From Italy to America and Back

Mackenzie Bisdorf, Flash Staff Reporter

Born and raised in Italy, seventeen-year-old Claudia Mancarella decided to travel to America to spend a year as a foreign exchange student. Through the Aspect Foundation, Claudia was paired with a willing host family living in Fraser, Michigan. She now attends Fraser as a senior.

The exchange program at the Aspect Foundation works to guide students into the appropriate host families. A host family choses a student from another country and welcomes them into their home. Host families try to find students with similar interests to their own family in an attempt to help the student easily mesh within their lives.

MaryAnn Bowling, Mancarella’s host mother, explained the program as an outlet for connecting exchange student interests with host family interests.

“The students will introduce themselves through a list of profiles and letters on a website. They’ll send pictures, they will list their interests, what they like, and their personalities. It helps you get a better idea of what might fit with your family,” Bowling said.

Mancarella enjoys the time she spends with her host family. She seemed to fit right in. She has many things in common with them, especially her host sister. They have the same taste in music, and they like the same sports.

At first, Mancarella was timid coming into a new family, but she adjusted quickly to her new world.

“At first, I was very very shy, but now I believe I like to live with them because I feel like I’m part of the family. I like to do different things with them,” Mancarella said.

Mancarella is Bowling’s fourth exchange student. Bowling has had success blending her family in with the life of each of her students.

“Once the students arrive they just mesh so easily in. They just seem to fit within the first two weeks. They’re apart of the family, so we don’t do anything different. They get used to our craziness and we learn from each other. Claudia taught me a lot of things and hopefully I’m teaching her a few things,” Bowling said.

Bowling loves to host and has done it for multiple years. Her friend, a local coordinator for Aspect, got her involved in the program.

“I would tag along on some of my friend’s events when she had students and I didn’t. It just looked really fun. Plus, my daughter is always saying she wants a sister,” Bowling said.

Mancarella has always loved learning about the cultures, languages, and traditions of other countries. When she was little, she especially loved learning about the United States. Joining the exchange program and picking the United States was an obvious choice for her.

Once Mancarella arrived at Fraser, she decided to join the dive team. She initially began on the swim team, but later decided to focus strictly on dive.  She chose to keep her focus on dive because in Italy she was never given the opportunity to participate on a dive team.

“I wanted to try dive because was new thing. On the team I learned some new things. I did no compete, but I try and I learned,” Mancarella said.

As with any foreign country, one of the biggest barriers is language. Mancarella is currently studying both French and Spanish at Fraser High School. She also studied Latin for three years. In addition to this, her first language is Italian, meaning she also has to get used to the English language. Mancarella finds it easier to write in English but finds it sometimes difficult to understand it when it is spoken. This difficulty is partly due to the fact that, to Mancarella, Americans have heavy accents.

“I’ve been studying English for 11 years, but it was only three hour in a week. It was little time studying and also it was an Italian teacher. So at first, understanding people was difficult, but then it got better,” Mancarella said.

Learning multiple languages can get confusing. Thinking in different languages can also cause words to become jumbled. Mancarella finds it difficult to keep all the languages straight in her mind.

“When I’m doing Spanish, its hard to think sometimes in Italian, then Spanish, and also English. It’s confusing. It’s also hard sometimes talking with my parents because I said word in Spanish,” Mancarella said.

Avery Townsend, one of Mancarella’s teammates from the swim team, enjoyed chatting with Mancarella and discussing life in Italy.

“When you get to know somebody, you get to share culture with them. You get to have a little peek inside other people’s culture,” Townsend said.

Townsend also understood firsthand some of the language difficulties that Mancarella was facing.

“She does very well for not knowing much English. It’s a very hard thing to do. But she has a very thick accent that makes understanding her sometimes difficult. One time, we were talking about what it was like to be an exchange student, and I asked her if she was homesick. She didn’t understand what I meant by that. I was like ‘oh it’s when you’re missing home. You like it here, but you’re still missing home,” Townsend said.

Mancarella’s culture is also a bit different from the American life she is currently living. In Italy, students do not have block scheduling. The teachers travel to different classrooms, but the students never move classes. The eating times in Italy are also a lot different. For example, on average Mancarella ate her dinner at eight o’clock, but her host family usually eats dinner at around four.

Mancarella also had a different way of eating her dinner in Italy.

“In Italy we always had lunch and dinner on the table, but we can eat not all family together in America,” Mancarella said.

Mancarella also just recently got to celebrate a holiday that Italians do not celebrate.

“We don’t have thanksgiving. It was the first time that I celebrated Thanksgiving. I like it because it was a day that I got to stay with the whole family, all the parents, and the relatives. It was fun,” Mancarella said.

Mancarella has been enjoying her time in America but understandably misses her home in Italy. She especially misses her parents. She gets to skype call with them once every week, at which time they can catch up on all her recent life events.

Living in America is a surreal experience for her. It is like a dream come true.

“I was always watching American movies. So to stay here was like a dream for the first time,” Mancarella said.