America was everything they had imagined it would be.
And while Francesca Morichelli and Emanuele Lo Giudice, foreign exchange students from Italy, arrived back in their homeland this week, both students said they cannot wait to come back.
Everything the two had learned about America prior to their eight-month stay came from the internet and movies, such as “High School Musical” or “Mean Girls.”
“I kind of knew how school worked here,” Morichelli said. “Actually, (the movies) are pretty close. Here no one knows how (school) works in Italy.”
“I knew that they were movies, it’s not going to be the same,” Lo Giudice said. “The first day I really thought I was in a movie.”
Coming from different high schools where Morichelli studies language and Lo Giudice studies science, the students had to adjust to American school hours, going to the same class every day, in-school lunches and opportunities to participate in after-school activities.
In Italy, students are in high school for five years. At the end of junior high, they decide what their interests are, then they go to a high school where they can focus on topics such as science, language, math, history, arts or a trade, among others.
Students have 10 subjects they dig into each year. Instead of rotating between seven classes each day, Italian students do not go to each class every day, but instead study different subjects throughout the week, depending on their schedule.
As students of Mahomet-Seymour High School, Lo Giudice and Morichelli moved from class to class after 40-minute periods. In Italy, the students stay in one classroom and the teachers rotate between groups of students.
Morichelli said that in Italy, students are grouped in a class with 20-25 people, who are classmates all five years of high school.
Because Italian students leave school around 1 p.m., they also do not eat lunch at school.
“The first day I was here, my house family asked something about lunch,” Lo Giudice said. “I said we have lunch around 2 or 2:30, then dinner around 9 or 9:30. I had two to three weeks to adapt here to eat lunch at 11 and dinner at 5. At 9 I’m hungry again.”
Unlike their American counterparts, Italian parents usually don’t get home from work until 8 or 9 p.m.
Lo Giudice was picked up from school by his grandparents, who cared for him and his sister, until they were old enough to stay home by themselves during the evening hours.
Morichelli, who is an avid skier and roller skater, said after lunch, she worked on her sport before getting to her homework while she waited for her parents to come home.
“Almost the whole day I’m on my own because my parents work,” Lo Giudice said. “And I think it’s a positive thing because you stay at home and do stuff. You’re just on your own.”
“You are more independent,” Morichelli added.
Although the legal driving age in Italy is 18, Morichelli often relied on the local bus system to get around. While in America, she was not able to drive and sometimes got frustrated about being in a rural area.
“If I am hungry and want to go somewhere, the closest place (Casey’s) to walk is 30 minutes away,” she said.
While Lo Giudice and Morichelli enjoyed eating American food, they often missed real Italian food.
“Someone tells you, ‘Hey, let’s go there because it’s Italian,’ but it’s not Italian,” Lo Giudice said. “I think that people here think that if something is good for them, then it’s Italian. A lot of guys came over, and said, ‘Let’s get Italian.’ But it wasn’t Italian. I’m Italian, I know.”
While in America, the Italian students learned about alfredo, which they had never heard of before visiting the States.
But it wasn’t just the food they missed while they were here.
“I really miss a lot of stuff,” Lo Giudice said. “Normal and stupid things that I used to do every single day, I miss that; like being picked up by my grandpa.”
Morichelli missed her family and friends, too. But she also missed the depth of relationships in Italy.
“In my city, we have a place to hang out with friends, ‘the square.’ Every Saturday we hang out there. So many people there. Here, instead, when I hang out with my friends, we never walk and we always have to go somewhere to eat or do something and here there’s not that walking culture.”
But something that American schools have that Italian schools do not, what the students were in awe of in “High School Musical” is enthusiasm for both their school and country.
Morichelli, who participated in girls cross-country and track said, “I really like the school spirit. We don’t have sports, or all the other activities are not related to school. We have to go to clubs. I really like the sport thing how everyone is dedicated and puts so much effort into it.”
Although she works on competitive sports in Italy, they are more focused on the individual rather than the team.
“If I do bad there, it is more about myself, but if I do badly here, I feel like it’s more about the team,” she said.
Lo Giudice also participated in track during the 2018 season, but he said what he like most about America is how patriotic everyone is.
“Most of the houses have a flag,” he said. “Here it is like, ‘I’m American and I would die for my country.’ And I don’t feel that in Italy we are that patriotic.”
After living in Mahomet for nine months and visiting Washington D.C. and New York City, the Italian students were also impressed with the amount of green space in America. They said that in Italy, all of the buildings in the city and the infrastructure does not allow for green space.
Lo Giudice and Morichelli graduated from Mahomet-Seymour High School with the class of 2018, but they will have one more year of high school when they return to Italy.
“When I left Italy, I knew it was good to do something different. And I have experienced something that I will never experience again,” Lo Giudice said. “We can say we’ve made a lot of friends. And I have had the year I wanted to have. I have no complaints about that.”
“I didn’t choose Mahomet, but honestly, if I had to choose now, I would choose Mahomet again,” Morichelli added.