10 days with an Italian


Contributed by Sevan Gulleyan

PV senior talks about her experience of hosting an Italian exchange student. She recounts the memories that they have shared in the U.S.

Sevan Gulleyan, Staff Writer

At first, I did not know what I was more anxious about — the language barrier or the cultural differences. I had spent the day before cleaning the guest room and all I could think to myself was “I hope she’s normal.” Then, they arrived.

On Nov. 30, a group of 24 Italian students from the Leonardo Da Vinci School in Treviso, Italy, were greeted by myself and 19 other Pascack Valley students from PV’s Italian National Honor Society.   

For the next 10 days, we showed them not only the key points of American culture, but also history. During the trip, we visited the 9/11 memorial, Times Square, Buffalo Wild Wings, the Garden State Plaza, and more.

The night we met the Italian students for the first time, I brought my exchange student, Giulia Raccagna, home and told her that we were having tacos for dinner. After telling me she had never heard of them, I proceeded to introduce the food to her and tell her how to make one.

The language barrier was evident as we began attempting to converse about her flight and the plan for the week. Moments later, I received a call from another host who said that she did not know what to talk about with her guest, so they drove over to my house. Not long after, the entire exchange group decided to meet up and get to know one another.

The next day was the first day of a long series of trips into the city, showing them a different area each time. For the most part, it was a struggle to keep track of everyone, as the visiting group often dispersed to explore parts of the city. One in particular stopped at every hot dog cart he encountered and, in one day, ate 13 hot dogs.

We soon realized how much energy they had . Each morning, I listened to them play music over a loudspeaker, singing every verse from the time we left to the time we came back.

I also became very aware of the six hour time difference between Italy and the American east coast, as the first five nights I was awoken with the sounds of my Italian student speaking to her family on the phone.

In the morning, she was always awake before me. I found her drinking coffee with my parents, having finished breakfast, and ready to start the day just as I had rolled out of bed. We introduced her to new breakfast foods as well. In Italy, she said she typically ate bread or fruit for breakfast, but every morning of her visit, she enjoyed pancakes, cereal, or waffles.  

I knew before that coffee was a staple in Italian culture but I did not realize how offended they would be when I told them I did not like coffee.

Not only did we see American culture from the city standpoint, but we also introduced them to culture on a more local-level.

We frequently brought them to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts and stopped at Kens in Hillsdale occasionally for lunch. Some days, we went to restaurants, such as The Ridge Diner, where the Italian students were shocked to see such a big menu and portion sizes. Another day, we ate at Buffalo Wild Wings where some of them decided to experience the restaurant’s spiciest wings, then subsequently, went to buy a gallon of milk from a nearby Target and continue to attempt eating them.

The days were long, leaving early in the morning and coming home at night, but we loved every moment with our newfound friends — whether it was keeping track of them as they ran around the city like typical tourists, or showing them new stores at each mall.

The longer they stayed, the more we realized how similar we are, despite living over 4,000 miles apart. They had the same arguments, the same struggles, and the same music taste, though there were some outstanding differences. For example, on PV’s pajama day on Dec. 6, they were shocked to see students walking down the hall in onesies, eating in class, switching classes every hour. Though, they were also very happy to hear that we did not have school on Saturdays like they do. In Italy, they typically stay in the same class and have a strict dress code they abide by which includes no ripped jeans or shorts.

On Fridays, we meet at 7 a.m. to video conference with them until our highly anticipated reunion in Italy this coming May.

Though they are gone, I am grateful for the memories we created together. I look forward to our trip to Italy where I will have the privilege of experiencing not only Italian culture, but also learning about how students spend their day to day life.

Senior Sara Shanley and her Italian student in the front of a car with Sevan Gulleyan and her Italian student, Giulia, in the back.