Hey guys! My name is Giulia, and I am an exchange student from Italy with AFS, the volunteer organization that let me and other exchange students stay here at San Mateo High School. Right now I live with a host family whose son and daughter go to Hillsdale High School. I came to the United States in August, and I am going to stay here until the end of June for my exchange experience.
Leaving home, my family, my friends, and completely changing habits was not easy. Everything is different, including the school system.
In Italy we go to high school for five years, and when we are in 8th grade we have to decide on a high school that is specialized in just one field (e.g. humanities, sciences and math, culinary art, electronic and hydraulics, etc). You can not choose your classes at all: you take all the classes the school offers. We go to school on Saturday and we don’t have school spirit or sports. We don’t change classmates: we have the same classmates every year.
Since we don’t have sports in school, the average teenager’s life is outside of school: students who want to be part of a team or do volunteer actions have to join private organizations, but some of them are so obsessed with school that they just study every day. Sometimes teenagers don’t hang out with schoolmates: the district doesn’t assign a school to a student based on where the student lives, but the student can choose the city and the high school based on where they would like to go. Often students live far away from each other and hanging out is hard, so friends are usually from the same city and know each other by attending the same church, Oratory or sports team.
The Oratory is my favorite place. In Italy in the 1800s, a Catholic priest, Giovanni Bosco, had the idea to let kids meet together, talking about their belief and play with each other, a place where people could make friends and play sports without paying an association, since in the Oratory there are basketball and soccer fields. Nowadays, teenagers do the same things that the kids in the 1800s did, but we also volunteer by organizing activities for younger kids and playing with them when their parents work and can’t spend time with them.
Another difference is the culture. I remember that at the orientation meetings, before we left our home country, the volunteers told us to be careful about the use of gestures and body language. Italians are known to use hand gestures a lot, and in some cultures some of the gestures can be considered rude. Other things I really enjoyed here was the holidays. For the first time I went trick or treating at Halloween (we have the same holiday in Italy, but it became popular only recently, and just for little kids), had Thanksgiving dinner and went caroling during Christmas season.
When I first came here I didn’t know what to expect from my host family and the country in general. In Italy we think that Americans are great and everyone would like to travel around here because it’s where all the great movies are made and where freedom reigns. I can see that when I talk with people: they don’t have fear to express their own opinion and that’s great! In Italy we could do that, too, but I think that we mostly fear the opinions that others will have of us if we say something they don’t agree with.
I like my exchange experience so far. I have learned a lot about myself and my personal growth, but I mostly learned a lot about American culture which helps me to understand a lot of things that happen here and in my country.