Italian exchange students Chiara Messetti and Veronica Vanin are adjusting to an unfamiliar lifestyle, settling in for their 10-month stay with their host families. They represent one of several nations with exchange students getting a first taste of the U.S. at Tam, surrounded by unfamiliar people, culture and language. These two seniors offer their first impressions of their new environment.
“Italy looks like America, but it’s very different,” said Messetti, who comes from the city of Milan. “The people are different, and the food is very different, and the way of life.”
In Italy, the teachers move from classroom to classroom, and students choose a specialized high school depending on what they want to study. The hours are unlike ours; lunch is not part of school hours and Saturdays are school days. “Life is very stressful where I live,” said Messetti. “Being here is relaxing.”
Vanin, who comes from a small town near Florence called San Vincent, expected her American high school to be like the film cliché, where “there is the girl with the football player.” After spending some time at school, she admitted, “It’s more normal.”
Uprooting one’s life can be extraordinarily difficult, but is ultimately rewarding. “Trying to live in another house, with another family, and talk another language, it can be very, very hard,” said Messetti.
To add to the stress of moving across the globe, exchange students must face the challenge of leaving loved ones behind. “I missed my family and my friends. But now, I don’t miss them at all,” said Messetti. “Because now I have another life, and I know that in 10 months, I’m coming home. I want to live this experience.”
The social scene is very different in Vanin’s hometown. “We can go party, we can go out with friends, we can go to the disco at 16 years old,” she said. “Here, we can’t do anything until 18 or 21. So – I miss this.”
Contrastingly, Messetti feels the new environment has opened up new opportunities for her. “I could do everything that I want, I am very free, I am independent,” she said. “But in Italy, my mom has to know [all the] time where I am, with who I go out.”
As for the varying types of people in their original and current countries, the two Italians again have distinct views. “People here are not open like Italian people,” Messetti said. “We are friendly, open and warm, and we hug everyone, we smile every time. And here, it’s a little bit different. It’s not bad or good — it’s just different.”
Giving a small-town voice to the same topic, Vanin said she considers American students to be more open and talkative than the Italians she knows. “At my school, we are just, ‘Good morning.’ Another day of school. And we just sit down.” She was surprised at the enthusiasm of many of her classmates.
Messetti offered advice for anyone considering taking part in an international exchange program. “If you want to discover another culture different from yours, do it, because it’s very fun.”
“Try to make more friends, if you can,” Vanin said. “You will meet a lot of people at the beginning, everyone is so happy to see you, you are from Italy, ‘Yeah, you are so cool!’ After two weeks, you are not news.”