17-year-olds Greg Bianchetto and Carlotta Brognara are the two foreign exchange students here at LSW, both from Italy. COVID-19 has changed many things in lives around the world but according to Bianchetto, the exchange program was relatively the same.
Brognara said she has been wanting to come to America as an exchange student for many years, so she was thrilled to finally come. Not only is school different, she said there are a lot of changes in the U.S..
“I feel like my home country and the United States are completely different worlds. Since I got here, I don’t think I ever said ‘Oh we have that too’ or ‘Yes we do that too’ about anything, because the two are much different from each other in every way possible,” she said. This is not her first time to the U.S. though, only the first time as an exchange student, and already likes school here better than in Italy, Brognara said.
Bianchetto said the ‘American Life’ compared to life in Italy has it’s differences. A few differences include the school structure — they have five years of high school instead of four. Along with school, he said he never got any homework back in Italy, he would only have to study. Even though there’s more work in school, “classes are pretty easy here, even when some things are difficult,” he said. Bianchetto also said LSW is really big compared to his old school.
This is not Bianchetto’s first time in America, he has family members in different states that he has visited, but this is his first time being here as an exchange student. He said he found out he was coming to Missouri a week before he came.
“I was supposed to go to Las Vegas, Nevada. Then there was a change of plans and I ended up coming here.” His original plan to go to Nevada had to get canceled because they were no longer accepting exchange students anymore, mainly due to worries of COVID-19 spreading, Bianchetto said.
It was different for Brognara, she said she was always supposed to come here. Her host family chose her in January and it hasn’t changed since.
History teacher Victoria Zonko is the new foreign exchange student coordinator for LSW, so she has helped plan Brognara and Bianchetto’s visit. “Being the coordinator allows me to build connections with students from all over the globe. I have always enjoyed having the exchange students in class and being the coordinator allows me to get to know these students on a deeper level,” she said.
Zonko said there are usually 10-13 students, but because of COVID-19 LSW only has two students. Last school year, all foreign exchange students had to be sent home early when COVID was starting to grow in the U.S.. Now, some exchange students either canceled their trip or moved their placement to next year, Zonko said.
On the other hand, Bianchetto will get to experience a full stay for his trip. He said, “I arrived August 18th and will be staying until June 10th.” He also said he is glad he won’t be leaving early as he is enjoying marching band and boys soccer, which he said he hadn’t participated in before.
He also became good friends with junior Chase Bynum. Bynum said he met Bianchetto at soccer practice and band. They later found out they live close to each other, which meant Bynum could take him places since Bianchetto doesn’t have a driver’s license. “In Italy we can drive motorbikes at 14, but can’t drive a car until 18,” he said. He has shown him around the Lee’s Summit and the Kansas City area, to get to know more about Missouri and the ‘American life.’
Bynum said they’ve gone shopping and gotten ice cream together. “We went to Top Golf with some band kids one weekend because he said he’s never golfed before. He did really well for never doing it before,” Bynum said. He also showed him other sports like tennis and baseball.
Brognara is taking theatre and film classes for the first time here, she said, since they weren’t an option in Italy. “Cinema is the path I’d like to follow in the future, the experience here is letting me understand more of this world and helping me to have a base for university,” she said.
Although COVID-19 has had a negative effect on the program, Bianchetto said it hasn’t been a huge problem for coming here. “The only thing I had to do was sign extra papers to travel over,” he said. He said he would have liked to experience the homecoming dance and other events, but other than that, he said the virus hasn’t taken over his trip here.
For Brognara, she said lockdown worked differently in Italy than how it has here. Once the outbreak started getting worse in March, she said everyone was required to go on lockdown.
“Basically, no one, except for essential workers, was granted permission to leave their houses. The only time people could go out [within 300 feet from their building] was to walk their dogs and get food from grocery shops [just one person per family, to avoid excessive exposure],” Brognara said, “People were forced to follow these rules because the police patrolled the street and wouldn’t let anyone get too far from their homes.”
She said she thinks this helped because they were out of quarantine beginning of June, but the state of emergency is still active and thinks it will probably be active for a while.
Both Bianchetto and Brognara said they wish they could experience some more high school events without COVID-19, but are glad to be here nonetheless.“To be coming here is a dream of most Italian teens, but not everyone can do it,” Bianchetto said.