I have been living in Oderzo, Italy for one month now and this is truly a dream come true! When I landed in Italy I was immediately greeted with hugs and kisses by my first and second host families and my Rotary counselor. After all the hello’s, we left the airport and drove to my house in Oderzo. Once I got a tour of the house and put everything in my room we all sat down to eat lasagna that my host mom had prepared earlier. After lunch, I was so happy to finally get some sleep after an exhausting flight. When I woke up, my host sister and I went to meet some of her friends at a gelateria (ice cream shop) near my house. Although I had no idea what anyone was saying, it was really nice to go out with people and see my new town.
My first week in Italy was the last week of summer vacation before school started so there was a lot of fun things going on. My host sister and her friends organized a picnic so they could all meet me and hear about life in Florida and the United States. When my host sister told me we were going to a picnic, I thought it would be a short little lunch at the park in the afternoon. It turned out to be an all day thing and we stayed at this park for 7 hours. Although I was really tired and I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, it was really nice to meet people and start making friends. The day before school started we drove to a different town to get school supplies from a shopping center. I was getting really excited to start school and see how it compares to school in the States.
I was aware I had to take the bus to school and I thought I knew what to expect because I had seen other people take the bus around town and it didn’t look too complicated, but I was SO wrong. The bus I take to school is the biggest bus in the city of Oderzo and its like the size of two regular busses put together with a stretchy thing in the middle so it can turn easier. The bus has around 100 seats inside and 4 doors to enter. About 150 students cram on the bus and sit/stand on top of each other so more kids can pile in. I have never felt so oxygen deprived and claustrophobic in my entire life. When I finally got to school the English teacher took me to my class and I met all of my classmates. Everyone welcomed me right away and my desk was put in the center of the classroom. School in Italy is very different than my school in Florida. We start at 8am and ends at 1pm. Students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers move to different rooms. Some classes are only 1 hour a week while others are 7 hours a week. My classmates are so helpful and always make sure I can understand what is going on. After school I take the bus back to Oderzo and go home for lunch with my host siblings and host mom.
The food here is so delicious. I have always been a big fan of Italian food so I was really excited to finally taste authentic Italian dishes. I am seriously in love with everything I have eaten here. Pasta is served at least once a day and there is bread with every meal. In Florida, I never ate tomatoes because I didn’t like them very much. Now, I eat tomatoes ALL the time and they are one of my favorites here. Gelato is another one of my favorites! There is a gelateria on almost every corner and they are all so cheap! Gelato is typically eaten as a snack around 5:30pm. The mealtimes are also different here. Breakfast is still eaten in the mornings before school but we eat lunch at 1:45-2pm which is a lot later than when I ate in Florida. There is a snack around 5:30 (usually gelato or pizza) and then dinner is around 8 or 9pm.
I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I left home! I am so excited to see what else Italy has in store for me. I am in such a beautiful place and I am so thankful to all of Rotary for making this possible.
It has been entirely too long since I've last written a journal and I honestly cannot believe that seven months have flown by this quickly. I have no idea how to put these last 6 months into words but this is the best I can do.
The places I've been:
Way way back in October I had my first meeting with the 7 other exchange students in my district. We went to the Barcelona sail boat race in Trieste. It was so nice to finally meet other exchange students and see how everyone else was adjusting to their new lives. We instantly became best friends and now every time we see each other we always have a blast. It's really nice to have people who understand exchange problems and they always have the best advice. I have been to Trieste multiple times to visit the other exchange students and for Rotary meetings. Shortly after Barcelona I had the amazing opportunity to go to Rome for 5 days with my host sister and one of her friends. It was really awesome to experience Rome with the locals and not feel like a tourist. Of course we saw all the famous and touristy things in Rome but I also got to see more of the local things which were really nice too. Sometime in November my host family took me to Venice. I had heard so much about this beautiful place and I had been dying to go ever since I arrived here. When my family told my we were going I was jumping with joy. It was everything I had dreamed of and more. I was lucky enough to go back to Venice for Carnival with about 23 other exchange students from other districts. Carnival in Venice is such a traditional and unique thing to experience and it was really special to be there with all the exchange students. Every year right after Christmas my host family goes to the mountains for a week of skiing. This year I got to go along with them and try skiing for the very first time! Being from Florida I've never had the chance to see such beautiful mountains completely covered in snow and then to top it off I got to ski in these mountains! It was one of the best weeks of my exchange so far and it is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. After the week in the mountains I switched to my second host family. They took me to Sicily f or 2 weeks to visit my host father's family and the area where he grew up. It was a great way for me to get to know my second host family before settling into the routine of a new family and a new house. At the end of February I returned to Rome with another exchange student and a few Rotarians to see the Pope's last Angelus Blessing in St. Peter's square. It was really amazing and I am so thankful to the Rotarians who took us. Shortly after, My mother from Florida came to visit me for Easter and I returned to Rome for the third time. While in Rome we went to mass on Easter Sunday in St. Peter's square to see the new Pope. There were about 250 thousand people there. Spending Easter in Rome was awesome but spending it with my mother was even more special. It was great to see her after 7 months and show her around this beautiful country that I have been living in!
Exchange is not all about traveling and sight seeing, so now I will move on to the more important things!
School: As I mentioned in my previous post, school here in Italy is VERY different than my school in Florida. For example, school hours are different, classrooms don't change, school on Saturday, no cafeteria, etc. After only 3 weeks these were the few things I was able to notice about my new school. Now that I've been here for some time and I can understand more of the language, I have found a million new differences between my school at home and my Italian school. For example, students are expected to sit 5 hours a day and take notes while the teacher lectures. There are no worksheets to do in groups, no collaboration between students, no projects to present to the class. It's all pretty much individual work and you study your notes for tests. So the only grades you get are test grades. This is really different for me but it seems like an effective way of teaching/learning because all my classmates do well in school. Interrogations or oral tests are a huge t hing here. At first I thought it could be compared to presenting a PowerPoint project or something similar that I have done a thousand times in Florida but the difference is that there are no computers or any other kind of technology; it's just the student and the teacher and the teacher can ask any questions they want and you have to answer correctly. When you participate in sports at school, you compete against other classes in your same school, not other schools. School sports aren't at all popular and they are nothing like American high school sports teams! School was extremely hard for me in the first few months because I didn't understand anything that was going on and I was so bored because the teachers never gave me work to do. When the second semester started I had a better grip on the language and I finally started following the lessons and doing the same things my classmates were. It is so much better now and I actually enjoy getting up in the mornings for school.
Family: My first host family consisted of my host mother, host father, host sister (14) and host brother (12). The first few months with them were difficult because I wasn't used to having younger siblings and it was hard communicating/relating to them. Once my language started improving my relationship with the family improved so so so much. We were able to talk about problems I was having and they were able to help me. We got to know each other better and learn about each others culture. They taught me everything I know and I will never ever forget everything they have done for me. Of course nobody could ever replace my family in Florida but I feel so at home with my first host family I often forget that we only just met 7 months ago. It feels like I've been with them for a lifetime. My host sister and I have become so close we stopped calling each other by our names and now we just call each other "sorella" which is the Italian word for sister. She has been such a great friend and sister to me and I know our relationship and bond will never end. She means the world to me. Leaving them after Christmas and moving to the second host family was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done. My second (current) host family consists of my host mother and host father. They have a daughter on exchange in Missouri. When I switched families I also moved to a different town so now I am closer to my school which means I get to sleep in later and I don't have to take the bus! My host parents are so sweet and they always make sure I have everything I need and that I'm happy. They know how their daughter feels as an exchange student so they understand all my exchange problems and if I'm having a bad day they understand that's its just normal and they always help me with anything I need. I am so thankful to both of my families for accepting me and taking me in. My exchange would be completely different had I not been placed with these families.
Language: Because I live in a small town there is hardly anyone who speaks English. It has forced me to speak only Italian and I've learned pretty quickly. Yes, I could have studied way more before I left and I probably should have but I think I've done pretty well with learning the language considering I started with close to nothing. After about 3 months I could understand more or less than 50% of things said directly to me and I could respond to about 30% of it. Now after 7 months I am able to understand pretty much everything. I don't have to translate everything to understand it, I just get it. I don't think in English anymore and Italian just makes sense. It's weird to think that just seven months ago I didn't understand anything and now watching movies, reading books, and regular conversations are not difficult for me. Speaking is definitely harder but I'm learning new things and becoming more confident each day. I am really proud of myself and how much progress I've made in the last 7 months. This truly is the best way to learn a new language.
This exchange has been such an amazing, incredible and eye-opening experience filled with memories that will last a lifetime. Thank you so much to Rotary for this opportunity. There will never be enough words for me to express how thankful I am to everyone who has made this possible. I can't believe there are only 3 months left of my exchange but I hope to make them the best 3 months ever!