Martina Alaimo: An Exchange Student’s Point of View

Martina Alaimo, Staff Writer

My name is Martina Alaimo and I am an exchange student from Italy. Some of you may not know what an ‘exchange year’ is, so I will start by explaining that. Any high schooler from any part of the world can decide to live this experience: you start by choosing a country to spend one year, one semester, or one trimester in a ‘host family,’ a family that decides to host one or more exchange students for the whole period of time. I chose the United States because a dream of mine has always been to live like an American high school student, and English has always been my favorite language. I also chose to stay one year because I wanted to live the experience at its fullest, getting to know every aspect of it. 

These two countries differ a lot from one another. The first thing is the school system. First of all, in Italy we have five years of high school. Like in the US, every school has its own rules, but I personally go to school from Monday to Saturday, and everyday finishes at different times: three days end at 1:30 pm, two at 1:00 pm and one at 12:00 pm. We also don’t have a cafeteria because we always have lunch after school, but we do have a break at half of the school day. We stay in the same class with the same classmates for the whole five years, and the teachers are the ones to change classrooms every period, which last around fifty minutes each, for a total of five or six periods in a school day. Also, sport at school does not exist: if you want to play one, you have to find a place yourself. Do not think that American school is hard or that it requires a lot of study, when you clearly have never been to an Italian one. 

Another thing that completely changes is the food. Sorry to break it to you, but there is no “Fettuccine Alfredo” or “Pepperoni Pizza”. Not everything that contains the word “Italian”, or sounds Italian, is actually from Italy. We do not have pizza or pasta for every meal, but we also do not eat this much fast food. Back in Italy, I used to go to McDonald’s a couple of times a year and now it is surreal to me thinking that people here eat it this often. I believe that Italian food is the best, and it probably is one of the things that I miss the most. There is no doubt that the American lifestyle is not as healthy as the Italian one. This is something that I really think should be changed and improved a lot in this country. 

Lastly, I wanted to talk about how teenagers’ independence changes in the two countries. Here, when you turn sixteen years old, you can take your license, but, for example, you have to wait to turn eighteen or twenty one to vote or to drink alcohol. In Italy it is a bit different because at eighteen you can basically do anything, but most Italian teens start doing those things even before. It is pretty normal if a thirteen year-old drinks alcohol or smokes. I know this sounds wrong, but it is what it is. You must, however, wait until the required age to vote and to drive. In my opinion, this law is better than the American one because you cannot make young people wait to drink for such a long time, but let them drive this young, it is a bit controversial to me. If you forbid something, people will want it more, and teenagers are very good at getting what they want anyway. 

If you desire to do this program, I would say to think about it twice. You will face many challenges and you will learn how to handle them. The toughest thing for me so far was making new friends. It is hard when all of your friends live on the opposite side of the world and you find yourself in a new country, where they speak your second language, and you have to start building another life from scratch. Before coming here, I knew that this would have been a challenge, and it is, but I managed to meet some great people that helped me and are still helping me through this complex adventure. Not every person you meet will do good to you, but you will find someone great, sooner or later. Life is full of obstacles, but also opportunities, and this was the best one I have ever got. I’m so thankful to be here, and to get to live all these beautiful moments surrounded by these beautiful people. I’m proud of myself.