Isabella Lasso


Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Florida
School: West Broward High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Miramar-Pines, Florida
Host District: District 2050
Host Club:The Rotary Club of Brescia: Vittoria Alata


My Bio

Ciao! Il mio nome è Isabella! If you can recognize the language YES I am going to Italy! How's my Italian? Haha. I super duper excited, and nervous. I can't wait to live this experience, waking up and living in a beautiful country and living the unexpected. I am going to live in a walking museum! I am so happy that Italian is somewhat similar to Spanish, so I won't be totally lost. Haha. Anyways! I am 17 years old and I attend West Broward High School as a current Junior. I'm in a program at school called Dual Enrollment, which means I am a part time college student. I am also a youth leader at my church, MCI, and I love it. I love preaching, and I love helping people. My passions are many, however three very important ones are God, dance, and modeling (photography not runway). I dance Ballet, Contemporary, Hip Hop, and am working on adding more. I'm actually studying/taking dance in college right now. I am super friendly and open with meeting new people and experiencing new things (even if it is exotic food (well maybe) haha). In this exchange I want to come back home speaking great Italian! I want to experience a totally different day to day life while learning and growing from it all. I know that this experience is going to change me in a good way, opening my eyes to more. I will probably have a tough time the first week, but I know that waking up to the beauty of Italy will put a daily smile on my face! SO excited, SO nervous, but I can't wait! Until next time! Or should I say , fino alla prossima volta! (:

Brescia, Italy : My second home

Brescia, Italy : My second home

Saying goodbye! :(

Saying goodbye! :(

"Uh oh STAIRS!"

"Uh oh STAIRS!"

Airplane Map

Airplane Map

Journals: Isabella - Italy

  • isabella, outbound to Italy

    I think that the western and eastern hemispheres are different universes. Something that blows me away is just how drastically different every country on this side of the world is. Being American you get used to similarity because America is so great and big. You do not get that here. You have so many countries and so many cultures and you just grasp so much from the impact that there is so much difference in everyone. Americans have so much diversity, most of us are all from different countries all over the world but we still have a new nationality that brings us together. You would think America would be the best place to get to know cultures all over the world because America is basically made up of that but in reality you just can't.

    The difference is that here the diversity is so clear but back home we all have that one thing that makes us one. The American culture is beautiful and as we continue to live there it covers up the differences between cultures and makes them one so you can't get the whole picture of a culture because it is mixed in with the American one. To really get to know a culture you have to live in it. You have to experience it. Once you do this, you start looking at everyone and life in general so differently. You start accepting and loving and your mind never stops exploring.

    F O O D. Italian food is a sneak peak of heaven. Seriously, it is good. Every week I try new things. New pasta, new pizza, new wine. Those three things are principles here in Italy, but it's not all there is. A lot of it is the same food but made in such a different and extraordinary way that it becomes its totally own dish. Rice is different, meat is different, and if I told you how much cheese I've wouldn't believe me. At a supermarket you see a lot of cheese. A whole wall full of hundreds of different types. Its absolutely incredible.

    In my first host family they grew a lot of veggies themselves. The first day I got here I saw around 50 veggies I've never seen before. I've seen a lot of different dishes while at the same time seen none of the ones I'm used to. My biggest cultural shock when it comes to meals here is breakfast... its non-existence in my diet. Occasionally I'll drink coffee but that just about does it. It hit me when I came down to eat breakfast and saw only crackers. Italian breakfast is very light. Its made up of a drink and a simple sweet pastry or cracker. Whereas in America breakfast is a big meal. Seeing no eggs for breakfast... it changes you. Now when I eat eggs or a big breakfast my stomach isn't used to it.

    There is a lot that Italians are missing out on in food. I'm hispanic and I didn't realize that of course they wouldn't have any of it here! I gotta open their eyes soon. The food has also been very different by family. There's two types of Italians in this world: the healthy and the gormandizing. Fortunately I've lived through both. In my first host family, my mom was 80% vegan. She incorporated a lot of vegan dishes on the table. She would make us our own dishes as well of course. I found that the kitchen in that family was very simple, healthy, and very good.

    In my second host family I got the real deal when it comes to the verb: to gormandize. I got a heavier and realer feel on what Italian food is. I ate new things almost every day and ate a lot of it. It was an extraordinary experience... until you weigh yourself. A problem when you encounter new food is not knowing how to eat it. So I began to train myself to eat smaller portions and to not eat until I was about to explode. It was hard. I was very happy in my second host family and I love going back to meals cause she is such a great cook.

    I'm was also happy in my first family because I've learned a lot about falling in love with salads and meals that will help me stay fit. However, whenever there is pasta or pizza on that table I purposely forget. Gotta love Italian food! On another note, GELATO. Italian ice cream is super good. I don't eat a lot of it, mostly because I don't have a very big sweet tooth to begin with but when I eat it there are no regrets. Its hard having so much good food that you want to dive into and keep fit. I've learned that yes, it is about what you eat, but also about how much you eat of it. I'm thankful for my third host family's way of eating because they are kind of at an in between from my first and second, and the best part is that they only do one course so you don't ever eat too much. You can enjoy all the wonders of the Italian kitchen without stuffing yourself. I still have yet to learn how to cook a lot of stuff for my family back home. I think I'll start a recipe book!

    Lets talk about pizza. Italian pizza is very good. I feel like the big difference in pizza here and back home isn't necessarily the taste or quality but the variety and quantity. My first host family took me to a pizzeria one night. It was my first Italian pizza in Italy and I was definitely left amazed. I was confused when they asked me what pizza toppings I wanted on my pizza and they were confused when I told them it was fine whatever they got on the pizza pie they wanted to order. They then explained that you don't order one big pizza and share it like they do in America, you order one big pizza for yourself! I was amazed when I got served an entire pizza pie in front of me. I thought "this is all for me? impossible!" but my stomach showed me differently cause I ate the entire thing.

    Another thing they do here is called an "Aperitivo", which translates to appetizer. It's a thing to go out before dinner with your friends for drinks and small appetizers. You go to a bar and you order any drink and they bring it to you with a platter of small portions of sandwiches and pizzas and veggies. It is a very lovely thing.

    During my first month I went to a mountain with my host parents and after walking up it we arrived at a restaurant. It was so beautiful. I really love spending time with them, they mean a lot to me and it is never boring. Yesterday, I went hiking for the first time! It was crazy because I'm a city girl and I was dressed in what I thought was appropriate ( a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers ) but to my surprise I was given different socks and shoes and sticks to hike up the mountain. It was an amazing experience. I was out of breathe half the time but it was unforgettable. There were also lots of bugs which a city girl like me had a major issue with.

    I was strong that day as I took off caterpillars from my sleeves. We also saw a snake! At the end of the hike there was another restaurant where we sat and ate with a family friend who is an amazing cook. I even got to ride a horse! It was overall a great experience. Every week all the granddaughters eat next door at the grandma's house. It's just us and the grandparents and a plate called "Cotolete" with fries and ketchup or lime (I'd like to take credit for integrating the ketchup & lime into the tradition). It's chicken, but covered in bread crumbs and then fried. Its so good. The menu is always the same, and it's a small tradition I find so deeply special.

    We also have occasional pizza nights at the grandparent's house. My host grandma has a huge pizza pan she uses for the entire family. Every house cooks a pizza and brings it down to the tavern. There is a very big table down there and we all sit down and eat. I've had many adventures with my host family. I'm gonna really miss them.

    Something that I also was not expecting is being so distant from my Rotary Club here. I've gone to about two dinners they host at a 5-star hotel here in my city but that is about it. The times I've gone have all been great! They love having us. It's fun because it is at a very fancy hotel so we all have to go fancy and I always love dressing up. We also get to eat five course meals and just the entire feel of elegance is pleasing. The second time I went I had to introduce myself. I had written down everything and practiced almost every day. It went pretty well considering my Italian was not so great back then.

    My Rotary Club President was very pleased to meet me. His excitement made my happy as he took his phone out of his pocket to show me his phone case which was a Florida License Plate. It's always a fun time. I'm actually trying to set up a clothes drive with my Rotary Club right now. Hopefully we get to do more together.

    I would like to end with saying how much I've grown in appreciating small things. Sundays are beautiful. Everyone is outside and all you see are smiles all over. It's a family day, but there is a beautiful unity you see in every family and I love that. It's the day where no one works and everyone has a chance to breathe and forget about the week's stressful aspects. I love seeing my host parents cooking together and always coming up with a fantastic plate.

    They have so many different cooking books, although I'd say the inspirational books stay on a shelf most of the time. This family makes me laugh, however after every good moment I can't help think that it'll all be gone soon. I try not to think about it, it makes me really sad. I don't know if they'd say the same about me. As an exchange student you always feel judged, but its not their fault. You're the expert in accepting the difference in cultures, while the people around you are working on it. They are very different from my real family, but they have found a way to stay in my heart.

    I'm very fortunate. I'm living in Italy. I mean who else gets to say that?! (I guess everyone else living here right?)

  • Isabella, outbound to Italy

    This exchange has taught me to open my eyes further than I thought possible and I am so thankful for that. I remember asking all the Rotex at my outbound orientation back home before leaving “What was your biggest cultural shock?” I would get a lot of thoughtful looks and one response: “I can’t even think, it’s just so much.” I would get so confused because I thought, “Could a place really be that different?” Like many exchange students, my eyes had yet to be opened and shown the world outside of America and something that this exchange has done for me that I will never be able to thank Rotary enough for is that this exchange has opened my eyes to the world that I was missing.

    Unfortunately Americans my age tend to be closed in their American bubble. It's not entirely their fault. America is so big, its hard to look outside it at an age like mine. We tend to be uninterested and that uninterest takes us to be simply unaware and uneducated about the outside because there is so much we focus on the inside. We become ignorant. Yes, we are a diverse nation but we dont seem to understand the diversity around us. Yes, we care when an earthquake hits another nation. We pray for them, we donate, we spread awareness but that is it. We seem to care only when they need us to. It hit me when all the members of my host family sat down to watch the news, they sat down to inform themselves of the tragedies of this world. There is so much bad going on out there.

    Do you know someone my age who watches the news or reads the newspaper? Only the worst of events reaches out to us through social media, and even then, unfortunately, we don't really get it. Our world, our people, our cultures are falling.. but we don't know that. We think war and we look back to history class not to the present.

    Being an exchange student has taught me to understand a culture, but not just one. Once you are able to accept and understand another culture, you start seeing all of them differently. You accept people, you don't judge them. You don't see difference, you see unity. I feel more a part of this world's community. I feel more connected. Going on exchange and creating friendships from all over the world really shows you how great the world would be if it were at peace. If the cultures of this world saw each other as equals, and understood each other's ways. I will never look at another culture the same way I used to, because now I get it. We are one.. even if the destruction doesn't show it. The world is supposed to feel as one, it just needs to learn how.

    I love this culture and the people. It has a very unique touch to it. I finally understand the response every Rotex gave me. It's so different, and it is just as hard to explain it than it is for one who hasn't experienced it to understand. The difference is so big, but the beauty in it is bigger.

    My first cultural shock took place in the exact moment where I left off in my previous blog post. I was about to pass two big white doors that I had no idea walking through would change my life. The doors opened and the first thing I saw was my host family with a sign that read ‘Benvenuta Isabella’. My host dad seemed very happy (and I recently found out he was very happy and very nervous for my arrival which warms up my heart) and came up to me and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek. My thoughts went VERY quickly from “Oh nice, they do that here too. It’s not just in Hispanic cultures” to “Wait, wait, what’s going on? He’s leaning in for my other cheek”. I quickly and awkwardly learned that here in Italy they greet each other with two kisses not just one. This became a simple struggle because I never knew what cheek to kiss first and my biggest fear was kissing an old host uncle or grandma on the lips by accident. Four months later, I got the hang of it. I am also proudly announcing that I have not kissed any lips accidently… or on purpose. Although this mime actor tried tricking me into a kiss when I went on a family trip to Bergamo, Italy. I was very frightened and confused actually but my host family thought it was funny and gave him money. I even have a picture.

    On day one after a two-hour ride home from the airport, I arrived at my first host house. It is located on a mountain, which everyone calls a hill, and together with the grandma’s enormous house on one side and the aunt’s on the other side it is a beautiful property. I was perfectly fine until a punch of fear hit me in the stomach as soon as I walked into my new room. The reality started kicking in and I freaked out… inside of course. I was going to live in that room. Reality check.

    Already in my first week, I got to go to Lake Garda, the biggest lake in Italy. My first host family has a lake house there in a place called San Felice, which is gorgeous. I got to meet the grandparents (dad’s side) as well as an aunt and her family and they were such phenomenal people. It is funny because in my phone, I have my host grandpa’s number and my host dad’s number and I have confused them several times. Yep, you can imagine that hilarious confusion of me waiting for my host dad to pick me up but never coming because in reality I did not text him... I texted his dad. I got home that day, no worries. Anyways Lake Garda is absolutely a mind-blowing view. I did a lot of stuff that weekend. My host sister took me on what I did not know would be a hiking trail and we ended up inside a forest that ended high up with an incredible view of the lake. It was certainly an adventure.

    She also took me to this little side of the lakeshore called ‘Baia De l Vento’ where people can go in. The shore is made up of rocks and rocks and rocks instead of sand. It is absolutely beautiful. Something really interesting is that you find a lot of ‘vetro colorato’ or sea glass. It is basically bits and pieces of broken beer glass bottles that become this smooth marble glass rock with the seawater over time. I filled up a whole jar with rocks that day! On our walk back to the lake house, we found dandelions. We grabbed some and blew on them. I told my host sister to take a picture of me doing it, (I love taking pictures by the way… I have over 2000 and I am only half way. It annoys many because I stop and take pictures everywhere but I happily keep doing it. ). She broke out in a hysterical laugh because apparently I was not blowing right… apparently, my lips were too closed or whatnot. We spent a good ten minutes discussing how lips should look when they are blowing air and laughing at each other.

    This moment on my exchange is important because it began an unbreakable bond between two strangers that now call each other sisters and pull each other’s hair out once in a while or maybe more. We spent that night talking until late a lot about my spiritual outlook on life and well I guess I can say I found the older sister I have always wanted. Also on this trip, we went to visit Salo, Italy, which is magnificent. We stopped for ice cream and as I was trying to decide on a flavor, I came across one which made me laugh. It was called ‘orgasm’ and well, I chose it. I was curious and why not? I then clearly saw that Italians name many things after English words that many times they do not know the exact meaning to...

    That night we went to a night market in town, which was organized by my host aunt. It was pretty lovely. My host grandma makes handmade decorations and sends them there to be sold. The lake house has two male pets: Romeo and Giulio. I know it is fantastic. They are quite the duo …. best friends considering the fact that one is a dog and the other is a cat. They sleep together and it is the cutest thing. I have also quickly learned that cats and dogs are best friends… at least in this country they are. You will find that almost every household has a cat and a dog. I like this, kind of shows you how beautiful peace is and would be if it were present in this world between different cultures. Unfortunately, very recently, Giulio died and Romeo was left heartbroken but is holding on.

    During this trip, I also helped my host grandma make my first Italian pizza. Another place I got to visit on this trip is called ‘Rocca di Manerba’ which is a mind-blowing space of ancient remains where you find a cross standing on the top and where the view is breath taking.

    My second cultural shock occurred when I had to use the bathroom while we were collecting that sea glass I was just speaking about. We found the bathrooms, which were, located in a tiny bathroom house not a disgusting portable bathroom like you would think to find. To my surprise, I think I would have preferred that portable bathroom you find at your city fair in America. I opened the stall and saw no toilet… instead, I saw a hole. “um.. how do I… okay” and my adventure of discovering and experimenting different types of bathrooms all over Europe began. Every bathroom is different. I find myself having to ask whoever I am with how the bathroom in a certain place works as well as sinks since to make the water come out you have to usually search a hidden handle or button. Crazy. Either the flush button or handle is different or in a different location or toilet is there or not or you have to use your feet or your hands or a million different types of bathrooms and I’m just asking myself why they can’t all just agree on one.

    Speaking of bathrooms, I am going to hit this subject now… the bidet. “Why the hell do I have two toilets in my bathroom? Maybe one is for girls and one is for guys? but why does one have a sink? Ummmm I'll ignore it.” were my very thoughts when I used our house bathroom for the first time. Here in Italy inside the bathroom you find the regular stuff in addition to a bidet. A bidet is a toilet and a sink put into one looking thing. Italians wash themselves using this after using the toilet. We do not have this. I am not going to lie I think it is a good sanitary system and I agree with them on its importance. However, many Italians use this as an excuse to why taking a shower every day is unnecessary. They also can't believe how "dirty" we must be because we don't have one. I have encountered very smelly people here. I don't get them, they don't get us. We'll leave it that way.
    Cultural shocks happen everyday, and everyday you realize just how different a place could be and how much beauty there is in that. I don't even remember what I thought Italy would be like, but I do know that whatever it was... I was wrong. I'm happy I was wrong.

  • Isabella, outbound to Italy

    It's Feburary 15th 2015 and I don't know where to even start. I've been here since September and I've posted just once, and it was just a reflection of what I've been through emotionally. So today on a rainy after Valentine's Day afternoon I have a lot to say.

    Nothing felt real until the end of my first month here in Italy. The fact that I was okay leaving my life behind showed me and amazed me on how strong I really am, something I didn't know about myself. That's what exchange does, it not only opens your eyes to the world but it also opens your eyes to discover what you're made of.

    It was August 31st and I was hours away from leaving. Hours away from leaving the life I knew behind, my family, my friends, my mistakes, my accomplishments. To start fresh in another country. I had no idea what I had coming for me, I thought I knew what leaving was.. oh, but I didn't. It makes me laugh because I thought I knew what I was doing, I thought it would be easy and that I had control of my exchange. In fact, it has taken control of me. Teaching me and showing me. Inspiring me and taking my breath away. Breaking me and molding me.

    To my surprise a lot of people came to say bye to me. I had had a goodbye party a few weeks before that where about 50 of the people closest to my heart spoke out and gave me words and tears and smiles and most importantly goodbyes. I also had a dinner with my church group, which was made up of laughs and smiles and words that touched my heart... faces that I would not see for a full year. I recieved a lot of presents and kind gestures and it was all happening so quickly I didn't have time to react.

    I had planned my outfit for a week and was standing in line to check in with my airline. I was with my family: my mom, dad, our exchange student (Amanda from Brazil who would be staying at my house for a year), and my two younger sisters. Since we had a good two hours till boarding time, we sat down and waited. Nothing felt real, everything felt normal. I was good, strangely great. To my surprise my two uncles showed up and I was happy.

    Someone really special to me also came to say bye, someone who's been by my side for five years and who to me is more than a bestfriend. He handed me one of his sweaters, a letter, and a dog plush toy. "His name is Willie and he was there with me when I was young and when I felt alone. He kept me company, and he'll keep you company". I was really happy and continued to smile because it was a very heartfelt gift. I knew how important it was to him. I handed him a letter and to my even greater surprise he brought with him three of my bestgirlfriends who had told me they wouldn't make it, who right away tackled me with a hug. I said bye to the people I love, they cried and then I cried. Seeing the tears running down their faces made everything really hard. I quickly became a crying mess as I walked away passing the boarding gate. As I looked back I saw them and took a deep breath. "You can do this Isabella" and wanting so bad to go back I turned away and walked to my airline boarding section.

    I ended up sitting on the floor for a three hour delay because something was going on and somehow none of the planes had fuel in them, which in my opinion was very irresponsible on the airport's part. Three hours later, I finally get on my plane and sit on a window seat. I was very happy to get a window seat because I had heard that you could at a certain point when passing time zones see the sky both dark and bright on different sides. My excitment literally fell to the floor when I opened my window cover to find the wing of the plane completely covering any type of view of outside. "You've got to be kidding me" and I laughed. I had a 10 hour flight awaiting me and no view of the sky. "I guess you'll see it on the return flight" I sighed. Two men sat next to me, and before we knew it the airplane finally flew up into the sky. Goodbye America, goodbye everything and everyone, goodbye to the life I've known and hello to the life I'll meet.

    I watched a movie, which I can't remember the name of, and when it ended I tried to sleep. I find it very hard to sleep on planes, it just isn't comfortable... but I found a way. I woke up like every twenty minutes but I found a way.

    The two men sitting next to me were sound asleep and I really had to go to the bathroom. "Crap, what do I do?" I didn't want to wake them up. Next thing I knew, the food lady had come to offer us our food options. "Perfect, now I'll never go to the bathroom". We ate and it was really good. I had built up courage to tell the men I had to go to the bathroom and that I would need them to get up so could go. I looked at the bathroom and I guess my expression showed my situation because the next thing I heard was "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" .... "yes please". Thank God.

    I came back to sit down, making them get up again. "I'm so stupid" I thought while I laughed at how shy and nervous I had gotten. "Read it when you are on the plane"... I remembered and pulled out the letter I was given. I didn't cry, I smiled and thanked God for everything he was doing. I also read a bunch of other letters I had recieved and then I took a deep breathe. I couldn't believe what I was doing. But I was calm. 5 hours remained and I wasn't going to watch another movie... I felt bored. I turned to the men next to me and started a converstation. I have people next to me for 10 hours, I need to talk to someone. They knew each other, I could tell. After sharing with them what I was doing, they shared with me that they were going on a very exciting trip in the Middle East. They were partners, a gay couple exploring the world.

    Since our flight was three hours late, everyone was worried about their connecting flights. I was calm since I now would have to wait two hours to board mine instead of five. I had waited the three already. Finally we arrived in Germany. The airport was all in German and thankfully everything had the English version right under it. "GO ROTARY!" someone yelled... an old exchange student recognizing me by my blazer. We exchanged smiles and kept on with our connecting flight search. 30 minutes later I found my boarding section. 'Prague' I looked up and down at the sign and my ticket... what? I thought it was the flight before mine since I had to wait one hour more and facetimed by parents giving them the 'I made it' call. It soon came to mind.. Why would it still say 'Prague'... and not 'Milan'. I asked the lady and she informed me that my section was changed. "Oh my god, my flight is leaving in an hour" I grabbed all my things and began my search. Thirty minutes later I found it. Whew!

    The lady at the desk called my name and the names of all the passengers and led us down some stairs to a bus. I had a very complicated luggage system going on. My carry on, my computer, my purse, and this lovely rotary jacket. Seeing my struggle, a man helped me. We got on the bus and I was a little unsure about what was going on.. Am I in the right place?" I thought. A woman next to me asked me if this was the right place for the Milan flight and I told her I really hoped so. "At least I'm not the only one confused" I thought.

    To my surprise, we were in the right place. The bus took us to a plane that we had to climb stairs to get into. I was excited because even though it's a stupid bucketlist item, I've always wanted to climb up stairs into a plane. The excitment fell very quickly.. "perfect" I thought as I had a flashback of the luggage struggle I had just experienced and the luggage trouble I was seeing in my near future. I seriously struggled, it was almost impossible.. but I somehow made it. I hurt myself, but I made it.

    Pretending like I wasn't almost dying I looked for my seat.. it was very embarrassing. I sat in my seat.. a window seat "yes" I thought "finally I'll get a view" and I felt better. I opened my window cover and I almost cried.. "YOU ARE KIDDING ME RIGHT?" Yup, again.. the wing.. and a viewless view. Instead I laughed and closed the window cover not being able to believe that it had happened to me twice. Two hours later we arrived and I had about three Italian words learned.

    After all the immigration, I arrived to the baggage pick up area. It took about thirty minutes to find my bags, and then I realized there was no way I was going to be able to carry two big luggages, my purse, my carry on luggage, and my computer bag on my own. I tried to ask an older couple who were also looking for their luggage where I could find a cart in Italian which didn't work out at all. They couldn't understand what the hell I was saying. I didn't even know what the hell I was saying. Then they asked me "Do you know where we can find a cart?" I was struggling to ask the same thing to them in Italian when the whole time they weren't understanding whatever it was I was really saying because they spoke English... I laughed and said "I have no idea, I'll go look for one." I asked a man who worked for the airport and he signaled me to where they were. They were on the other side of the entire baggage pick up area, tucked away in a corner where no one would find them. "Unbelievable" I thought walking back with two carts. Soon after I saw everyone walking the opposite way to grab one for themselves. The older couple was grateful and I finally got a hand on my stuff. "Finally"

    I felt bad because I probably took like an extra hour and my host family had probably been waiting for me on the other side for ages already. Next thing I knew I was standing in front of two white doors. Little did I know, on the other side would be the strangers who would become my second true family forever and a new beginning for my life awaited. Little did I know that walking through those doors would change my life.

    "There is no turning back." I thought. I took a deep breathe as my heart began to pound so fast, and took a step forward..Next thing I know it's Feburary 15th 2015 on a rainy after Valentine's Day afternoon and I still have a lot to say.


  • Isabella, outbound to Italy

    It’s funny how you don’t really believe it when they tell you, “It will fly by”. Those very words don’t describe how fast time is flying by. I’m currently sitting on the balcony of my host grandparent’s house, listening to my favorite song and I can only wish you could see what I’m seeing.

    It's 40 degree weather but this view makes it all worthwhile. It's moments like these when you are alone that you look out at your panorama and you appreciate every breath you’ve taken. Pictures can grasp so much, but the eye grasps the beauty a picture can’t show. I post a lot of beautiful pictures, or so I’ve been told, but if you agree to that than you can only imagine how more beautiful is it to be in them. I am living on a mountain, something I’m not used to since back home we don’t even have them.

    I live in a beautiful Italian home, with a beautiful Italian family. Next to us live the grandparents in a mind-blowing big house, and on the other side live the uncle and aunt along with their daughter. There is also the other side of the family, grandparents and relatives that I can’t keep count of. These people, these strangers have become family. That’s the beauty of it, how a group of people you spend half a year with become a group of people that you’ll carry in your heart forever. Without them I wouldn’t have seen what I’ve seen and learned what I’ve learned. Oh, let me tell you the Italian family culture is quite a handful to integrate with, but let me tell you something else, I love them. At the end of all the differences between cultures you encounter con or pro you learn to accept that every culture is different but so beautiful. One culture isn’t better than the other, it’s just different, and one wouldn’t understand that until one has lived through it.

    It’s also funny how when I boarded the plane to begin this crazy adventure, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I’m not going to say it’s been all smiles but then again how can one smile if one has never frowned? How can only truly know the difference if they haven’t experienced both? The first month went by like a honeymoon stage. I was traveling and seeing and meeting and learning and it was all so exciting. However, school started and as I kept arriving to the same house, to the same bedroom it hit me: this isn’t vacation, this is now home.

    It was overwhelming and I wasn’t very happy with that. After everything started to become a daily routine, I began to ask myself why I came. The reality of it was that I missed my life in America. I missed my own routine. Those very words I heard at my last orientation before coming from a previous exchange student, “I wished they knew me in English” became so real. It was true, I felt alone. I didn’t really have friends because at the end they all really wanted to know who I was but I failed to show them that because I didn’t know how to express who I was in this new language. I was too afraid to try and fail so I didn’t even try.

    The society and the people didn’t appeal to me because they were different than the ones at home, I was too full of my pride for America. I could only think of how many months I had left and how things would be if I were home. As an early graduate, I thought how much more I could have accomplish academically and how much I wouldn’t miss if I had stayed. The transportation was a hassle, being a driver back home every single day, and not being able to drive here was tough. Hobbies I did back home were too expensive to do here. I began to think of it as a mistake, everything was different for me and I didn’t like that.

    Who could I speak to? An Italian who’s going to think I’m an ungrateful, spoiled American girl, or someone from home who wouldn’t understand me because they weren’t experiencing it? Another problem was my faith, living in the catholic capital of the world and not being catholic was nothing but difficult. Being someone who is very deep in her faith as a Christian, being so involved in her church back home, and being surrounded by so much of what she doesn’t agree with was hard. People would ask me about my religion and I would openly and happily speak about it, but only to find out it was being laughed at behind my back or taken as “wrong” broke me.

    I was upset and thought, “I wish they understood. I wish they knew what I’ve experienced so they could know the truth. I wish that they could see it through my eyes”. Not being able to attend a church, or have anything to help me build my faith further was causing my faith to fall. I kept looking back at my Rotary interview when they asked me, “How is a girl like you, so attached to her family and her faith going to survive in a place where she won’t have either?”. I began thinking, “They were right. What am I doing?” I was ready to jump on a plane and go home.

    One day I found a letter that I had written for this year, and two things grabbed my attention. One of them was a goal I wrote: to come back as a new person, a better person, someone with a new outlook on life. I have a saying I learned a while back and it is that everything happens for a reason, and that reason is never bad. The second thing was that, to discover why God had put this trip in my life and for what purpose it would serve my life for the better.

    I woke up. I thought about my entire experience so far in those two months and I felt disgusted with myself. . .I thought I came prepared but in fact as every day passed by and as new obstacles hit me in the face it made me weaker. I wasn’t doing my part, I had let go of my strength and forgotten how to fight through the bad. The country, the exchange in whole wasn’t the problem... it was me.

    I looked back at that very question I was asked at my Rotary interview and realized I only had been focusing on the question and not the answer I gave them. “I love my family, but I’ve been far from them before for a long period of time, I am very independent here and that independence will help me. I also am very involved in my faith, but my faith isn’t focused on a location it’s focused on a relationship. My faith doesn’t stay behind, it goes with me”. The words that had come out of my mouth, the girl who spoke them, that girl was me so what was the problem? Why wasn’t I living them?

    Everything from that point became better. Not because everything changed, but because I changed. I started looking at this exchange with a different perspective. I was going to go home and I was going to have those two things accomplished. I would make sure of it. I opened my eyes to this new culture, and it wasn’t inferior anymore, it was different but beautiful. I let go of home, and a found a new one here. I tried new things, I started talking and trying no matter how many times I’d fail, I pushed myself to make friends, I pushed myself to become a part of this culture. I started taking control of my exchange. I jumped out of my comfort zone, and let me tell you something? It worked. I was happy.

    Everything happens for a reason, everything happens for a reason. It all made sense. The problem was that I wasn't striving to live my exchange to its fullest because of the failure to overcome the obstacles it brought. You have to accept the challenges and keep going, you have to fail and get back up, you have to let it make you into the person you are meant to be, into a better person with an experience that you can say has changed your life. I was failing to do that, but I changed.

    I couldn’t drive but I learned to walk, and to bike, and to appreciate it. I was encountered with something driving blocked: the beauty of meeting and seeing what is outside. When you drive you pass by so much, when you walk or bike you encounter it. I couldn’t do the hobbies I did back home, but I found new ones. I started going to the gym a lot, and I started teaching English to a bunch of kids for some pocket cash I could use to travel more. I walked up to people at school, I invited them for coffee and friendships evolved.

    I didn’t have a church, but I still had God. I missed it so much, when it was always next to me. I continued to build my faith. I learned that to really build that strong connection and relationship with God I had to be completely away from all the distractions that keep you from a spiritual growth, a lot of which I had at home. It took to being completely alone to realize that I need more of Him. I needed this exchange.

    This exchange is doing more than changing me, it’s showing me what I lacked and giving me it. An exchange is when you open yourself to a new world and you take a part of it. It’s when you learn to do things you never thought you would do. It’s when you fall in love with things you never thought you would fall in love with. It’s an experience that changes you, that fills you with a new wisdom and a new happiness. I have learned that for an exchange to be successful you have to do just that, change. It’s in the word itself for a reason. You come in thinking you know who you are, but you leave as the person who you are really meant to be.

    It’s been 5 months since I let go of my life in America and began a new one in Italy. The things I’ve been though are countless... The bonds I’ve created here are forever, and at this point I don’t know if I want it to go by too quickly. I’m half way through this experience and I’ve grown so much, as a person. My characteristics are bolder. That’s the reason I came here, to change. To be confronted with my flaws and become a better person. To impact people and for people to impact me. To become prepared for my future. I miss my family, and of course there will never be someplace like home, but it doesn’t feel so far like it used to. I don’t get homesick, I think of home and I smile I don’t cry.

    I have so much to say about what I’ve done and who I’ve meet these past five months in this beautiful country, but I wanted this first post to be a personal reflection. I still have a lot to learn and grow and change and I still have so many exciting things to do before I hit that plane to go back home. I am so happy and so excited for all of it. I wasn't prepared to fight and win obstacles, and I forgot that I have a God who already has.

    I can't expect a life without struggle, but I can expect a life with stories of overcoming them. Without obstacles, there is no growth or change, there is nothing to mold you into the person you are meant to be. Living so far and so differently isn't easy, but when things aren't easy they have a purpose of molding you into someone wiser, stronger, better, and with a hell of a story to tell.

    If you are planning on being an exchange student, do it. I am not promising it will be easy, it's not but it will change your life. If it doesn’t, you did it wrong. An exchange is in the hands of the exchange student, and if you don't take control and get the best out of it, it’s going to get the best out of you and leave you with nothing. I’m a proud witness and testimony of that.

    Prepare yourself, because the next post will be rich. Prepare yourself to enter my word, my experiences, my happiness, my exchange.


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