1. What made you want to go to Italy?
I decided to come to Italy honestly because I was just ready for a change. I’m used to moving a lot with my family, we lived in Australia when I was in 6th and 7th grade and after being back in Brunswick for 2 years I was ready for another experience in a different country. At first I asked my parents if there was a chance that we could move again but they said no. So instead one day last January, I went online and found a study abroad program called AFS (http://www.afsusa.org/), asked my parents and applied. It was a really spontaneous decision; I only had 2 weeks to complete my application and most of my friends didn’t even know! There wasn’t a specific country that I wanted to go to; I was more interested in the experience. I had actually put down over 10 different countries on my application. I put Italy as my first choice because there was a $2,000 essay scholarship that I applied for specifically only for Italy. I won the scholarship and that’s how I ended up choosing Italy!
2. Where are you staying in Italy?
Currently I’m living in a small town called Villarbasse in Northern Italy near the Italian Alps and the border of France. I live really close to Turin, the old capital of Italy and the city where the 2006 Winter Olympics were held. I live with an Italian host family chosen for me by AFS. My host parents names are Roberto and Giovanna and I have 2 host sisters; Federica who’s 20 and Nini who’s 12. Roberto is a lawyer, Giovanna is a nurse, Federica goes to college in Milan and Nini’s in middle school. Our house is connected in the garage with both of my host mom’s sister’s houses. It’s honestly the perfect typical crazy, loud, big Italian family I could’ve ever hoped for!
3. How is Italy different from Ohio?
I don’t even know where to start; there are so many differences between Italy and Ohio! I think some of the biggest differences are with the school and nightlife. The school here is completely different from American school. First of all, there’s 5 years of high school and you stay with the same one class. Basically it’s like elementary school; you go to one classroom and stay there for the whole day with the same people and you stay with them for all 5 years of high school. The teachers switch classrooms instead of the students. The next difference is that each class finishes school at different times and you don’t get to choose any of your subjects. Honors classes don’t exist, you do whatever classes the school assigns to your class. However, in Italy there are lots of different types of high schools you can choose from. I go to a scientific school where the focus is on math and science but there are also classical, artistic, technical and linguistic schools. Every school has a different time schedule, some finish as late as 5 pm and some finish at 1. The last and worst difference is that we have school on Saturday’s. Not every school in Italy has school on Saturday’s but of course mine does. We go to school from 8:15 am to 1:15 everyday except Friday’s we go until 2:15 and on Saturday’s we finish earlier at noon. I guess it’s not that horrible, my friends and I still normally do something on Friday’s but I just hate waking up early 6 days a week. I’m so excited to come back to Ohio and only have school 5 days a week, it’s going to be amazing!
The other thing I find really different is the nightlife in Italy. In Ohio on the weekends we’ll go to a football game, the mall, movies or someone’s house. In Italy it’s so different, normally kids go into the city center and go to a bar, pub, restaurant or a discoteca. A discoteca is just the Italian word for a club. Instead of 21 like in the U.S, the legal age to get into clubs and order drinks in Italy is 16 but they rarely card you. Normally they’ll just ask “How old are you?” and that’s it. Anyway, I really like the nightlife here, I’m going to miss it so much when I come home!
Another difference is that since the driving age is 18, everyone just takes buses and the subway everywhere. During the week I take a bus and then a subway into Turin for my Italian lessons. The public transportation is really good here, one time I took a train by myself to another city 2 hours away to visit my friend.
4. What are some of the best experiences you've had?
I’ve had so many amazing experiences here already! One of the very first ones was our 2-day orientation camp in Rome back in September. We had just arrived at the airport in Rome and then everyone went to a hotel right outside Rome. There was over 400 kids from all over the world. It was so amazing, I met people from nearly every single country you can imagine, Denmark, Costa Rica, Japan, New Zealand, France, Portugal, Bolivia, Romania, Thailand and so on. It was our very first experience in Italy and it was perfect. The Italian volunteers were so much fun, I was surprised when I saw them sharing cigarettes with some of the foreign kids. In our American orientation in New York City the day before we left we had a strict curfew and they did room checks. At our orientation in Rome, we had no curfew and both nights everyone including the volunteers and supervisors stayed up dancing, listening to music and just talking. It was just unreal being able to meet people from all over the world and after those first few moments I already knew how much I loved the Italian culture.
Another one of my favorite experiences was when my host dad and I spent a day riding through the mountains on his motorcycle. It was in the beginning of October so the trees and leaves were all pretty. We got up early and spent at least 3 hours riding up higher and higher in the mountains. I love riding motorcycles, my host family has 2 motorcycles and one Vespa. I miss riding on them now that it's winter, snowing and too cold out! I already told my parents back home that I want a motorcycle when I come home!
I’ve had some really nice times with my host family, I had some school off in the beginning of November and we took a vacation to their beach house on the Mediterranean sea then we spent a day in Nice, France and Montecarlo in Monaco. I just love how in Europe it’s no big deal to just casually go to another country in one day! Then during the Christmas vacation we went skiing in the Italian Alps and it was just so unreal and beautiful. Also one time my cousin, aunt, host mom and sister all took a day off from work and school and took a one-hour train trip to Milan! When I was little I dreamed of going shopping in Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world. It was a dream come true, I saw the Duomo and all the crazy expensive fancy Italian stores.
I thought that the holiday’s here would be difficult and I would be homesick but they’ve actually been some of the best times I’ve had so far. Obviously in Italy they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so my American friend Kaylin and I spent the entire week preparing a huge, classic Thanksgiving meal for our host families. I was so proud of us for cooking the entire meal all by ourselves and it was so much fun sharing our culture with our host families. Halfway through the dinner I left and changed out of my skirt into sweat pants, my host family was really confused. I explained to them that I had to change because my skirt was too tight and I wanted to eat more food! I’m pretty sure they think us American’s are insane for eating so much on Thanksgiving. Christmas was also probably one of my favorite experiences here so far. I thought I would be really sad without my family but it was the complete opposite. For Christmas all of my Italian aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents had a huge lunch at my aunt’s house. By then my Italian had improved a lot and for the first time I really felt like part of the family. It was so great to experience Christmas in a different culture.
New Years was probably my favorite holiday in Italy so far. One of my friends in my class had a huge party and sleepover at his house. Nearly everyone in my class went and some other kids. At midnight we watched the Italian New Year’s program on TV, popped champagne and blew off a bunch of fireworks. Normally in Ohio I spend New Years at my cousin’s house with my family. This was the first year that I went to a party with my friends instead and I’ll never forget it!
I’ve also had just little moments and memories that mean a lot. I remember one day after school in November my friends and I were walking to the bus stop and we ran into one of my friend’s mom’s. Her mom spoke to me in English and when I replied in Italian she was shocked. My friends told her, “No! Jacqueline é uno di noi adesso! Lei puo parlare Italiano.” (No! Jacqueline is one of us now! She can speak Italian). That was honestly one of the best moments ever.
Also my school here in Italy is currently doing an exchange program with Istanbul, Turkey. There’s about 14 Turkish exchange students here for a week and of course they don’t speak Italian, only English and Turkish and my Italian friends only speak Italian and a very little bit of English. So for the past couple of days I’ve been translating everything for everyone! This has been a great experience because I’m finally able to speak Italian almost fluently and help people. My friends said without me, it would be nearly impossible to organize things with the exchange students!
5. Any challenges?
This experience has been wonderful but I’ve definitely had my fair share of challenges. The first month was probably the hardest month of my life. It was just so hard in the beginning because I’ve never studied Italian before and I couldn't understand absolutely anything. My host family tried their best to speak English with me but most of the time they spoke Italian. I just felt so alone, I was homesick and I hated not being able to communicate with people. It’s the worst feeling ever when you’re sitting at the dinner table and someone says a joke and everyone understands and is laughing except you. I remember one night I just broke down and couldn’t stop crying. I was so homesick and lonely, I just kept thinking, “Why did I leave my friends and family in Ohio to come to a foreign country alone where I can’t even speak the language?”
Also the school here is forever going to be challenging to me. Even now that I can speak and understand Italian pretty good, school is still extremely difficult. Imagine learning a lesson in Math, you don’t understand it so you ask your teacher and she explains it to you in extremely fast Italian. First I have to concentrate on the Italian and make sure I understand that then I have to concentrate on the math equation and make sure I understand it as well. The language barrier makes everything 10x more difficult.
6. What do you miss most about being in Brunswick?
The thing I miss the most about Brunswick has got to be Chipotle, Reese’s, lacrosse and school. Italian people always ask me, “Don’t you miss your family back home?” and I always answer, “Yeah I guess… but I miss Chipotle more” then I go on to explain how delicious and amazing Chipotle is. My parents told me that when I come home in July and they pick me up from the New York City airport we will go straight to Chipotle since I’ve been deprived for a year. Also they don’t have Reese’s here so in my Christmas package my mom sent me like 8 bags of Christmas tree Reese’s. In Italy the sport lacrosse literally does not exist. When I tell people I play lacrosse they give me blank stares and I have to explain what it is. I played lacrosse my freshman year and I really miss it now. In Italy it’s not very common to play sports, schools don’t have sports teams at all. I’ve just been running on my own afterschool but I really miss being on a team like cross country or lacrosse! I also really miss American school. I don’t think us American’s realize how lucky we are and how much fun our school is. Italians always ask me, “Is school just like the movies?! Do you have cheerleaders, football players and yellow school buses?!” Our school is so much fun, I miss all the extra curricular activities, switching classes, having a locker and not having school on Saturday! In Italy we don’t even eat lunch at school or a cafeteria, we have a 15-minute break after every 2 hours and that’s it. I think when I come home; I’m actually really going to enjoy American school.
Oh and of course I miss my family and friends back home. I'm not very good at keeping at touch with people, I only Skype with my parents maybe every 2 weeks at most and with my friends probably less. I love my new friends here but sometimes all I want to do is talk to my best friends Kayla, Haley, Ellen and Natalie back home. I miss them so much. And of course my Italian host family is amazing but they're not my real family. At times I just don't know how I'm surviving without my real family. This experience made me realize how lucky I am to have such loving parents who support me no matter what. Being alone in foreign country I can't run to my parents if I have a problem anymore. I've become so much more independent and mature. None of this would have been possible without my parents, I love and miss you guys so much.
7. When do you come back?
Ahhh I don’t even want to think about coming home yet! We haven’t gotten our official plan tickets yet but I know that I come home sometime around July 7th. We fly into New York City and then my parents are going to come pick me up. Thinking about coming home makes me really sad, Italy is my new life now. I can't imagine leaving my new family and friends here. I know I still have more than 5 more months but that doesn't feel like enough to me! I'm finally comfortable with the language and my life I never want to come home!
8. Do you have any good friends in Italy? How did you meet them?
I’ve made so many amazing friends here. Like I mentioned before my class is like one big family. I’m so lucky with my class, I fit in perfectly with them and they’ve always been so welcoming and nice to me. In the beginning it was a little harder with the language barrier but thankfully there’s one girl in my class who’s basically fluent in English and she would translate everything for me. I love my Italian friends so much. I really don’t want to think about leaving in July because I’m going to miss them so much! We spend so much time together since we don’t switch classes and I see them pretty much every single day of the week. Now that I can finally speak Italian we’re getting even closer. I also have a lot of other exchange student friends. In my local region there’s about 15 exchange students. I’m really close with some girls from Denmark, Finland, Germany, the U.S and boys from Thailand, Turkey and the U.S. I don’t know what I would do without my exchange student friends. First of all it’s really nice that we can all speak English together. Sometimes I just get tired of Italian! Plus my exchange student friends are going through the same experience as me so they understand everything. I really hope that all the friends I’ve made here will be friends for life.
9. Can you speak anything in Italian?
Posso dire qualcosa in italiano? Certo! Sono quasi fluente perché vado alla lezione di Italian tre volte per settimana e anche é più facile per imparare quando sei nel’Italia dove tutti parlano italiano! (Can I say something in Italian? Certainly! I’m almost fluent because I go to Italian lessons 3 times a week and also it’s easier to learn when you’re in Italy where everyone speaks Italian!) Hahaha sorry
My Italian’s not perfect yet but I think I’m getting there. In the beginning the first month I pretty much only spoke English. Like I said before my friend in my class would translate everything for me. After the first month I started speaking a mix of really bad Italian and English. I’d say it was probably in middle/late November when I made the transition into only Italian. Of course nearly everything I said was wrong and I often had to ask how to say certain English words in Italian. Then I think during the Christmas break my Italian really started to improve. And now I never speak English unless I don’t know a specific word. I can understand almost everything except some classes at school like Philosophy and History are still pretty difficult. I’d say that I’m almost fluent. I make some grammar mistakes still and don’t always know every single word but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. Learning a language in less than 5 months is something I never thought I’d be able to do. Except there’s one problem I think my English is getting worse. Just now I forgot how to spell Philosophy and I wrote “Filosofy” instead. I’m also forgetting lots of English words! People will ask me how to say an Italian word in English and I seriously can’t remember. I had to use google translate to remember the words spouse, mole, clipboard, podium and garlic. I really like when I mess up English though because it means that I’m learning Italian better! It’s just that I rarely speak English anymore, only with my exchange student friends and on the computer. I’m scared for when I come home in July and have to speak English all the time! It’s going to feel so unnatural and I’m probably going to say so many wrong things.
10. What's your favorite thing to do in Italy?
My favorite thing to do in Italy is to hang out with my Italian friends, go to the discoteca and I really like going to Turin. The discoteca’s in Italy are so crazy, crowded and some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Normally discos don’t even start until like 10:30 or 11 pm and close at like 5 am. When you pull up to the disco there’s always a huge crowd of people outside waiting to in line to get in. That’s probably the only bad part is waiting in line forever and it costs about 15 euros to get in. Once you’re inside you can’t hear anything besides the DJ’s pounding music. I would honestly go to the disco every single weekend but my host parents are kind of strict so I don’t go very often. I think when I come home to Brunswick I’m really going to miss being able to go clubbing.
Turin is such a beautiful city. Most people haven’t heard of it before. This summer when I got my host family’s location, I had absolutely no clue where the city Turin was. It has a population of about 1 million people so it’s not too big and crowded but obviously not too tiny and boring either. I love it because it was the first capital city of Italy so there’s so many gorgeous historical buildings and piazza’s everywhere. It has piazza Vittorio, the biggest open piazza in all of Europe. Literally every corner there’s some statue, monument, piazza, old church or building. Also I just love the shopping and atmosphere in Turin. The shopping is amazing, there’s a street called Via Roma with all the best stores like Guess, Louis Vuitton, Swarovski, H&M and so on. I know I’ve spent way too much money shopping here! I’ve been trying to cut back lately. I think my parents back home would be happier if I wasn’t near such a big city with so much shopping! When it’s warm out there’s always people walking around with gelato in their hands, people playing accordions on the side of the street, Vespa’s and motocycles passing by and crazy Italian drivers yelling and honking. The city is just so Italian and I’m so lucky that I get to go there all the time for Italian lessons and during the weekend.