Caneel Dixon

Italy

Hometown: Tampa, Florida
School: Other (not on list)
Sponsor District : District 6890
Sponsor Club: Tampa Interbay, Florida
Host District: 2050
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Brescia Sud Est Montichiari

 

My Bio


Hi! My name is Caneel Dixon. I am from Tampa, FL. I am a strong, independent, adventurous leader who likes a challenge. I have a two siblings and a loving dog named Koa. I love doing community service, in fact I started an Interact Club at my high school to teach others about giving back as well. I am also involved in National Honor Society, Student Council, a mentoring program for middle schoolers at my school, coaching a youth girls soccer team, Girl Scouts, and teaching Sunday school and Vacation Bible School at my church.

I have a passion for sports and keeping fit, whether it is by playing soccer, swimming, or doing yoga. You can always find me outside doing something active! If I have any spare time I like to read books and magazines and hang out with my friends, biking around town or seeing a movie. I knew I wanted to be an exchange student when I hosted two exchange students at my house. I learned so much from them, especially helping them acclimate to a completely new culture and climate. It is from these two girls that I hosted that I found what I wanted to accomplish as a foreign exchange student; to become truly immersed in another culture, to speak fluently to others, and be able to relate and have a bond because of that.

Host dad & 1 of my twin host sisters

Host dad & 1 of my twin host sisters

Fountain where we get our water

Fountain where we get our water

Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) in Brescia

Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) in Brescia

Sunset my 1st night in Italy

Sunset my 1st night in Italy

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

Weekend trekking w. classmates

Weekend trekking w. classmates

Giro con Nonni

Giro con Nonni

Burro di Arachidi

Burro di Arachidi

Weekend trekking

Weekend trekking

Colosseo in Roma

Colosseo in Roma

All RYE Italy Students w. Mt. Vesuvius

All RYE Italy Students w. Mt. Vesuvius

Calcio!

Calcio!

1: Our justification book for if we are late, absent, or leaving early. It also shows the 5 possible branches of the school you can choose to study in.

1: Our justification book for if we are late, absent, or leaving early. It also shows the 5 possible branches of the school you can choose to study in.

1: Our justification book for if we are late, absent, or leaving early. It also shows the 5 possible branches of the school you can choose to study in.

1: Our justification book for if we are late, absent, or leaving early. It also shows the 5 possible branches of the school you can choose to study in.

2: Example of class decorations

2: Example of class decorations

3: The two buses I take after school. In the morning I only take the first one and then walk the rest of the way there (it is smaller because the mountain roads are a lot smaller with lots of twists and turns that a normal bus would not be able to make!)

3: The two buses I take after school. In the morning I only take the first one and then walk the rest of the way there (it is smaller because the mountain roads are a lot smaller with lots of twists and turns that a normal bus would not be able to make!)

8: My personalized schedule. The highlighted classes are when I change classes.

8: My personalized schedule. The highlighted classes are when I change classes.

6: Learning about America in History

6: Learning about America in History

7: Art project for the “design” half of my art class

7: Art project for the “design” half of my art class

9: The school wide protest for heat. Included marching around the school and lots of blankets to stay warm because it was very cold outside. It was also covered in the local news

9: The school wide protest for heat. Included marching around the school and lots of blankets to stay warm because it was very cold outside. It was also covered in the local news

ice skating with the sisters and some friends

ice skating with the sisters and some friends

Some typical appetizers and desserts at Christmas

Some typical appetizers and desserts at Christmas

I finished my first Italian chapter book in time for Christmas as well

I finished my first Italian chapter book in time for Christmas as well

Christmas Day- a bit more fancy

Christmas Day- a bit more fancy

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

Typically decorated Italian Christmas tree popular in city centers

Typically decorated Italian Christmas tree popular in city centers

The church at the Christmas Eve midnight service

The church at the Christmas Eve midnight service

Santa Lucia looking to see who gets coal!

Santa Lucia looking to see who gets coal!

Journals: Caneel - Italy 2015-2016

  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

    A lot has changed from my last blog post. One of the biggest changes being when I moved families. I'm not going to try to compare the two because every family is different and I like them each for their own reasons, but here is an update for what my current "normal" is like and also a belated recap of my Italian Christmas season.

    I'm not scared of change. I did move to Italy by myself, after all, but the night before I moved host families, I stayed up almost the whole night. In reality, I had nothing to fear. Since I moved in, my new host family has been making me feel right at home. My host mom even offered to kick her own daughter out of her room so that I could have my own. I assured her that this was not going to be necessary, thinking about my own brother and sister having to move in together in this situation.

    My host sister is like my twin, an experience I never thought I'd get to have. Now I know some of the experiences that my other real twin host sisters have; like always being together, but having different friends and how people have to decide to invite one or both of us to events. Also how you can help each other through bad days and low grades. We have a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, we are lying next to each other and can whisper "Buona Notte" and know that we have each other.

    My host brother and real brother are so similar it's scary. I have noticed a lot of people look the exact same as someone I know back in the States, but these two are the real deal. With dirty blonde hair, always playing soccer in the house, being difficult with their mothers and having a challenge for every ask or order. A love of their technology, but a bigger love for their sisters (sometimes they are just good at hiding it). I have had so much fun playing soccer with my host brother, from one-to-one, to him putting me through drills to help me get better. He has given me some of his old grammar books and will work with me going through them, never getting frustrated if I don't understand something on the first go.

    My host parents have treated me as one of their own as well. My host dad picks me up from soccer practice and my host mom reads my art textbook to me, helping to put it in simpler terms so that I'm ready when my teacher gives me an "Interrogazione".

    I used to be the last person to rise in my house, but now I'm the first. I get the table ready for breakfast and turn on the gas so that the various pans of milk, caffè, and hot water can all be warmed up while I eat some yogurt. Although I have been living here for five months now, I still find that I need to eat a little more than just a few cookies for breakfast. My sister and I then run out to catch the bus at 7:05. Luckily, the bus stop is almost right in front of our house, so if one of us is running late, we can just listen for the sound of the bus approaching.

    Although I'm getting up an hour earlier so that I'm ready for my half hour bus ride, I've found that I really don't mind it (or dread it like I thought I would). I use that time on the first bus to write my daily journal and then walk twenty minutes to get to school (the walking is by choice; my sister takes a second bus and we arrive at about the same time). I love that I get to see the sunrise every morning as I'm coming down the mountain and get a beautiful view of the entire Lago di Garda.

    Unlike in the morning, where the bus is silent- everyone's in their own semi-awake world, everyone is discussing something after school. This has allowed me to make a lot of friends on the two buses that I take.

    One day when I was half way down the path to the bus stop, I realized that I had forgotten something in my desk at school. I turned to go back and get what I had forgotten and was then amazed by just how many people stopped to say goodbye to me and knew me by name as I climbed back up the hill. In a school where no one changes classes (except me), it can be hard to meet people, but these people had clearly made an effort to meet me and it was really heartwarming knowing I had all these people here for me.

    A great custom and part of the Italian and general European culture is meeting for a caffè or tè. In the U.S. I always felt like if I wanted to meet up with friends, it needed to be centered on a meal, but here if you want to hang out or meet up, a drink is a perfect excuse (and it doesn't have to be alcoholic!). Another useful aspect is that it can be used for any level of acquaintance, from work colleagues to other family members. Also it can be at any hour of the day, morning, afternoon, or evening.

    I think I say this every post, but I truly couldn't be happier. I also included the majority of this in Italian for my host Rotary club and specifically because my host grandparents (My "nonni" told me that they wanted to read my posts and that google translate wasn't giving my words justice). Ciao a tutti!


    Diario di Rotary: Italiano

    Un sacco è cambiato dal mio ultimo post di blog. Uno dei cambia,enti più grandi è stato traslocare e cambiare la mia famiglia. Non voglio comparare loro perché ogni famiglia è diversa e voglio bene a entrambi per ragioni diverse, così questo è un aggiornamento per cosa è normale nella mia vita qui in Italia.

    Non ho paura di cambiare in generale, sono venuta qui da solo, giusto? Ma la notte prima di traslocare in una nuova famiglia, non sono riuscita a dormire. Però, non avevo niente di qui avere paura. Da quando mi sono trasferita qui, la mia nuova famiglia ospitante mi hanno fatto sentire a casa mia. Anche se mia mamma ospitante mi ha offerto di stare da sola nella camera di sua figlia, cacciandola nella camera del fratello, le ho assicurato che non sarebbe stato necessario. In quel momento ho pensato che anche i miei fratelli in Tampa non ne sarebbero stati contenti.

    La mia sorella ospitante è come la mia gemella, un'esperienza che non ho mai pensato potesse accadermi nella vita. Ora io so come si sentono che le mie altre due sorelle ospitanti che sono gemelle realmente. Ad esempio noi stiamo sempre insieme, però avendo amici diversi, quando le persone fanno delle feste non sempre ci invitano tutte due. È molto bello perché ci possiamo aiutare quando abbiamo avuto una cattiva giornata o abbiamo preso voto basso. Abbiamo un sacco di differenze, ma prima andare a dormire, stiamo sdraiate l'una vicino all'altra e ci bisbigliamo "Buona Notte" e sappiamo che possiamo sempre contare sull'altra.

    I miei genitori ospitanti mi hanno trattata come si fossi loro figlia. Mio padre ospitante mi viene prendere dopo l'allenamento di calcio e mia madre mi legge il mio libro di arte, aiutandomi a mettere le idee in parole più semplici, così sono pronta quando la mia insegnante mi interroga.

    Mio fratello ospitante e mio fratello reale sono simili, è un po' spaventoso. Ho notato che qui un sacco di gente assomiglia ad altre persone che conosco negli Stati Uniti, ma questi due sono davvero simili. Loro due hanno i capelli biondo sporco, giocano sempre a calcio in casa, non ubbidiscono mai alla mamma, e trasformano ogni cosa che gli si chiede in una sfida. Hanno un grande amore per la tecnologia, ma uno più grande per loro sorelle (ma non sempre lo mostrano). Mi sono divertita molto giocando a calcio con mio fratello ospitante, sia giocando uno-contro-uno, sia quando mi faceva fare esercizi per aiutarmi a diventare più brava. Mi ha dato alcuni dei suoi vecchi libri di grammatica e mi ha insegnato qualcosa non era mai infastidito se non capivo la prima volta.

    Una bella abitudine è una parte della cultura italiano e dell'Europa in generale è incontrarsi in un bar per un caffè o un tè. Negli Stati Uniti se volevo uscire con i miei amici, dovevo per forza uscire a mangiare qualcosa, ma qui, se vuoi passare il tempo, una bibita è una ragione perfetta! Questa cosa si fa anche tra colleghi o membri della famiglia, non per forza solo tra amici; questo è un aspetto molto utile. Anche quando non è un appuntamento importante, tutto le ore del giorno sono disponibili.

    Nella mia prima famiglia ospitante, mi alzavo per ultima, ma adesso al contrario per prima. Ora mi alzo un'ora prima, così sono pronta per prendere l'autobus per Salò dopo un viaggio di trenta minuti. In stazione camminano verso la scuola per circa venti minuti. Le prime volte pensavo che era un tragitto troppo lungo, ma adesso, mi va bene: perché questa distanza è perfetto per riuscire a scrivere il mio diario ogni giorno e anche perché mi piace vedere l'alba ogni mattina con una bella vista del lago.

    Preparo il tavolo per colazione e accendo il gas così le pentole per il latte, il caffè, e l'acqua calda si possono riscaldare mentre mangio il mio yogurt. Anche se abito qua in Italiada cinque mesi, non mi sono ancora abituata a mangiare solo biscotti per colazione. Mia sorella e io corriamo fuori per prendere l'autobus alle sette e cinque, siamo fortunate perché la fermata è proprio davanti a casa nostra, così se una di noi è un po' in ritardo, possiamo sentire quando arriva.

    Ho imparato un sacco nel mio primo inverno (perché l'inverno della Florida a venticinque gradi non è un vero inverno). La neve non c'è, ma sono contenta lo stesso. Prima, non sapevo tante cose dell'inverno, come per i vestiti- che è importante usare tanti strati e che non hai bisogno di tanti vestiti invernali, solo un paio di jeans e una giaccia o una felpa perché le magliette che tu indossi, nessuno le vede. Questo significa che tu sembri lo stesso in ogni foto- stessi jeans e cappotto. L'unica differenza tra le foto è che lo sfondo è diverso o sei con altre persone.
    Penso che dico questo in ogni post, ma non è possibile per me essere più felice di come lo sono adesso. Ho fatto questo diaria in italiano perché i miei nonni ospitanti hanno detto che loro vogliono leggere i miei post e che "Google Traduttore" non è sempre giusto, e lo faccio anche per il mio club ospitante di Rotary. Ciao a tutti!

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  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

    School: Italian vs. American
    (& all the details in between)

    One of the questions I have been asked the most during my time here in Italy is, “Which school system do you think is more difficult: Italy’s or that of the United States?”. In reality there is no easy answer because there are so many differences, so I’ll point out some of the main ones that I noticed this first semester (their two semesters are from September to January and then February to June). I have stated a few of these points previously, but this is solely devoted to the school systems of Italy and the U.S.

    First is classrooms. You never “change classes” because you stay in the same room for the entire day. The only exception to this is gym class when you go to the gym, but even then the teacher first comes to your classroom to check everyone in and write on the student portal what we will be doing for that day (every class starts by teachers taking attendance and then logging what will be covered that day in class). If you are late (you have about a 5-10 minute grace period after the bell rings to actually be considered late) or absent one day, you bring in your justification book that your parents sign, or if you are older than 18, you can sign it yourself- no reason is needed, just the time of entrance and their (or your) signature [see figure 1]. Seems a lot easier than some of the trouble I had to go through to get a doctors note for my old school, but every place is different! It’s only if you miss more than the allotted number of school days (about a month) that you need a real doctor's note- amazingly enough a girl in my class has already missed more than 35 days because she is sick so often.

    Since you don’t change classrooms, the room is yours, the student’s, to do what you please. This means that your class paints it the color that it wants and can decorate it as much or as little as you choose. My classroom is a soft hospital gown blue and decorated by a map of the world, a cross that Gesù Cristo was once hanging off of, but then fell off due to rough play, a small Italian flag (we are the only class to have an Italian flag up- update: that has since come down) and a small American flag that I brought in and gave to my class (which hung for months, but has disappeared as of late). Ours is one of the more minimalist classrooms. Others have student drawings taped up or language posters (language school) or one is even painted bright green and has a welcome mat and plants in it. After the Paris attacks, half the classes put up a version of a “Pray for Paris” sign and for Christmas, some had Christmas lights around their boards [see figure 2]. It really is up to your class. This also means that your desk is actually yours, well for the year anyway. You can draw on it, store snacks, or if you are like me, store all of your books in it (there are no lockers, so everyone else lugs all of their books to and from school every day).

    The students can also organize where they want to put their desks, the only exceptions being fire safety and general ease of use getting around. In most cases the desks have an order already set when the year starts (just because all of the desks have to fit in the room), but ours is different. Our classroom is one of the largest (it had to be big enough to fit the 29 students in our class and the teacher inside) and unlike every other class whose desks are evenly spaced in pairs across the room, we have four rows of desks all smushed together since the location of our board is in the left corner of the room and everyone wants to be able to see somewhat. It’s funny how people's grades tend to be in direct correlation with where they are positioned in regard to the board..

    There are five classes every day and each class is an hour, so the school day lasts from 8-1. There is a break at 11 for a snack where you can get a caffè or tè from a hot coffee vending machine or go to the “bar” and get a piece of pizza (slices do not exist here in Italy) or sandwich. Living with my new family up the mountain from my school, I then ride two buses to get home, so I eat around 2 [see figures 3]. This works out perfectly because my host brother finishes his school at 2. He has one additional hour every day so that he does not have to go to school on Saturday like my host sister and I do.

    Italian schools have staffed hall monitors. I think they probably have a different title, but that is what they do; sit in a desk in the hall for the whole day. There are two for each floor strategically placed on opposite ends of the very long hallways that make up our school, near the bathrooms and exits, one for the gym locker room area as well as one for the laboratory who acts like a teacher's assistant, fetching any of the needed materials.

    The Italian school system places more emphasis on independent learning. My host sister phrased in nicely by saying how since they spend less time at school doing work and learning, they are expected to do more studying by themselves at home. With your afternoons free, you can thus choose to spend them how you would like. My siblings in both families are good students and often spend their time studying. There is not as much homework to do in the sense that something is collected and gone over in class (the majority of textbooks have the answers printed right next to the corresponding problems), but teachers may give problems on the material that you are covering. These problems are optional to do because it’s never going to be graded and may or may not be gone over in class depending on the teacher. It’s more a chance for you to see what you need to ask questions about the next time you meet in order to clarify whatever you don’t understand.

    I think that a lot of people have seen movies that depict American schools as really easy because people always seem surprised to learn that, yes, I did in fact have a lot of homework every night along with sports practice and other things to do with the addition of our school getting out three hours later. It’s also difficult to describe how there are different levels of classes, so you can take easier or harder classes based on your abilities and interest level in a subject. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been transported back in time to the one room schoolhouse days of America, with everyone learning the same things, no matter what level they are at something. An example of this is a boy in my class whose mother speaks English at home. He has a beautiful British accent and is great at English, but he is in the same class as other people who can barely string a few sentences together. In the U.S., those students would be seen in “AP English” and “English 1” respectively because the classes you take are more based on your skill level.

    The way that classes are taught is different as well. There is very little student participation, with the majority of lessons being taught as lectures, so it’s more like what you would experience as a student at a university. There are no student presentations or group projects and if you go to the laboratory to do an experiment, it is the teacher who actually does the experiments/ demonstrations. Students just watch. In the five months that I’ve been here I’ve been to the laboratory a total of five times, so that just goes to show how infrequent they are (to put it in perspective I think I had weekly labs in my Chemistry class). More lectures means less use of the board, which was one of the most challenging parts of school here for me when I arrived because they spoke too quickly for me to understand, much less take notes on. The board was another surprise because it isn’t a white board with dry erase markers, but a blackboard with chalk [see figure 4]! We also have a version of a “Smart Board”, but teachers only use it as a projector. I guess no one taught them how to use it or they don’t care. Although I have read on quite a few blogs from Italian exchange students in the U.S. that they were shocked by how young the teachers are in the States.

    The bathrooms took a little getting used to, being squat toilets instead of the western style, but by now it’s completely normal. I will admit to looking up how to use one after being here for three months, just to make sure that was doing it right. The teachers have what Americans would call “normal” toilets, except there is no seat on the toilet bowl.

    In my high school, students safety was always a priority. One way of providing that was having an unobstructed view into every classroom. This meant every door had a window in it that was viewable from the outside, or doors were just left open in general. Here, I realized pretty quickly that there were no windows or other ways to see into a class because if you want to enter a class, you need to knock on the door. The class then lets out a chorus of, “Avanti!”, meaning “Come in!” to whoever is outside (I believe it’s only supposed to be the teacher who says this and gives the outsider permission to come in, but in reality it’s everyone together). Sometimes these interruptions are from the hall monitors, bringing something for the teacher to sign about a change in schedule for the class (it almost never has anything to do with the teacher in the class at all, but they need proof that an adult was present to tell the students the change). Other times it is other students asking for latin dictionaries, calculators, or art design tools. You really never know who is going to come through the door, but it always provides a small break in the class which is taken full advantage of.

    Once classes are formed in your first year of high school, there isn’t a lot of change from year to year. The only exception of this is splitting a class because it was too big or joining two together because it was too small in the previous year. Every year you elect two leaders of the class who are the connection of students to teachers and tell the class about any school changes or events. They really do a lot and are the class leaders. I actually ran to be one in my class, my speech being “Hi, Vote for me because I’m Caneel” which was about all the Italian I could string together, but I still got two votes (Yes, one of them was my own, but one was not!)!!

    There is not a lot of change after your first year because upon entering high school you have to choose which “school” or specialization you want to study for the next five years (I thought being 18 and picking my major when I go to college was stressful, much less 14!). These choices include “Classics”- studying more Greek, Latin, and general classical works, “Applied Science”, “Human Sciences”, “Integrated Science”, “Linguistic”, and my school, “Scientific” [see figure 1 again for the logos]. We take 10 classes that include Math, General Science (includes Chemistry/ Biology/ Geology), Physics, Latin, Italian, English, Philosophy, P.E., History (we just finished covering the American Revolution and the history of America in general [my teacher, “Yes we will quickly cover the history of the US because it is very short”- true, but very funny to hear] which was fascinating to study in another language and from another perspective- the actual war against the British and the civil war were just bullet points! No tactics or battles were discussed, just the names of each side and who won [see figure 6]), Art (about half is art design, drawing complex interwoven 3-D figures with shadings [see figure 7], and the other half if art history which is incredible to learn about some of the famous works that I’ve gotten to see so far in person in Rome and Milan), and Religion (an optional subject that about half my class stays for, the others have an hour of free time where they can go to the school cafeteria and do other work) [see figure 8 for my personalized schedule]. Other schools offer technology and art specializations as well, or you can go to a lower, “easier” level of school (mine is the highest level, called Liceo).

    Private schools are generally thought to be for the students who would have had to repeat a year at Liceo or who are generally not as smart. Also, although “Liceo” is a public school, very few people transfer in from other schools or other areas because people generally move a lot less here. Instead, families tend to all stay together in the same town. This causes some tense conversations for some families when students in their fifth year are deciding on the college they want to attend.

    School wide protests still happen here. They are organized by the elected student government and seem to be very effective so far. We had one in December and another one is scheduled for the middle of February. The December “sciopero” was in protest against the lack of heat in the school since the school was trying to save money [see figure 9]. The students came to school at 8, like any other normal school day, except everyone waited outside the main school gates. At around 9 everyone marched around the school and sang chants and held up their really creative signs. The local news station even came out to cover it. The next day when we went back to school, it was nice and toasty. Side note: it’s funny to walk down the hallway during our 11 o’clock snack break because you will see clumps of students spaced evenly down the course of the hallway; all leaning against the heaters.

    Grades
    Grades are measured from 1-10 here with a 6 being passing. This is very similar to the U.S. system of 1-100, but a big difference lies in what is being graded. Grades at my old school were majorly comprised of homework, participation/harkness, presentations/projects, and tests (although it varied between classes) and were also weighted according to importance. Here, all grades are weighted equally and it is possible to have as little as two grades to make up your average for the semester. These grades are comprised from written tests or oral tests, or what we call “Interrogazione”. There is only one class that has homework that is graded, meaning it is very important that you spend a lot of time on it since it is worth the same as a test. Another big difference is that there are no exams at the end of a semester or even at the end of the school year. The only exam comes at the end of your fifth and final year of high school, which is what you need to officially "pass” high school.

    The 5th year exam. This is the pass or fail of high school. You also take one at the end of your last year in middle school. Each tests covers all the material that you have learned over the course of your time at that respective school. You also take a practice test in your third and fourth year of high school that count as test grades to help prepare you. They are given by a separate committee, not your teachers, and include both written test portions as well as oral. It is similar to the exams that U.S. students take around Christmas and before summer break, with very subject being on a different day for a week, but they are a bit longer, being between four to six hours depending on the material. The material you are tested on also varies every year. This year the math test is apparently centered more on generic math, while next year's will put a bigger emphasis on physics.

    Grades are not sent to colleges or seen by anyone else other than you and your family, so this means that students can really do as much or as little as they want to get by and pass the year. I believe it is this reason why repeating grades seems to be more common here. In my class of thirty, two girls have had to repeat a year. However, if you do well enough, you can be eligible to get money from the community where you live. My host sisters each got about 400 euros from the government of the town where we live for having some of the highest grade point averages in that community. Other communities only give around 200, but it is still a substantial amount. My parents in the U.S. did this system with me in Elementary school one year, except I think I got 50 cents for every A. Close enough..

    In addition to the amount of grades that make up your average being different and their lack of being weighted, the ways of testing are also different. I stated earlier how the two types are written or oral tests, and will now explain the different skills they give you for life. Afterall, isn’t that the whole purpose of school- to prepare you for jobs/ life after school?

    In my high school in the U.S., harkness is a common method of teaching for history and English classes. It involves talking on a specific topic with students leading the conversation (the goal is for the teacher to not have to talk, only redirect the conversation when needed or give another point of view to talk about). This is good preparation for future job meetings, teaching you not only how to express your ideas and speak up for yourself (one aspect of your grade is how often you speak in addition to what it is that you say), but also when to listen.

    In Italy, they have oral tests called interrogations where between one and four students sit/ stand in front of the class by the teacher’s desk and are drilled, to various degrees of difficulty on whatever topic is being covered. Some are conversational, some are literal interrogations, probing you on every little detail in a painting for art or events that happened in Dante for Italian. This equips you to be ready for job interviews or public speaking since you are expected to think on your feet (literally and figuratively in some cases depending on the teacher) in front of the class.

    One difference between interrogations and written tests is that interrogations can take up to a month to get through the entire class versus everyone on one day. With only three students going every day, that’s ten different class periods of interrogation. Also, sometimes the teacher forgets that they are still doing interrogations because it’s been going on for so long, so a few classes might pass in between interrogations. Interrogations don’t necessarily take the whole class, it depends on the teacher and the material being covered- in physics, maybe 10-15 minutes, in Italiano, always the full hour.

    Thoughts on Cheating
    Because classes are formed and then remain largely unchanged for the next five years of high school, the students get really close and a class mentality develops. This “team” mentality also transcribes over to when you are taking tests, written or oral. I remember my host dad asking me, “Well, you guys help each other out, right?” (referring to helping each other cheat in class) and my host sister said, “No, they don’t have the same unity as us” or something to that effect. Other examples include:

    After my first day of school I was starting to do some of my Latin homework (before the school had me change classes to take more Italian classes during Latin) and immediately a group chat had been formed and the first question was, “Who did the Latin homework?” and within an hour someone had already sent it to the group. That pretty much set the bar for the rest of the year.

    When taking a written test, it’s easiest to bring a “biglietto” or little note card with information in to cheat off of, but another common method is whispering. A teacher might be interrupted by the hall monitor and needs to sign something, whisper whisper; another student asks a question, whisper whisper. Everyone breaks out at once comparing answers and asking each other for help. It’s not subtle either, the teachers know what’s happening too, some try to rein the class back in, others just let them carry on.

    For oral tests, students can sometimes choose how they want to orientate themselves in regards to the teacher. Often it’s to the side of the teacher so that the student can look out to his or her peers and see their classmates trying to mouth or “cough” the answers to them. It’s rather entertaining to watch.

    You can see that cheating really is a problem here and nothing is being done to try and prevent it. It actually just seems like another part of the school system. There is no honor code or real punishments if you get caught cheating either. Once a guy in my class was caught using a little note card on a history test and his test was taken away, but then he just took it again the next time the class met. Another time a different guy google translated the entire latin test, and the teacher knew because it was written how a machine translator would write it, thus still having a ton of errors, so the teacher corrected it as so and the student got a 2, which seemed to be punishment enough. One day I walked into the room I share with my host sister to find her making a formula cheat sheet for math and copying notes into her translation dictionary to use the next day in her latin test. It was so normal that I almost forgot it wasn’t actually allowed, since everyone else in the class was doing the same exact thing.

    Today in my art class, the other students asked the teacher, who is in her late 60s and planning on retiring after this year (also one of the more serious ones in regards to how she runs her class and cheating), “Come on, teacher. Didn’t you cheat too?”. The teacher then replied something along the lines of “Well, yes”-not sure if she meant middle school, high school, or college, but she wasn’t going to try and deny her “cheating” past either.

    Now I’m not so naive as to think that the U.S. or even my own high school didn’t have people who cheat, but it’s just hard to explain how normal it is here.

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  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

    I've learned a lot in my first "real" winter. Although there has not been much snow, the winter temperatures have been thrilling enough for me. I'd never known about neck warmers or how important layering is. I also saw that your winter wardrobe doesn't need to be very big, just a pair of jeans and a sweater, because the shirt(s) you wear underneath never get seen. This means you look the exact same in every picture- the same jeans and winter coat. The only aspect differentiating the days or pictures is your background or who you are with (instead of one bundled up Eskimo, there's two).

    In addition to the weather this winter, Christmas was also very different for me. I really enjoyed how the entire season was focused on spending time with both friends and family, and food (often intertwining so you got both at once). Christmas trees were the same, but lights and other decorations outside the houses were a lot less common. I went to four or five Christmas dinners/ lunches: one with all the coaches in my soccer program, one with four other families where we all exchanged gifts, another with my host sisters friends, another with my host aunt and uncle and their kids, another with both sets of grandparents, another with Rotary... The list goes on. All of them were huge celebrations, eating a ton of great food and exchanging good wishes for Christmas and the new year as well as reflecting on what we had done and what we planned to do this year. An added bonus was Santa Lucia who came on the 13th of December, so it was fun to learn about that tradition for the kids (the Italian version of a Santa who brings candies and board games except it's a women who rides a donkey and drinks the wine that you leave out for her instead of a man on a sleigh with reindeer who drinks milk.

    The Pre-Christmas season however also felt a lot shorter than normal because I had my first day of Christmas break on the 23rd. Although this period was stressful for my sisters because it was filled with tests, it was nowhere near the exams that I was used to in the US. One day of break and then it was Christmas eve.

    We started off the festivities on Christmas Eve by going over for dinner at 8 at the host cousins house (Stefano, Giulio, Danielle, and Daniella), joined by the grandparents (Nonni) to have a large fish themed dinner. We brought all of our gifts including the ones between our family to exchange at their house (all my gifts that I had brought from Florida filled half of the big box that we brought over- I had brought enough gifts to be sufficient for an American Christmas, whereas here they really give and get one gift for everyone). All of us "kids" got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle (it was funny because my host mom had bought pajamas for the cousins to be our family's gift to them and then they had gotten us girls pajama sets as well haha- which was a perfect gift for me because I didn't have any cool weather pajamas). . It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn't a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved that I had gotten to know my family well enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we played a game of "Clue" before heading to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was very casual when compared to what I was used to in the States. I had known that it wasn't normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress

    The actual Christmas Eve and Christmas day traditions were new for me as well. Christmas Eve consisted of my family getting together with one of my host cousin's families and grandparents to have a large fish themed dinner and then playing the "Clue" board game before exchanging Christmas gifts. All of us "kids" got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle. It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn't a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved having getting to know my family enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we headed to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was also very casual when compared to what I was used to in the states because I had known that it wasn't normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress.

    Christmas was the opposite. I was used to wearing pajamas for the whole day, so when I came out in jeans and a t-shirt, my host mom nicely suggested that I might want to change back into the "nice red dress from last night". The whole day consisted of eating, from sunup to sundown. The same people who went to the family dinner the night before all went to my grandparents house for lunch and dinner. We started with a large "aperitivo" course with little sandwiches, a meat tray, bread, vegetables soaked in vinegar, and more. Next came the "Primo piatto" of broth with ravioli's. The "Segundo piatto" was the meat course: cow tongue, rabbit, and chicken served with lentils. The dessert course was a choice of Pandoro o Panettone. Two airy cake like desserts. The pandoro has powdered sugar on top and the panettone can be eaten with or without cream and has little pieces of fruit inside. These are the desserts for Christmas. Any dinner in the month of December or January will have an option of one or both of these for dessert. Other family members also stopped by the house for various amounts of time during the course of the afternoon. When it came time for dinner, we had all somehow managed to regain our appetites and ate the leftovers from lunch. After, we wrapped up the evening by playing card games (I taught them some and they taught me some) and my new favorite board game, called "Carcassone". It was my first Christmas away from home and I wouldn't have rather had it any other way.

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  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

    When my host parents tell me that we are going somewhere, there is still a lot of confusion on my end of where that place actually is. This is how I came up with the name of this journal/ the book of my life here in Italy: “How I went to find a friend and instead found Gesù Cristo: and other stories of exchange”. I had thought that my parents had said we were going to meet some of their friends and get a gelato, but in actuality we went to church and got communion bread instead.

    The morning after I got here I woke up in a panic. I couldn't speak English for an entire year and barely knew any Italian (my first few days were almost entirely Spanish, hoping the words were the same [they aren’t]). As my time here lengthened however, I realized that I’d started to dread hearing English because it meant that I was failing to do what I had come here for, to learn and speak Italian.

    A bio I used for myself on social media when I first arrived was, “I smile a lot and pretend to know what you’re saying”. I found this fitting because so often people would be talking to me, full of passion and animation (OK, Italians saying anything), but I would be completely lost. I really came to appreciate the people who would talk slowly to me, because, as I learned from my English class, speaking slowly in your native tongue can be quite difficult and it requires continuous thought.

    Like I learned to speak slowly, I have also learned to listen here; to hear the sounds of people’s voices and use that to my advantage. When I first arrived I dreaded the sound of a voice turning up at the end (having an upward inflection), because that meant someone was asking me a question when A) I had not been listening or B) I had in fact been listening, but was still clueless about what was being talked about. Option B was my life.

    The best way that I have found to show that I am listening is to rely on social cues, when to nod my head in agreement or shake it in disbelief. Basically anything other than the deer in the headlights look that my host family must have thought was my natural, resting face when I first came since I used it so much. Finding other ways of expressing myself like using grand hand motions and smiling, have been instrumental in my adaptation because if you can't portray or say anything else, you can always smile to get your point across or tell how you are feeling.

    I’ve truly found happiness in Italy. That’s not saying I don’t have challenging days, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed this often. I find myself laughing at funny shirts written in broken English, my own language blunders, and the sheer irony of situations. An example of this was when I went out for pizza one night with my host sisters and exchange counselor. We were amused by the group of loud English speakers sitting behind us that were clearly tourists, so we started comparing some of the differences between the Italian culture and theirs. 1) You don’t normally eat the bread given to you when you first sit down, but instead use it for during, or after the meal to literally clean your plate (real Italian places seem to offer you a few types of packaged bread/sticks you can eat too). 2) To-go boxes are not used to take whatever’s left on your plate home with you because they literally do not exist here. Even containers for leftover food at home aren’t that popular because the meals prepared are expected to be finished. This means that when it comes down to, “Who’s going to eat the last chicken leg? Caneel, you’ve only eaten five, you might as well make it even and finish it”, that’s exactly what you do, finish it. 3) Never count on any course being your last because you never truly know how many more are coming- are we having cheese and marmalade for dessert now? Oh wait, we still have two more regular courses to go.. I used to wonder where everyone was putting all of this food, but then came to realize that it is very similar to the Mary Poppins magic bag; there is no bottom to their stomachs. To put it simply in Calculus terms, the limit does not exist; a perfect description of the seemingly infinite amount of courses capable of being consumed. Even when my sisters say, “Basta! (Enough!)” after finishing a plate, that doesn’t mean they are done eating for good, just with that course. At the end of the night as we were leaving the restaurant I was struck with amazement. For once I was no longer the English tourist. No, here I had just spent the entire evening speaking Italian with the natives. How blessed I am.

    It’s little things that make me feel like I belong, like going to school every morning and seeing the same people on my way. There is the man walking his little lap dog, the other student who always uses a mysterious shortcut that gets him to school faster (side note: I finally figured it out after trying to inconspicuously stalk him for a week, then giving up on not being seen and flat out running to see the different turns he makes), and the pack of three girls who never seem to be in a rush to get to school, yet always make it on time. These things have become like clockwork and I find myself basing my route and walking speed off of where they are. The three girls are just meeting up to start on their way, today can be a leisurely speed walk, the 7:45 bus passed me before I even left my street, I’m running late. Although like most things in Italy, school doesn’t actually start at 8. Sometimes the students come in a few minutes late and sometimes the teacher will come in a few minutes after the late students. If not, just blame the bus (it’s like blaming the dog). Every Sunday when we go to church, I would say half the congregation (including my family) walks in as the bells are ringing signaling that the service is in full swing already and that you are now late, but you just go with it. It’s all part of the culture.

    Italy is a place where Fiat's fit in, smart cars are well, actually smart, and when you have a bumper sticker of “Bimbo in car”, it’s not talking about a dumb person or airhead, but your very own child. Things like being the only one to buckle my seatbelt in the backseat, or using the squat toilets at school/ other public places have become my new normal. Other things that have become routine are seeing shrines on every corner dedicated to La Madonna and/or Gesù Cristo (so common that I often don’t even notice them anymore). Something else I have learned here is that no one hangs flags outside their homes. The only places that have the Italian flag are government buildings or for tourists, so if you are a local, you tend to avoid those places. There are also gates for every house/complex here. When I showed my host cousins a picture of my house in the US, they were shocked to see that there was no gate around my front yard separating the property from the street. I, on the other hand, was so unaccustomed to having a gate that I never remembered my keys to unlock it, so I always used to hop mine (until my sisters taught me how to jimmy the gate open with my pinky finger). Windows are actually used here too. They are opened to let in the fresh air at school and there are window covers at night so you have something even better than blackout curtains (no crack of light in the middle with these) for the morning when you wake up. One aspect that I haven’t been mastered yet is the hand motions, although I study how/when/in what context they are used religiously so that one day I will be able to use them and look nonchalant and normal about it. Already I’m finding myself talking more with my hands, it’s just easier to get your point across!

    Elevators are not common here because there are no skyscrapers or buildings over six stories here (the tallest building in my town is the church, anything higher would be the surrounding mountains). This isn’t a problem for my families apartment building because there are only three floors, but I was amazed by how my Nonni’s apartment, which is six floors, has only stairs as well. They are in their 70’s and live on the top floor, but seem to have no problem walking up and down the flights of stairs multiple times every day, sometimes with loads of groceries. Me, on the other hand, I’m a little winded each day going to their apartment; dragging my backpack up behind me as I crawl up each flight, just trying to make it to lunch so I can refill my empty stomach.

    I have found, at least in my area, that doing organized sports (other than volleyball) is not popular for high school aged girls. You either do volleyball (which is very competitive), or you do nothing. Coming from a high school where I played on four different varsity sports teams, volleyball unfortunately not being one of them, I was a little lost on what to do to get exercise. My family then showed me the gym/pool which is strategically located right next to my Nonna’s apartment. Everyday when I leave her house after lunch, still reminiscing over that tasty risotto I just ate, I have to walk right by the gym to get home. This means that I am going in most days of the week. I actually met one of my friends from school this way; we both were at the gym and then realized that we went to the same school. You never know where or how you will find friends, so keeping an open mind and following the Rotary guideline of never saying no to new opportunities, can only help.

    I have already gotten to meet and hang out with the other exchange students both in my district, and from across Italy a few times so far and it has really been incredible. Something about us all being in the exact same position of being lost and clueless about what’s going on made us all really close over a very short amount of time. Whether it be swapping host family stories, the difficulty of making good friends in another language, or planning our next adventure, we never seem to run out of things to talk about. I think Rotary does a great job of selecting wonderful, kind, genuine people to go on exchange. Everyone who I have met so far is open to new experiences and truly grateful to be here.

    The style here is very uniform in that everyone wears very similar things. The unofficial dress code I made up based off my observations at school, theme parks, and just out on the town is as followed: a variation of an American flag t-shirt, something with an English saying on it (about 3/4 of which actually make sense), or a hard-rock Caffè t-shirt. If you are not wearing one of the above mentioned, you are not wearing anything. You would literally be naked (you definitely won’t see workout clothes or my old normal style of track shorts and a t-shirt). When I went shopping for winter coats it was the same. There are two styles that everyone gets, all you need to do is pick out the color you like. Here, I normally dress for the weather, so I always seem to be warm, while my more stylish sisters are often caught saying, "Fa freddo!", which means, "It's cold!"

    Exchange is the thrill of going into a shop and only speaking Italian, dispelling any idea the shopkeeper originally might have of me being just another tourist. It’s walking around your town for hours, losing yourself in the history and finding all these little cracks leading to different worlds, or even better, a free women's bathroom (akin to gold here- literally since you need to pay for public restrooms). I stumbled upon one down a long alleyway and through a building's courtyard past a free book cart and in a dark corner.. Sketchy, but functional- I’ll take it!

    You never really know how fast you go through something till it’s not available for you to get more of. That was definitely the case for me and peanut butter, my one true love. I wasn’t missing my friends or family, ok maybe my dog a little, but peanut butter??? It was killing me. I needed it back in my life. I had limited myself to only bringing one jar on the plane with me because A) my luggage was already 5 pounds over and the airport employee was kindly already looking the other way (I attribute wearing my Rotary blazer in the airport for allowing me to go over on the weight of my bags and getting me a free plane ticket upgrade on my nine hour flight) and B) peanut butter is a fail-proof way to get your bag inspected since it has the same consistency as a bomb, and I really didn’t need any extra troubles on my international flight. That jar lasted a week and a half, and that was me rationing it out.

    When my grandmother sent me a jar, hearing my cries of pain from across the Atlantic, it cost her $30 to send. Once it arrived, my family here in Italy had to pay $20 to go pick it up. That is some EXPENSIVE peanut butter. My host mom knew that this wasn’t going to work out, so she nicely bought me the only peanut butter that they sell in the supermarket here. It comes in a tiny jar and is basically sugar with some peanut flavoring, but I was not about to start getting picky. I’ll take it in any form I can get it. After that jar had a good dent in it, my host family then had the idea of making peanut butter together from scratch. We bought a big bag of peanuts and then made a party out of it, unshelling and peeling them to then mix together in the blender. This is how my Italian families homemade peanut butter recipe came to be my new favorite type. It left both of my families happy and saving a large sum of money. Now I can whip it up myself whenever my supply is depleted (I have already made it three more times).

    Both of my host sisters are in the process of applying to go on exchange next year with Rotary. When I saw that they had ranked Canada and Australia above the U.S. for their top English speaking country picks, I was curious. Was I not doing a good job of representing my country to them? My American pride was a little hurt, but they then assured me that they liked the States. So what was the reason? Turns out they took my crazy love for peanut butter and associated it with every American’s relationship with the heavenly substance. They didn’t want to be seen as outcasts because they weren’t fans. This goes to show that you never really know what people will choose to identify a country with because of you. Not your kind, loving nature, but instead your peanut butter addiction.

    My school decided to switch a few of my classes, which is normal in the U.S., but very different here in Italy since we don’t normally leave our classroom during the day. This meant that now, instead of Latin, I take more Italian classes, and have substituted some of my philosophy and religion classes to take more physics and help teach some English classes (Lord of the Flies, anyone?). I am the only exchange student in my school, so people are always interested to learn about me. Now that I have been here for a while, when the other students ask me questions about myself, they tend to be pretty surprised when I can answer in Italian (no, I am not German, but thank you for the compliment!).

    Now that it is getting colder, the mountains surrounding my town have snow covering their tops, making the area even more picturesque. A feat I had deemed impossible, with the swans swimming gracefully in the lake and the roads looking just like Italian streets are photographed. I still can’t believe that I get to call this beautiful place my home and that I have already been here two months! I am truly grateful and could not be happier here. Grazie per tutto, Rotray e tutte le altre persone che aiutano con questo programma.

    Update about kissing on the cheeks: it’s actually the right cheek first, but honestly, just go for whatever side is offered to you

     

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  • Caneel, outbound to Italy

    Bellissimo. Magnifico. Incredibile. I often find myself often saying these words wherever I go here in Italy simply because it is just so beautiful and different from where I am originally from in Florida. I currently live in Northern Italy in the small town of San Felice, where I will stay for about another month before I move into the nearest city, Salò, with my family to be closer to everything: my school, the supermarket (very important because we go almost daily for fresh ingredients), and my host parents work. There is so much to see here that I am never close to being bored. If you just look out my bedroom window, past the neighbouring vineyard, you would see a field of cows, something I love to watch since I come from living in a city.

    I love my host family. Although they started off speaking English to me (which was flawless), I stressed how important it was to me to try and speak Italian. I think I still sound like a cavewoman, but progress is being made. My host sisters are two of the kindest individuals I have ever met. Whenever they hang out with their friends at a theme park or even at one of their friends birthday parties; they are happy to bring me along. They always check up on me and introduce me to their friends. I know that I am probably an annoying shadow, but it really does help. My host parents are also great and I enjoy spending time with them. I make post office runs with my host dad and take long walks along the Lake with my host mom, learning about the history of the area and about their life B.C. (before Caneel).

    I was surprised by how much Italian I could actually understand within my first week here (my previous four years of Spanish really helped). I am exciting to start school next week, ready with my new Italian planner and clothes that my host sisters helped me pick out. It is already starting to get cold here, so me being a Floridian, I have already pulled out my big "Florida Winter" jacket. The rest of my family just laugh and tell me to wait for winter, that is when the real cold comes.

    Because iPhone's don't work here, I use mine for pictures and writing down words that I don't know while I’m out, to look up later at home. This has been instrumental in building my vocabulary. When I came here I took up journaling, which has also helped with my Italian. I would be writing in English and then wonder, "Hmm, I wonder what that word is in Italian". I end up with a serious mix of the languages, which just adds to the fun. At night, we often watch a movie together as a family, American and Italian made, with subtitles. I jot down words I see on the screen that I don't know and then look them up after. This is my favorite way to see conversations (if only real life had subtitles!).

    Everything is smaller here: food portions (but not the amount of courses!), cars (the streets are tiny!), and the people (even though it seems we only eat carbs, I have yet to meet someone is extremely overweight!). The food is some of the best I have ever tasted, finishing my plate is not a problem, well by the third course I start leaving a few crumbs... The apartment buildings are also closer together and come in brighter colors, making the streets come to life.

    One of the D’s (rules that you cannot break) is no driving. I had been driving for three years before I came to Italy and found that it is such a nice change to not have to drive because a) now I can look out at the scenic countryside, b) I would not know how to navigate the hundreds of traffic circles that are so plentiful they almost replace traffic lights and c) the speed and driving style is similar to any car chase scene in the Fast and Furious franchise (high speeds and extremely sporadic), yet everyone is calm- no one honks.

    I love being here in Italy. The times of being completely lost and clueless (my new normal) are overshadowed by the wonderful moments of clarity when you finally understand what a word means or can answer a question the first time someone asks you it, instead of the fourth. I know I am still in the honeymoon stage of exchange, but I can hardly wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me. I’ll be ready. Grazie Rotary!

    Ciao! *kiss on both cheeks (left side first though!!!)*
    -Caneel

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