Brooke Allen

Italy

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville Sunrise, Florida
Host District: District 2110
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Syracuse

 

My Bio


Chio! My name is Brooke Allen and I am 18. I am from Gainesville, Florida and it is home of the University of Florida. I live with my mom and dad in our suburban home. My sister, who is now away at college, also went on an exchange to Taiwan, with Rotary, in 2012-2013. I would like to say that I am first and foremost I am an artist, so my exchange to Italy is perfect. My art is a big part of who I am. I can’t remember not loving art. My class schedule mimics a college schedule, in that I attend classes on alternating days. This makes my schedule very flexible allowing me to focus on my art, creative interests and even taking art classes at Santa Fe College. I have an executive internship at the Hippodrome State Theatre with the costume and makeup department. I love lending a creative hand to the costumers who work there. In my free time, I enjoy drawing, watching movies, or hanging out with my friends. Making friends with interesting people has always been fun for me. For the past six years, my family has hosted five exchange students with Rotary. These girls have become like sisters to me, and I could not imagine my life with out them. This next year, I look forward to making life long memories and learning many new things in Italy! Becoming an exchange student is one of the most exciting things that I have ever done. I would finally like to thank the Gainesville sunrise Rotary club for sponsoring me and making this wonderful year abroad possible!

Duomo of Syricuse

Duomo of Syricuse

view from my classroom window

view from my classroom window

Duomo ceiling

Duomo ceiling

sweets

sweets

typical caffe

typical caffe

The girls of my new class

The girls of my new class

My second host sisters. Me on the left, then Laura in the middle, and Nicoletta on the right

My second host sisters. Me on the left, then Laura in the middle, and Nicoletta on the right

Christmas lunch

Christmas lunch

We ALWAYS have oranges after lunch

We ALWAYS have oranges after lunch

my Doctor mask

my Doctor mask

the aunt we stayed with in venice. my host sisters and i painted our faces for Carnival

the aunt we stayed with in venice. my host sisters and i painted our faces for Carnival

a classic cow skull sketch in school

a classic cow skull sketch in school

Venetian Mask shop

Venetian Mask shop

masquerade

masquerade

Verona

Verona

entry-181-img_5786

entry-181-img_5786

Juliet's Balcony

Juliet's Balcony

Journals: Brooke - Italy

  • Brooke, outbound to Italy

    I switched houses on March 14. The whole thing happened all at once. For about a week my host mom said she had been talking to my next host mom. One day she asked if I was excited for something on a Saturday that was to do with my next family. I had heard nothing, and I assumed she said we were going to have lunch or something. The rest got lost in translation. It was a long day of drawing at school. I simply thought we were going to talk bout my lessons, or when I would possibly be moving. I can now see the irony there.

    On Wednesday the 11th (my sister's birthday in America, happy birthday, Gentry!) my next host mom came in to my class to talk to me. During our conversation she asked if I was excited to move in with them on Saturday. What? She asked me if I got her what’s-app message. I hadn’t, thanks to the fact I didn’t have money on my phone for data.

    Moving? I wasn’t mentally prepared to move in 4 days. I had to pack all my stuff! If you know me you know I like collecting things. I had stored all my belongings into the nooks and crannies of my room. Moving requires you to pack everything up. Which, in turn, you see all that you have. Everything that you own, and all the things you have collected on exchange.

    It was weird having to do that the first time. If you have too much, you need to give some of it away, or throw it out. It’s like a small unshelling of your things, and what you have. No one tells exchange students of this weird phenomenon. It’s an event packing up your life. In a way, you have to mentally prepare yourself. I had four days to do everything required to move. Thankfully there was an assembly on the Friday before. I stayed home and used most of that day and night to pack.

    The actual move went as smooth as can be. My second host dad pulled the car up to the front of the building; we loaded most of my stuff, and drove over to the new house. That night my new host family and I went to a 40th anniversary party for a friend. There was only time to unload my things, and go. On Sunday, I did all the unpacking and settling into the new house. I share a room with one of my host sisters. I’ve shared a room before, on trips and things like that, but never for an extended period of time. I do have my own space to keep all of my things.

    Also there is one full bath for the whole family, but two bathrooms in total. We call them the red and orange bathroom. The orange has the shower, and the red is for the girls. Sharing both a room and bathrooms like this is a new experience for me. Even so, I think I’ve got the hang of it in the few days I’ve been with them. It’s like a dance, with all of us moving around each other to use one room or the other.

    So after moving in with my new family, I moved back after two weeks. Don’t worry, nothing happened. My third family had a trip planed, and was unable to take me with them. I asked to stay with my second host family during the 10 days they would be gone. There’s something to be said about moving back with a family you love so much. I felt like I came home. I told my host mom I missed the smell of the house when we were making my bed. The second day there I went out into Ortigia to draw, and shop, as I had done so many times before. I wound up meeting friends, and staying out the whole afternoon. The weather had gotten considerably better, sunny and bright skies.

    It was one of the strangest experiences. I had a new home, and I temporarily moved back to an old one. It’s hard to describe. In a strange way my second host family and me went back into our old routine of things. Even though it was a holiday. I guess you could say it’s like picking up a book you’ve already read. You can remember the times reading it before, but still experience it in a new way.

    There is something special about being able to say I’m an exchange student. I’ve worked hard for that title. This short year is the only time where I actually get to play out the act of being a Rotary Exchange student. It can only happen once in your life. I take it as a super power. I see these tee shirts all over face book saying “I’m an exchange student/bi-lingual/have an accent, what’s your super power?” I can’t help but giggle. It’s true. Having some, or all of these things make you stick out. It’s like your super power to be a foreign exchange student.
    We stop seeing the world from a one-sided view, and start seeing it through two.


  • Brooke, outbound to Italy

    You would guess I eat spaghetti and meatballs every day. Yes, some form of pasta is served each day, but it’s not your classic “Nonna’s Italian red sauce, with meatballs, and long stringy pasta” kind of dish. Most of the pastas are actually short or small. The sauces vary from a toping of veggies, pesto, or maybe some simple broth. Yes, I have come across red sauce in my home cooked meals here, but never have there been meatballs in it. I learned recently this is because of the region of Italy I am in. Red sauce with long spaghetti is the classic dish of Rome. The north has polenta and the south has its couscous.

    Continuing along with everything is not as it seems, I have been traveling a little. For Carnival, my third host family sent me, and my twin host sisters to Venice, and Verona. We flew up February 13-17 for a very long weekend. My sisters and I stayed with their aunt, uncle, and son. I absolutely loved the family. The aunt is an English teacher. She found me interesting, and apparently, every year, the uncle decides the family will start speaking English at home. He thought I was the perfect launch off point for this year. Dinner became an outlet of practicing English, and Italian for me. I actually learned a lot in the short time I was there. I simply adored the family, and felt extremely welcome and well cared for. Experiences like this; there is no possible way to fully thank someone properly for. I did my best, and gave them a piece of my artwork in the form of a thank you card.

    While on this trip, we were to visit Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, and Venice, the city of canals. I need to talk about Juliet’s balcony first and foremost. I watched Letters to Juliet a few years ago, and fell in love with the movie. The fact that there were ladies in the quaint little town of Verona replying to letters seemed magical. Love letters would get an answer from Juliet. In the movie, the balcony was nestled mysteriously in a side street. There were only true lovers, or the broken hearted there. You could stick your envelope in between the stones of the wall, where later a lady with a basket would come to collect them.

    Everything was a completely different from the movie. The movie fully glorifies the humbleness of the whole place. First off, the real Juliet’s Balcony is not down some cobble-stoned street tucked away from the city. It’s next to a big shopping district, and Juliet’s balcony is a tourist trap. There is gum, and torn notes stuck on the walls. Scraps of paper with written names are the validation of some Italian couple. If you have an actual letter to Juliet, you give it to some lady behind a counter in the gift shop. Her sole purpose is to make sure the Chinese tourists don’t go up to the balcony without buying a ticket. The whole ordeal was a mess of confusion. The crowd of tourists and cluster of over priced gift shops, swindled what could have been an amazing atmosphere. What I expected, from what I saw, were two sides of the moon.

    That’s what I get for having expectations from a movie. Verona is still an amazing city. Juliet’s Balcony was really the only surprise I would file under a sad tourist trap. The rest is what you would expect from the City of Love. Quiets streets, high-end shopping, and café (coffee) bars everywhere. I still had the canal city Venice to visit on my vacation. However, Venice was all for the tourists too.

    I assumed there would be some people who actually lived on the island. Some local boater, or maybe even the gondola steersmen would. I didn’t see anyone who looked like they lived on the island. As far as the eyes could see were street venders, and tourists being herded around. I’m not kidding when I say herded. Everyone stayed on the same path going to and from St. Mark’s square. Imagine a jam-packed highway, but instead of cars, you have people.

    To get to the island you had to take a train. My boxcar was full of people. The boarding flats on the train were full, and it was standing room only available when I got on with my family. This was expected; I went around the time of Carnival. All of these tourists made me really appreciate Siracusa. Carnival in Italy isn’t as big or extravagant as it is in Brazil, but it’s still a pretty big deal in Venice. All of these tourists made me really appreciate Siracusa. It’s celebrated with costumes, festivals, and extravagant parties. Venice is the place to go to if you want a true Italian carnival mask, also. They have amazing hand crafted masks, and specialty mask makers. So of course, I had to buy one for a souvenir. I ended up picking out a Doctor mask, because of its unique shape. It’s currently one of my favorite possessions. The mask is of high quality, and has false gold embellishment. My host sister’s aunt and uncle thought I would have difficulty packing it on the return flight home, but the nose is hollow. I stuffed sox and tee shirts into the thing, and it successfully survived the trip.

    Back home, the weather in Sicily has been brutal. I haven’t been doing much outside, because of it. The island of Ortigia somehow has perfect ventilation. The small narrow streets create a flawless funnel for the wind. My second host family’s house is located there. At the beginning of living in Ortigia, I would go running in the mornings and have café’ (coffee) outside in the afternoons. Seeing the historic city in the morning was the most beautiful thing. I really enjoyed my morning jogs, but had to stop because it started raining periodically. Everyday since Christmas, in fact. Besides that the skies are cloudy and gray. I’m hoping this period of wind and clouds will be over soon. The island of Ortigia is the place to be, especially in the sun.

    One of the few things to do in the cold is to go to the cinemas. My second host family and I have gotten into the habit of going every Tuesday night. The theater has a special in showing English movies. There are sub titles in Italian for those who don’t understand. I read them, as practice for Italian. Going to see the movies is probably one of my favorite things to do with my family. It’s a whole experience. My host mom picks me up after taking the younger daughter to studies. We eat in the car, usually having a Panini and Coca-Cola. All three of us joke that this way is the true way to eat like an American. Italians don’t eat in their cars. Take away is usually brought home, and I only know of one drive through here.

    When we arrive at the theater we sneak in our half eaten sandwiches and drinks. Somehow that’s become a really fun part of the night for me. People in Italy don’t care if you bring some thing in to the theater or not. It's just not preferred. By this time my older host sister and host dad meet us at the theater. My sisters have their purses to stick their commodities in. I however have a big coat, with large pockets. One pocket gets the sandwich, and the other gets the drink. I have to make sure to keep my hands in my pockets to seem normal. This whole ordeal leaves us girls giggling till the theater goes dark, and we can pull out our delicious smuggled goods.

    Everything still seems to mesh together. Even going on trips, and normal days seem to merge together into one memory. My friend back home asked me if it feels crazy to have lived here for over half a year. My response was “Nope, it feels like life”. Her response actually shocked me “That’s a beautiful way to think about it.” A beautiful way to think about it? That’s not what I think about it! That’s what it feels like, that’s what it is!! Living here has become my normal, everyday life. I have a day-to-day, this is what I do, routine. “A normal life”, I’ve been chewing over this fact in my mind for several days. I can’t get over the fact that some people don’t understand what that is. Exchange becomes your life. It becomes your every day. It is my normal to wake up every day and expect to eat pasta and speak Italian. Realizing there is this difference in people, who have and haven’t gone on exchange or experience similar things, shows me how special we “exchangers” are. We stop seeing countries as places to visit, but places to live.

    Being 2/3 of the way through with my exchange seems surreal. The thought of moving houses every three months, Italian art school, and traveling in Italy has become my normal life. Walking to and from Italian lessons, seeing a bay out my kitchen window, and going on foot through Ortigia is what I have come to know day-to-day. When I booked my return flight date, the realization hit me. My time here set. There is a day when I will leave this place. If I ever return, it will never be the same. There is no security blanket of Rotary, not like I’ve had it. Of course, I feel I will always be welcome here with open arms and a smile. My experience of being an exchange student will end once I step foot in America. I can’t thank Rotary and all the Rotary volunteers on all the work in providing me with this experience.


  • Brooke, outbound to Italy

    It doesn't feel like the holidays were just last month. It seems like more time has passed than one, small month. A lot has happened since my last journal.

    It's hard to remember everything that happened in a blur. With out the school day to split up the weeks, the whole holiday season become a mesh. But with it was a fun, cold, food and family filled mesh. At the beginning of December, I switched families. I don't know how, but all my things doubled. I came with a big suitcase, a small one, and a backpack. Switching houses I had filled my suitcases, two bags, and six boxes. I don't even want to imagine what my third move will be like. My new house is in Ortigia, the ancient, historical part of the city. Just a few blocks from the Duomo. It is an island, so now I'm living on an island, on an island.

    The house is not only new to me, but also the family. They had just moved in a month earlier. There are still lights that need fixtures, and a room with no furniture. When I arrived there was nothing on the walls. My host mom loves art and artists (lucky me!) She invited a group of her three artist friends to set up all of her painting and photos. Now the house looks like a gallery. Even with the new decor, there are still things that need fixing. It took two weeks to finish my bathroom. Don't worry. I was clean for those two weeks. I shared with my host sister’s bathroom.

    New Years was my favorite. All the family from Christmas, and then some came to my host family’s house. There were so any people that there had to be two tables. The kids at one and the adults at another table. I lost count of the dinner courses. After a while my table, the kids and "young adults", stopped eating. We were absorbed by the New Year's Eve show. At midnight they had a count down just like in Time Square. We were all so excited. Shouting "auguri" and toasting champagne. After that one of the aunts produced floating lanterns. We tried lighting, and releasing them to the sky. It didn't exactly work. One got ripped, and it was raining. Lanterns and rain don't exactly mix. But it was joyous, happy start to the New Year.

    The magical part of the whole experience was the snow. Sicily's weather is just like Florida. It never ever snows. Well, I shouldn't say that. It snowed on New Years. Just like a Miracle, or a very welcomed omen. The snow was white and floating, softly bringing in the New Year.

    No one talks about the mundane everyday part of exchange. All exchange student’s talk about traveling, meeting interesting people, having unique adventures, and learning the host language. However, you do fall into a routine. Your life becomes exactly that, a life. Get up, go to school, return home, afternoon activities, dinner, bed, and repeat. You become accustomed to your surroundings, and what you do every day.

    This is the problem. You forget to see the incredible things, because you see them every day. After Skyping with my parents, this was when my mother said, "it can be boring in paradise?” Those words have been raining in my ears ever since. I was able to re-see everything after that. The incredible city I live in, the amazing people I live with, the different culture I have adapted to. Wow. That’s it. I’ve succeeded. I’ve adapted to the differences that exist between the cultures. I’m no longer the new student, the different student. I’m just another student in an Italian High School. It's like I have to sometimes remember my younger self. The four months younger, wide-eyed and fresh off the plane self. I wish I had those young eyes with me all the time. When you adapt and get used to something, it becomes normal to you. You can forget to see.

    It's hard to remember that this exchange experience is totally unique, exciting, interesting, and different to each exchange student. These past few months have been just a normal life to me. The every day mundane, and that's because it was. Hopefully I'll be able to travel more soon. A pause in the everyday routine. I have switched to the art school. I'm drawing, painting and sculpting 24/7 now. My mind becomes numb after drawing, painting, and sculpting for six hours straight. I just want to go home, eat pasta, and curl up for an afternoon nap. Oh, in Sicily it's perfectly normal to take afternoon naps. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I'm I love with this laid-back lifestyle.

    I don't want to talk about the language too much. I still feel as though I’m fumbling over what words to say, and it seems most people have no idea what I'm trying to convey. I can understand most things. I’ve come a long way since I first arrived here. Everyone says my pronunciation is very good. Some say my Sicilian is better than my Italian. I probably need to give myself more credit, but I don't think I study as much as I should. Too many naps after lunch I guess.

    My favorite advice, that I want to share, is not to have expectations. This probably prepared me the most. Every exchange is different and you don't know what your experience will be. Even if it gets hard, an exchange student has to stick with it and continue on through. You may not get to do some of the things you want to do, but you will get to do things you can't even imagine. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. That's how to look at it. (I'm talking to you future out bounds).

    ~ciao
    Brooke


  • Brooke, outbound to Italy

    As I continue along my time here in Sicily, things begin to slow down. When I first arrived in Sicily it was like a gun shot went off. Everything was happening at once. There were so many new things. People were taking me places. I was doing new things and tasting different foods, but now it's slowed down. I've fallen in to a pattern. Get up, go to school, come home, eat, wait till you eat next, sleep and then repeat. That basically sums it up. This lulling pattern has become mundane to me. That's when I realized it's up to me to make my exchange truly extraordinary.

    Yes, Rotary will take you on trips, you will meet new people, and see new things, but it's the times in between that count. The parts when your home alone to fend for yourself, is where your true exchange colors come out. I could sit home and sleep all day if I wanted. Naps are perfectly acceptable here. I chose a more colorful route. Nearby I found a music shop. Low and behold I found th e most glorious green uakele there. I bought the instrument. Now, besides Italian, have something new and challenging to learn. I've always wanted a little tropical instrument, but for some reason, I put it off. Going on exchange is the perfect opportunity to do things you've always wanted to, like learn how to play the ukulele.

    On the same day I purchased my ukulele, I received my box from my parents. I've anticipated this box ever since my mom told me she sent it. I don't know what it is about getting things in the mail that's so exciting. It could be the familiarity of the contents inside. To me it was like getting a piece of home in a place that is still new to me. In a way it brought comfort, and reminded me of things back home.

    You must know, exchange students are the ultimate snackers. I have to admit I am gulity of the occasional Nutella hoarding. It didn't help that my mom sent me candy corn, and Nilla-wafers. You wouldn't believe how sweet Nilla wafers are compared to the typical Italian biscotti. It was like a sugar over load. But Nilla wafers with Nutella, and you have the ultimate exchange student snack. Something old and something new. They kind of came together in a mysterious way that made me miss home.

    I've realized how sweet American sweets are compared to the rest of the world. Even with my travels to China, Taiwan, and now Italy, I have to say America takes the cake when it comes to sweets. I blame the sugarcane, and corn syrup we use. The closest thing I've had to an American sweet here was a cupcake. However, the name of the shop was "The American Bakery". This bakery uses American recipes which tickled my taste buds. I got an Oreo cupcake. It had an Oreo at the bottom, and in the icing. Besides that, they used cream cheese in their icing. I didn't know how much I could miss something that tastes familiar. It was very American.

    The holidays are approaching and the days are getting colder. I have always liked how this world changes for the holidays. Even the food does, and in Sicily, I've said before, food dominates. It's one of the main differences I've realized. I went to a wedding a few weeks ago and even at a wedding, food dominates everything. The event was under the shadow of the volcanic glory that is Mount Etna. The church and afternoon eating was in Catania. A 45 to 50 minute drive from Siracusa. The ceremony was beautiful, despite the fact I had no clue what was going on. It's ok, having no idea what's going on half the time. This is part of being an exchange student.

    After the ceremony we got into cars to go to what I assumed would be the after party. My car got lost. It was just more confusion to me. Driving around streets having no idea where I was being taken to, or what we were doing, but knowing somehow at some point food would be involved. When the party finally found where we were going, I was right. There was food everywhere.

    There is only one way I can describe it: an afternoon eating. We started off with appetizers, or what they call an aperitif----. It was mini versions of Classic Sicilian food. Next was a buffet. Cuscuses, cheese, pilla, hams, meats, rice and some foods I didn't recognize, were all served. I thought it was strange that the buffet was being eaten while standing up, but assumed it was some Italian thing people did at weddings. I thought it was the final meal so I filled myself up. I was so wrong to think that. I should have known better. Italians love to eat. To my horror, the whole wedding party moved to the dining room, where there were several more courses served. I was completely full. However, being an exchange student I wanted to try everything. I asked for just a taste, and ate what I could. I had to remember there was still desert to come and I needed room for that. After the sit down dinner, there was dancing. I guess everyone burned off what they ate, because after that deserts were in the garden. It was amazing. A whole pavilion filled with three huge tables of desserts. My desert stomach opened up and I went crazy. Needless to say I slept very well on the car ride home.

    I could not be happier now than in Siracusa. I am though, starting to push to go to the art high school. My current school, Corbino, is a scientific high school. They rotate through math, chemistry, physics, philosophy, religion, and art history. It's a good school, but for me, as an artist, it's not a perfect fit. I am often bored, thanks to the language barrier. Sometimes I opt for my sketch book, or I write my experiences down. I mainly listen and to try to learn the language, and try not to disrupt the class from learning. However, art is my passion.

    My third host mom works at Liceo Artistico A Gagini art high school. It offers painting, sculpture, restoration, drawing, and jewelry. My host mom wants me to come to her school. To go there would be an incredible experience. I've dipped my toes into the world of jewelry making before. I would love to try it again. I already draw so much in my sketch book. Why not train that skill a little more? I've had art classes all my life. Not having them here in Sicily is a little strange. I really miss it. I miss getting in to the flow of the work and creating. I am in the land of art. I'm surrounded by old architecture, and sculptures. All I want to do here is create. It's hard to do that going to a scientific school. But I know, whatever the outcome with the schools is, I’m privileged to have this amazing experience with Rotary.

    I was once given the advice, "you learn better through something you love." My language learning needs more practice. I could practice through art, and maybe I would learn quicker. Not to mention, next year I will go to an art college. To get in, I need a well rounded portfolio of art work. At the art school, I could create more pieces. The current work I have is from my high school years. All I can think of is what I would create if I was set loose in this art school. It's an all around win for me, this art experience in Italian.

    The time line of what has happened is starting to blur. Everything that has happened has distilled itself into a blob of memories that is my life here. This adventure is becoming more of a life, and seeming less like a trip. They are right when they say "it's not a year of your life; it's a life in a year." This time here just seems more precious knowing it has a time limit. Experiences and invitations are not to be taken lightly. I'm trying to get as many experiences as I can, see as much as I can see, because all and all, I will have to return. As of now, I'm excited to still leave time to be here. I'm going to live this experience to its full potential, because that's just what exchange students do. Till my next post.

    ~Ciao
    Brooke


  • Brooke, outbound to Italy

    The Start of an Adventure!

    Well, my first few weeks have already come full circle. I woke up this morning, stepped outside and said to my self “you’re in an amazing city.” Truthfully, I am. I came to Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily not exactly knowing what to expect. I had done research and looked on the Internet, but how much is that really? Going through the airport, I only had connection with my host family when I had wifi. Concerning my flights, everything was ok, until I got to Amsterdam.

    My flight to Rome was delayed, so when I arrived in Rome, my next flight would have left. But that’s ok. I’m an expert in airports, considering it took me 52 hours just to get back home this summer from Taiwan. I have been around the block a few times in airports, so I was comfortable. Stepping off the plane in Amsterdam, I only knew my flight time and destination. There was no kiosk to help me, so I went to the big screens where all the flight times were. There I found my gate number and something called a transit station. Ok, this was new. Probably had something to do with the fact that Amsterdam is a big hub for all of Europe. My Transit Station was ”T2”, so that’s what I went looking for.

    “T2” turned out to be something like a customs line and a second baggage check. Going with the flow, I followed the procedures. After that I found the “T2” ticket station. I printed up my ticket and the itinerary for all of my flights. I thought maybe it would come in handy later to have all of my flights. Realizing I had about over an hour to kill, I exchanged my dollars to euros and sat down with my sketchbook. If you have to know one thing about me, it should be that, I’m an artist. I love art and while I’m in Europe, I hope to travel and see as much art as I can!

    My trouble started when I landed in Rome. For some reason I had to re-print my Amsterdam and Rome tickets when I arrived in the airport. Well, “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” I had no idea where to go or what I should do in the Rome airport, so I just followed people that were on my flight. We ended up at a luggage claim. I was thinking, “Ok, this is where I get my luggage and go through customs.” I waited for an hour. No bag of mine turned up.

    Fed up with waiting, I decided to go look for a check - in counter, as I had done so many a times coming back from Taiwan. I found one, and the clerk solved the very problem I had at the moment. He put me on the next flight to Cantina, told me how to properly pronounce that city’s name, and re - directed my luggage. I went through security and had another hour to wait for my next flight.

    I was exhausted. I passed out on the plane. Only to wake up an hour later to realize we had been delayed for an hour, and we were about to take off. Just so you know I was supposed to arrive in Cantina at about 5pm. I arrived at 9pm. But that’s not the best part. My luggage didn’t arrive till four hours later. During that time I waited two hours in the terminal to only find out only half of the planes luggage was there. Yeah, Italy. Apparently this was very typical of Italian airlines.

    At this point I was exhausted from traveling. I went to find my host parents who were no doubt waiting for me. Oh, did I mention that I at this point, I could only communicate with wifi, and there was none when I got to Rome. Yep, I had no way to tell the host family what was going on till I met them. But they were there waiting for me. They helped me get all of my luggage and we headed to their house or my new “home”.

    It’s been a month now since arriving. Since I got here, I’ve eaten nothing but pizza, pasta, and fish. Italy is truly the land of carbs. Everything I have tried, I have liked. I don’t know what it is about the food that makes it so amazing. Maybe it’s because everything is grown locally on this volcanic island? It's all so fresh even down to the fish. Which, by the way, I can walk down to the bottom if my apartment building and there is a Pescaria (fish shop).

    Food dominates when mealtime comes around. The meal always starts out with some pasta dish, and then comes mozzarella, maybe some bread, and some Italian deli meat. After that is coffee and maybe a cake if you want. At first I thought they were just trying to feed me well. I was new and they wanted me to try all the good Sicilian food. As it turns out the Sicilians just have big meals for lunch and dinner. My host mom explained to me that they don’t really have a breakfast. Maybe a coffee espresso, some fruit, or perhaps bread with Nutella. I really miss biscuits, eggs, gravy, and bacon.

    The cars are so small here. I have a VW bug at home, which I thought it was a small car. Here, it's one of the bigger cars. All the cars are small, because all the roads between the houses are tiny, ancient lanes. I can’t imagine my mom’s big Yukon XL trying to weave its way though the alleys of Siracusa. Besides the cars, almost every teen has a moped. At the age of 14 you can get a moped license. At 18 you can get a car license, but until then every young person rides a moped. It’s easy for mopeds to weave in and out of traffic. It's kind of scary having to share the roads with mopeds.

    The driving laws are a little loose here. That’s one of the main differences I’ve noticed. Most of the regulations for driving are disregarded. Except for stoplights. Its like everyone here expects all drivers not to be stupid and know how to drive. Same with the parking. I’ve seen my host mom park in some pretty impossible places. Mopeds can park practically whereever they want, including in between cars and sometimes on sidewalks.

    One thing I really like is the Italian time frame. They have a half hour of leeway to arrive somewhere. For example, if I’m going to meet some of my new friends at 8:30pm, some may not arrive till 9pm. Its part of the relaxed Italian life style. Taking a nap in the afternoon is common as well. It gets really hot here, and the food is lulling in the heat. So, the combination of the two, will sooth you into an after noon nap.

    Being an exchange student, yes, you will come across awkward situations. Mainly these situations are caused by cultural differences and miscommunication. I didn't know that in Italy, even though you don't have assigned seats, you stay in the same seat. I found this out on the second day of school when I chose a different seat. The guys in my class, to them, their seats are very important. They all want to sit as far away from the teachers as possible.

    On the first day I had no choice to sit in the front. On the second day, I sat in the middle of the class. I had unknowingly disrupted the balance of the class. That day I saw the Italian passion come out as the males of the class argued about a new seating arrangement. Of course, it was all in really loud Italian so I had no idea what was going on. I have to admit it was scary. Not knowing a language and having it shouted all around a room and at you can be kind of scary. The girls of the class told me it was ok, that the guys were crazy. They explained to me the dynamics of seating arrangements in Italy. I had learned my lesson. It's the fourth week of school and I've been sitting in my original seat ever since.

    I must specifically talk about Italian passion. As I mentioned, Italians can be overly passionate compared to Americans. Everyone knows Italians use body language as much as spoken language. Italians don't just like things, they love things. Using body language helps get that out. Everyone here is incredibly nice. Everyone wants to help. I was welcomed with open arms, and accepted in like one of the family immediately upon my arrival. You can tell someone's true feelings by their body language, and actions. It's one of the reasons why I love Italians. It's easy to read them, and they make sure you know how they feel.

    My current host mom, on Tuesdays, works during lunch. So my third host family invited me to have lunch with them on those days. I didn't know I could feel a part of two different families. It seems that everyone here is a part of one big loving family. On the topic of loving, the Italians kiss on the cheek here. I wasn't exactly prepared the first time I kissed a stranger on the cheek. It's still strange to me, and I don't know exactly when to or not to give kisses. But, hey, it's an experience. I think when I return to America I'll still try to dollop out cheek kisses like they do here.

    A month has passed. It doesn't even seem like it. I can clearly remember exiting the Cantina airport for the first time. I've made magnificent friends and eaten more pasta and pizza than I thought possible. I love it here. I can feel myself becoming more and more Italian every day. Learning the language isn't easy, and some times I miss my friends and family back home really terribly. But when you’re on exchange, you have to take the good and the bad together. Learn something from everything, and as an exchange student you can grow in unimaginable ways. I could preach all about exchange for hours, but the only way to truly know is to experience it for your self. I’m not kidding when I say if you want to do something amazing, go apply. Going on exchange is eye opening to the world.

    If you want to have the best year of your like, you also have to accept it will be your worst. Humans instinctively hate the unknown. When you’re on exchange your uncomfortable, and you feel out of place sometimes. Who in their right mind would do that to themselves? An exchange student would, because in the end you become familiar with the unknown. After some time your host country will suddenly become home. “Its not a year in your life, it’s a life in a year.” And if you want to have the most life changing life in a year, become an exchange student. You won't regret it.

    I'm not going to lie, not everything is lollypops and smiles. It's inevitable you will miss your family and friends. But that's the price you have to pay for an amazing exchange. I am constantly amazed at the history and artifacts here. It has that same sense of a walled city by the ocean that St. Augustine does. Seriously, Siracusa has the largest amount of catacombs and buried temples than any other city. Its one reason why the people here are so proud of their city, as well as why they can’t have a subway in it. Italians really pride them selves on their local culture and antiquities. Everywhere in my city there are ancient ruins. It’s incredible to see these thousand year old structures, still somehow, standing. My favorite to drive by is, the cave dwellings. It looks like little homes carved out from the rocks. They also have an ancient Greek amphitheater. It is one of the three largest still in use.

    Some of what you would expect of Sicily is true. The people are warm and friendly. It’s sunny. Open-air markets are filled with the freshest produce and amazing cheeses. The food is great. And yes, they really do talk with their hands. My first host family has 2 daughters. One studying at the University in Milan and the younger is a Rotary Youth Exchange, just like me. So, I am in her bedroom and actually "filling in" for her at school. I don’t really understand a lot at school, but I now have an Italian tutor 3 times a week. I am the only Rotary Exchange student in Siracusa. It’s just the beginning and I’m excited about all that will come my way. Till next time.

    ~Cioa
    Brooke


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