My long yearning for change was finally a reality and there was no way anyone could have wiped the smile off my face.
September 10, 2014 was the day my Italian adventure began! From Orlando to New York to Venice, my travels were smooth and on schedule. As I flew over the Atlantic all I could think about was that my dream was really becoming a reality. As we began to descend upon arrival I was in awe of what I was seeing outside my window - the snow covered Italian Alps and then the amazingly beautiful city of Venice! I knew the second that I stepped off the plane that I made the right decision. The chaotic buzz of Italians moving throughout the airport, the strong aroma of espresso in the air and the excitement of meeting my first host family was so overwhelming, but all in the best ways possible.
My long yearning for change was finally a reality and there was no way anyone could have wiped the BIG smile off my face (I’m still smiling a month and two weeks later). I patiently waited for about 20 minutes for my two bags of luggage to arrive on the carousel and I quickly exited the baggage claim to the meeting area where I was greeted by my host mom, Alessandra, host dad, Rinaldo, my Rotary counselor, Elena and the fantastic Libbi Sham, another Rotary Youth exchange student from Sydney, Australia who has been living in Sacile (and now one of my best of friends) since January. My first meeting of my first host family was everything I had dreamt of and more as they were so welcoming and excited to see me too!
We left the airport and drove to Treviso, a city in Veneto, northern Italy and birthplace of my host Dad, to have lunch and get to know each other. We ate sandwiches called “Toast” which are toasted pieces of bread with prosciutto, melted cheese, and a dipping sauce that is a mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, a typical Italian lunch item. Yummy! After lunch we hit the road for Sacile, my new home. I peered out the window from the backseat of the car taking it all in and my excitement swelled for what the future had in store for me.
Sacile is a very small town in the province of Pordenone, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy located approximately 40 minutes north of Venice with a population of about 20,000 people. We live in a three story apartment building on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the view of, well, currently construction because there is a new complex being built. However, if you look out the other windows you can see the beautiful city of Sacile. It is very common to see someone you know everytime you walk out of the house and It didn't take me very long to settle in and feel like I was at home.
My first weekend, I met all of the other Rotary Youth Exchange students who are on exchange in Italy/ Rotary District 2060. Our first time together was in Cordovado, an even smaller town than Sacile, located to the south of Pordenone and about 45 minutes away by car. We all stayed in a bed and breakfast, ate pizza made my our Rotary Youth Exchange Multi-District Chairman and bonded over the mixed emotions of being an exchange student. I am so thankful to have 17 new friends from all over the world that I can consider as my extended family and share the experience of being an exchange student together. We see each other often and have a lot of adventures planned together ahead of us. Next, we are off to Florence this Friday!
I was so excited to return home on that first Sunday to finally meet my host sister, Chiara who I didn't meet upon arrival as she was away at a sailing camp. Chiara and I bonded instantly! Last year she spend a year abroad as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Australia so we already had Rotary in common! I am so thankful for our friendship - we do so many things together & she helps me out so much as I continue to learn the language, culture, and more.
Early on Monday morning, I headed off to start my first day of school at Liceo Artistico E. Galvani, it’s an artistic high school in an even SMALLER town than Sacile and Cordovado, called Cordenons, approximately a 45 minute bus ride away. My first day of school was better than I expected it to be as many of the students were very friendly. In fact, several students had previously been on Rotary Youth Exchange in the states. My first class was English, thankfully, where I introduced myself to the class and got to meet my classmates. Most of them don’t speak much English but those that do had lots of funny questions for me such as “What’s homecoming?” and “Are cheerleaders real?”
In Italian high schools students don’t change classes like we do in America; the teachers rotate into the classroom for each subject. It took a bit for me to get use to this. I am the oldest in my class as I was placed in Level 3 of 5 Levels of classes which are mostly 16 and 17 years olds. We go to school Monday - Saturday (yes Saturday!) from 8:15am to 1:15pm & I take English, Math, Physics, Science, Philosophy, Art History, Italian and Gym . Several days a week, my school day extends to 5:00pm as those are the days I take Photography and Graphics. I still don’t understand a lot of Italian just yet, but every day gets a little easier.
Yesterday we had a substitute teacher who asked everyone to introduce themselves for role call. When it was my turn I introduced myself in Italian and in return got a roaring applause from all of my classmates! It was a moment I will never forget as everyone was so proud of my three simple sentences. I’m taking an Italian class every Tuesday and Thursday night from 7:30 to 9:30 to help me with my language skills and to get more comfortable with speaking.
My daily life here has become “normal” and I enjoy every day that I live here experiencing new & interesting things, which I love so much! Here are a few examples:
-Squat toilets are the only kind of toilets in my school
-Almost every Sunday the trains go on strike
-My host grandma thinks my Mom is ½ japanese (I tried to tell her in Italian that my Mom had a Japanese made car...didn't turn out so well)
- Sometimes we just casually go to Venice after school
- I took the SAT at the United States Air Base, in Aviano, which is home to all American families with military jobs, based in Italy
Pizza, pasta, gelato, espresso, yes it’s true, everyone here eats and drinks them constantly, but there are so many new foods that I have also tried that are to die for! Most interesting but very tasty was beef cheek! My host Mom is a great cook and I enjoy everything that she makes. It is true that gelato becomes part of your everyday food, and I have a guilty daily obsession with Nutella gelato, commonly here called “Cremino”! Thank goodness you walk everywhere here, otherwise I think I would be 400 pounds by now!
I can’t believe how fast the first month went! My life is so welcomingly different now...I am embracing the change, enjoying the new experiences & I have definitely caught the travel bug! I have gone or done something new every weekend since I’ve been here. Just walking around is one of my favorite things to do. And yes, I have gotten lost many times, but it’s fun to get lost because you see many new & unexpected things, and of course you always find your way back. I have so much to look forward to and to be thankful for. Exchange has opened my eyes to the world and I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store for me!
Thank you Rotary for this gift! A doppo! Arrivederci!