. One night in Merano, we threw a birthday party for my 5 year old cousin, which was surprisingly fun. It started off with a puppet show and then musical chairs. They even sung happy birthday in English and had a hello kitty cake. The most amusing thing about this party was watching the adults pop champagne and run around with the kids. I found it a bit strange seeing adults actually enjoy a little kids birthday party. Never had I seen anything like this before in America.
Later on that night, my family took me to a hockey game to see Merano play Torino. This match showed me just how competitive and entertaining a sport it is, and consequentially, it has become one of my favorite sports. After the match, we and my family skyped with my host uncle, who is in Afghanistan. My family told me to come meet him. I was a little startled when he started speaking in English.. And I felt a little uncomfortable. I live in this small valley with the only other exchange student living 40 kilometers away (Zach from Oregon). Because of this, I rarely speak English, and I was so used to speaking Italian that it just felt strange to speak English. I never thought I would feel this way, I guess that's why you should go on exchange with no expectations. It's easier said than done though, and no amount of language learning or advice from Rotex and Rotarians could ever fully prepare you for this experience. I guess that's the beauty of it.. You never know what to expect, because everyone's exchange is different. Every now and then I look at the other exchange students pictures and can tell that they are having a good time, maybe even a better time than me. But I would give this exchange up for the world. All of the people I've met, friends I've made.. They make for good experiences. Although I may not yet have many exchange stories that will make you roll on the floor laughing, I do have countless inside jokes. In actuality, exchange itself is kind of like an inside joke. You could hear all of my inside jokes but wouldn't understand one. Just like reading all of our journals will never satisfy you. This type of thing has to be experienced first-hand. I'm excited for all of you outbounds-to-be. The pre-exchange experience is a wonderful thing on it's own, and I suggest that you communicate with your fellow outbounds at the two orientations, because when you return to the states, those will be the only people who you will be able to relate to. Surprisingly. I miss the other RYE Florida exchangers quite a bit. Even though I only knew them for a few months, I feel closer to them than people I have known for years. I guess that's just another one of the mysteries of exchange.
It's a strange feeling, to experience holidays in a foreign country with people you haven't known for more than 4 months. I'm going to make a list of the American holidays and how they went for me:
Halloween: Even though it was a Saturday night, my Halloween consisted of watching scary movies alone at home. I had been trying to make plans for the last week, but none of them worked out because none of my Italian friends felt like doing anything. (Sometimes, this happens when I try and make plans. Since we have school 6 days a week, some people study on Friday and are too tired after school to go out Saturday nights.)
Thanksgiving: Fortunately, Zach's English teacher invited us to go to his house for dinner. He told us that he would attempt to make a turkey dinner. It actually went pretty well (despite the fact that we had no gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc.) Even though I really missed being around my real family with all these great foods, it reminded me that Thanksgiving is mostly about giving thanks for that food and all the people that make up your life. I'm sorry about the tacky/cliché phrase guys... it's completely true though. This was a real eye-opener for me, and made me realize how much of my life I used to take for granted.
Christmas: Consisted of visiting family members and a big family dinner at night. This may sound strange, but people in my valley don't exchange presents on Christmas. This is done on the 13th of December, on a day they call "Santa Lucia" (who kid's believe brings them presents instead of Santa Claus) Yeah, I know it's very random. But hey, tradition is tradition.
New Years: My new years was spent at one of my Italian friend's house. There were about 4 other schoolmates there as well. We played poker, some video games, talked a bit, and shot off fireworks at midnight. Even though, in America, when I thought of New Years in Italy.. a vibrant, neon-light filled Roman piazza with Italians dancing through the middle of the streets or something of that caliber came to mind, it was actually an enjoyable night and I can't really ask for anything more than experiencing true cultural normalcy right? That's all you should expect out of your exchange. Expect to be surprised.. expect to experience the real culture of your host country.. and have it put all the stereotypes that you had, to rest.
Congratulations 2011-2012 Outbounds. It's not easy getting accepted to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. It's an impressive achievement on it's own. If you're reading this, feel free to add me on Facebook if you have any questions about exchange or if you just want to talk.