Last year, I got accepted to travel to Italy through the Rotary Youth Exchange Short Term Program. The program consists of you choosing a country you want to travel to from a list of countries. The Rotary then matches you up with someone with similar interests as you. You live with them for three to six weeks in the summer, and then they live with you for the same amount of time. The Bethlehem Rotary sponsored me to go on the trip. It is the cheapest way to do an exchange program. The expenses are airfare, application fee ($65), and health insurance ($155). The point of the Rotary is trying to create peace and showing young people about other countries and trying to make a good example of an American.
My host family was the Mazzarosa Devincenzi family. They lived in Calci, Italy, which is about 15 minutes from Pisa. My host sister was Lucrezia (Lolly), and her sister was Maria-Teresa, and her brother, Giuseppe. I learned so much just from their houses. I went from June 27th-July 16th. One thing that was a huge change was the fact that none of the homes have air conditioning. Being in Italy in July without air conditioning is pretty hard. I finally got used to it after the first week. Another big change was the windows; they do not have screens in there homes, so many bugs especially mosquitoes get into the house. By the first five days, I had already had more than 30 mosquito bites. Their home was built in the 1500’s, which was very hard for me to understand especially since our homes are usually much newer. Their rooms were huge, and had many portraits of their ancestors on the wall. After the first week, I had learned that their family was part of the royal family. I was in utter shock when I heard this knowing that they had royalty in their blood.
While I was in Italy, they showed me more than what I was expecting to see. I got to go to Lucca, Siena, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Pisa. In Siena, I stayed with Lolly’s grandparents for two nights then we attended the Palio de Siena. The Palio de Siena is a famous horse race that is known throughout all of Europe. Lolly’s grandparents were members of a special club and got us onto a balcony. The horse race was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. There were so many people there to watch it, it was incredible. We also walked around Siena and took notice of the surroundings.
One day they took me to Lucca which was a day trip just to see it. Lolly and her mom went to meet with a dress designer. In Italy, it is a big deal for teens to celebrate their 18th birthday. They usually spend lots of money on it, and one thing that is a major difference is that they don’t sell special dresses in stores; you need to get them specially made for you. That was interesting to see how extravagant the dresses were, and how much people spend on them
Another day, we spent the day in Florence. Florence was just beautiful and amazing. We went into many churches; we took a bus tour, and toured the Pitti Palace. I have never seen so much artwork in my life, and the most amazing garden. If anyone goes to Italy, Florence is a must to see! Another day we went into Pisa. Pisa was something different to see. I of course got to see the leaning tower, the Baptism tower, and other places.
One day when we were at home, Lolly told me I could chose to either go to Switzerland, or Lolly and I could go by train to Venice and Rome to stay for four nights. Of course I chose Venice and Rome. It was the greatest thing I have ever done. We took about a 2 hour train ride to Venice. We stayed in an old monastery which was con the main island of Dorsoduro in Venice. It was a beautiful place. In Venice we went around and saw everything there was to see in Venice. We went to the top of the Bell Tower, we went to Murano to see glass made, we went to Burano and saw the different colored houses, and of course had amazing Italian food.
After two nights in Venice, we took a four hour train ride to Rome. Rome was unbelievable. It was unreal to believe that the monuments were built more than 2,000 years ago. We also did a bus tour of Rome. We stayed in a convent. The convent was right outside of where the Pope lived. The convent was nothing compared to the monastery. There was no heat, the room was the tiniest room I had ever seen, and we swear it was haunted. In Rome I tried the best pasta at an amazing restaurant. I got to see the Coliseum, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, the ancient ruins, and so many other things. In Italy, it is illegal to buy from illegal venders, which I wasn’t aware of. I bought sunglasses from a vender, and an Italian police officer came over and took them from me. I argued with the cop because I wanted my cheap sunglasses. After a while, he gave me the sunglasses back since I was American and wasn’t aware of their rules. Lolly then told me I could have been thrown in jail for doing that. It is something we will always laugh about, and I still go to keep the glasses.
While I was in Italy, I attended one of the extravagant 18th birthday parties. The party was bigger than a typical American wedding. The girl’s dress was over 4,000 euros, the plates had her name engraved on them, there was different kinds of seafood, and many different kinds of Italian pastries. I was so excited when I found out that I got to experience this type of party.
When leaving my host-family, it was very upsetting, but yet it was a relief that I was coming home to see my family and friends. I did experience home-sickness for a couple days but it was just nice to finally come home and have air conditioning, a dryer for my clothes (not just use clothes line), and also just to be back with my family.
When we got Lolly on August 2nd, we drove up to JFK airport. It was exciting to see her and we both were excited for her to be here in the U.S. While she was here, she got to experience mini golfing (since she has never heard of it before), peanut butter, marshmallows, s’mores, slushies, Wawa gas stations, Wal Mart, and many other things that she has not heard of, or seen before. One big thing we did a lot was shopping. We took her to the King of Prussia Mall, Lehigh Valley Mall, the Promenade of Saucon Valley, and stores like Kohl’s, Target, and other similar stores. Everything here is cheaper for her to buy here. Also, when she was here, she bought two dresses that she could take home to use for parties. We took her to David’s Bridal where she found two dresses. she was so excited that she could find dresses that were so cheap.
We did as many day trips as we could with her in only three weeks. We took her to Philadelphia, New York City, and Ocean City, NJ,. We wanted to take her to Lancaster, PA to see how the Amish live, but ran out of time. For one week, we took her to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She enjoyed it a lot. It was her first time going into an ocean. She loved our resort, the Caribbean, and all the food that she got to try at the restaurants.
When we came home, she only had three days till she left. She got to meet both sides of my family. When she left, we drove her back to JFK. Of course, we both cried our eyes out at the airport because we were going to miss each other. She was someone that was one of my best friends, and we were exactly alike.
One thing I learned from this experience was independence. I got to experience a country all by myself, all on my own, and got to be who I wanted to be since I didn’t know one person. I also loved how I got to see the Italian’s culture. It taught me to appreciate my culture even more. Of course we plan on meeting up again later on in the future, but as of now, I am working on traveling to other places while I can. I would recommend doing the Rotary Youth Exchange to everyone. It is, and will be, the best experience in my life.
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