(Giuseppe Ciccone, March 17, 2014)
I arrived at the Detroit Metropolitan airport on August 21st. Everything started that day. I remember every single moment: My host mom Karen and two of my three siblings, Ash and Violet, waiting for me with a colorful poster which said, “Welcome home Giuseppe.” That poster didn’t lie. They made me part of their family from the first day and I’m glad I’m living this experience with them.
At the beginning of this journey everything appeared different and new. There was a new world to discover. New cultures. New people. My family, the Twomeys, is composed by Karen and Matt, my host parents and my three siblings who I mentioned before: Ash, Violet and Ronan.
Being an exchange student doesn’t mean going on vacation. It means going to live in another country with another family. I am not a guest, but a family member here to experience the joys, and the chores of American life. Believe it or not, you end up being bonded with these people. You end up feeling part of their circle, part of their lives. You end up loving them. The family is a really big stone of this experience and I have to say that I’m really lucky to be part of the Twomey family. I’m lucky because we clicked from the first day, I’m lucky because I feel loved and I’m lucky because without their support nothing would be as good as now.
When I first came here I have to say that the biggest difficulty was the language. In the first days I was basically nodding and smiling at everybody. After the first month I became used to speak English 24 hours a day, and now it is part of my life. In this experience the language is a very important point; you have to understand other people and make other people understand what you are saying.
A really interesting aspect of this experience is the completely different school system. The Italian system is strictly academic. We don’t have sports or extracurricular activities. We just start our classes at 8 o’clock it the morning and we go home at 1 o’clock. That’s all. Once we get home, we have to do a lot of homework and study because in addition to written tests and quizzes, we also have oral tests. Our school system in based on a different ideology: once we get out of middle school, we have to make a choice. We can choose to go to a classical high school, where students study subjects like Greek, Latin, Italian literature or to a scientific high school where you have focus more hours of math, chemistry, physics and the sciences. Despite these two high schools, there are other types of high schools that are less difficult and don’t give you an education as strong, but instead provide vocational training.
In America all students are together. Starting from this point, the American school appeared like a paradise to me. Since the American high school is rich in extracurricular activities, I played soccer. I had a lot of fun in the soccer team and I met a lot of friends and good people. I also learned that here Homecomings and other dances require formal clothes, yet the dancing is a mass of twearking. Another really good aspect of the American school is the relationship between students and teachers. Italian teachers always keep a sense of superiority and authority while American teachers and student collaborate together and have a friendly relationship.
Even though the school system gives American students more freedom, the American society doesn’t help teenagers in finding something to do. I would point out that I’m in Michigan and it was one of the coldest winters ever and these facts didn’t help at all, but in general American teenagers don’t have much to do here. As an exchange student I found it difficult at the beginning. I was used to the Italian lifestyle, in which you can go out drinking a beer with friends at bars and staying all together. I passed most of the winter inside of the house or inside of my friends’ houses. This fact kind of depressed me, but now that spring is close, I feel really good and happy. Some advice that I would give to all the exchange students that are here, or will come here to the USA next year, is to keep your life busy. Do a lot, push yourself, meet people and do new experiences. I’m satisfied of my exchange year. I met wonderful people, I visited new places with my host family like Chicago, Niagara Falls, the Upper Peninsula, and went skiing with them. I’m having a lot of fun in general.
When you are involved in a new culture and in a new society, like the American one, you have to get used to all the new aspects. One aspect that at the beginning made me think a lot was the difference between the food and the differences between the styles of eating. Most of the American families don’t have dinner all together every night. At the beginning I thought that this aspect was part of their culture, they didn’t do it because they weren’t used to. When I started living here I understood that there is no time to do it. Everyone has different schedules. I had soccer, my parents had to work, and my siblings were involved their extracurricular activities. To all the families that think that this is a problem and don’t want to host because of this fact, don’t worry about it!! It’s the least important thing that worries us.
Host Parent’s Perspective:
Karen Twomey is one of Ciccone’s host parents. “This is my first time hosting an exchange student,” she said. “However, when I was the World Language Department Head in Bloomfield Hills I worked closely with our YFU exchange students. For many years I have welcomed them into my home for meals or events.
“Giuseppe is a true member of our family. We have traveled and done so many fun things together. We have also cried together as he shared with us the death of a family member. He is wonderful with my children; picks up Ronan from the bus stop, helps Violet with homework and encourages Ash to try new things.
“I love sharing stories about each others countries, language and culture. We cook together, laugh together and teach one another so many exciting new things. I can now cook authentic Italian food! My children have had their eyes opened to the world, and can now pick from families around the world willing to host them for visits.
Having the exchange students here has done so much for our school community. Giuseppe and Nis brought new energy to the soccer team. The teachers always share with me their excitement about the perspectives the kids add to classroom conversations. International exchange programs are invaluable in preparing all our kids as global citizens.”
The Intercultural Exchange Program is currently seeking host families. For more information visit http://yfuusa.org/host-a-student.php.