Ciao famiglia, amici, e futuro studenti di scambio!
I am beyond excited to have officially begun my journey in Italy. The past month here has been absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to see what this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has in store for me. Now, before I get into all the adventures I’ve been on, I want to give a little background about my exchange…
I am currently living with my first host family in Garbagnate Milanese, which is located about 30 km (about 20 miles) from the fashionable city of Milan. I live with my host parents, Claudia and Federico, and host siblings, Matilde (12 years old) and Filippo (19 years old). They also have another son, Giacomo (17 years old) but he is not living at home since he is currently on exchange in Bixby, Oklahoma. We also have two pet turtles, Hugo and Ruga, which I can confidently say is quite different then having a dog, but I am really enjoying them! It might sound crazy just being thrown into a life with another family, but I am absolutely loving the experience.
For school, I attend Liceo Falcone e Borsellino, located in Arese, which is about 4 km (2.4 miles) from my house in Garbagnate. It is a scientific/linguistic school, but I study mostly in the linguistic half, meaning I take French, Spanish, English, Italian, philosophy, physics, mathematics, religion, chemistry, art, and history. Though it seems like a lot of subjects, I do not have every class everyday, and school is only from 8am-2:30pm, Monday through Friday (unlike some schools which also have Saturday school). School in Italy differs greatly from school in the United States, not necessarily in a good or bad way, just different. One of the main differences is that you stay in the same classroom the entire day, and the teachers switch classrooms, rather than the students. There are six periods in every day, and each class is 55 minutes. There is a 15-minute break between 2nd and 3rd period, and then again between 4th and 5th period. Other than that, there are no breaks and students are usually not allowed to use the bathroom, eat a snack, or get water during the class. Though there is no lunch time, there is a small cafe in the commons of the school that has fresh Italian pastries and sandwiches everyday that students can purchase for a very affordable price (about €1-€3) per item. In the hallways, there are also vending machines that have snacks and drinks, along with a coffee machine in which you can get any type of coffee, for just €0.40. Another big difference is the social life during school. When one starts liceo (which literally means high school in Italian), they are assigned a class and stay with the people in that class throughout their five years in liceo. This means that they start high school at 14 years old (in which they are in the first year, or prima anni) and stay with the same people until they are 19 (in which they are in their fifth and final year, or quinta anni). This allows them to form very strong bonds with the people in their class, but they often don’t know many other students in other grade levels or classes, as they do not have any lessons with them. For me, I am in the base class of 3CL (terza anni in the linguistic part of the school) but I move around to secondo, quarta, and other terza classes, which allows me to meet many students of all ages. I personally love this, as I am now able to have many more friends and see how the different types of classes work. The students are all SO nice to me and very helpful, and I really don’t know what I would do without them. Another difference, although smaller, is that computer are not used at all in classes here. For example all notes are taken by hand and students also write essays by hand. As someone who has been using computers in school since 5th grade, this is quite different for me, but it is nice to not be reliant on a computer. Overall, school in Italy has proven to be more academically challenging then in the United States, but I am enjoying the challenge!
Okay onto my adventures! I have only been here a month (although it already feels so normal), and have already been to some of the most amazing places. I am familiar with the train, metro, and bus system, and enjoy the freedom that it gives me, as I can get to Milan in 24 minutes by taking just one train. Within my first few days of arriving, my host brother and his best friend took me to Milan (it was my first visit and it did not disappoint!!), and we visited the Duomo, the Cathedral Church of Milan. It was absolutely breathtaking, and it’s safe to say that I am in love with everything about Milan - the architecture, the fashion, the people, and of course the food. I have been back to Milan many times, as I go with friends and also have Italian lessons provided by Rotary twice a week in the center. Another amazing place that I got to visit was the town/commune of Castelnovo ne’ Monti, which is located in Central Italy, about two and a half hours from my house. I went with my host family and some of their family friends, and we hiked the cliff Pietra di Bismantova, and got to see the most breathtaking views at the top. One more experience that is definitely worth mentioning is the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These are the two most holy Jewish holidays, and it was such a spiritual experience to be able to celebrate them at a synagogue in Milan. Although I wasn’t able to be with my family or celebrate the holidays the way I usually would, my host family was more then accepting and my host mom even attend Rosh Hashana services with me. To top it all off, we had my second and third host families over, along with my tutor, and I prepared them a traditional Jewish meal. This really helped me connect back to home and made me feel like a part of the family. These are just a few of the many places and adventures that I have experienced, but I look forward to many more trips, adventures, and overall good times!
To future exchange students: don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! People (especially teens) are so interested in learning about life in other countries. Going up to someone and simply introducing yourself as an exchange student (even better if it’s in your target language) will likely start a conversation. I can’t explain how helpful it has been to have a strong base of Italian friends, as they are always willing to help, whether it’s in regards to school, language, or just showing you around. A second piece of advice is probably one that you can guess: study your target language as much as you possibly can before you leave! I’m sure you have heard this plenty of times before but the more you know, the more freedom your host family will give you, the easier it will be to make friends, and the stronger your day to day life and communication will be. I could go on and on with more advice, but just always remember, don’t go into exchange with set expectations, because every exchange is different. If you’re considering exchange, go for it! I can’t think of a simpler way to put it, and I strongly feel that if you’re even considering exchange in the slightest, it’s because you know its right for you.
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