To put it simply, “The exchange really is forever”. Little did I know that those foreign exchange students whom I only spent a measly 20 days with in 2012, would still be in my life four years later. Rewind to June 2011 when, in the last week of my Junior year of high school, I received an email with the name Sophie Monachini, the Italian girl who would come live with us for 10 days that fall. Cut to September when all of us Americans were waiting at the gate with flowers and posters decorated with our respective Italians’ names.
But when it came time for them to leave, it really was one of the hardest goodbyes I’d ever had to make; even our “profs” had said it was the most dramatic goodbye of any Scambio yet. I just kept thinking, a few more months and we would all be together again, and this time, WE’D BE IN ITALY.
And finally, March arrived; it really did sneak up on us. After a long flight from O’Hare to Frankfurt and finally landing in Verona, we were pleasantly surprised when we were met by our Italians who surprised us with one of our high school’s cheers. How sweet! And after a week of living in the beautiful Mezzane di Sotto just outside Verona, and experiencing not just the academic life of an Italian, but also the typical life in Verona, that goodbye was so much worse than we all ever thought it would be. In these moments, I thought, nothing could beat midday gelato, fresh homemade bread each morning, visiting the handmade lace factory in Venice, and even the old, war-torn towns of Bassano del Grappa and Marostica. This trip gave me so much more than good photos and fun memories.
My advice to all high schoolers, whose school is fortunate enough to offer an exchange program, no matter the language or country, do it. Because it will teach you in ways you never thought possible. My exchange taught me so much more than to speak the language, even though we all came back to school acting like we were native speakers! I learned the value in appreciating other cultures, I gained a newfound respect for American culture, and most importantly, I acquired a new respect and confidence in myself.
The saying really is true: “Nothing makes the Earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance”. It is because of these beautiful people, i miei amici italiani, that I have been dedicated and able to return to my gorgeous Italia to see them, not once, but now, twice. I still cannot comprehend how incredible it will be to live in Verona for an entire month this summer, that’s more time than we’ve ever spent together, combined. And it is because of this experience, Lo Scambio, that I, oh so gratefully, have caught an obnoxious, and quite apparent case of the travel bug.
Life is complicated, that's a given. I'm just here to talk through the rough patches, celebrate the successes of adulthood and figure out what the hell we're doing.