This month flew by so fast!  I feel like just last week I was packing my bags and eating Whataburger on my way to the airport.  I left Texas on September 4th and arrived here in Italy September 5th, maybe eighteen hours later.  When I arrived in Italy, I was greeted by my host mom, dad and two sisters.  My host dad had to go to work right after so we went to my host mom’s house.  My host sister told me to take a shower…but I think she meant it as in, “Take a shower because you will feel better.” Not, “Take a shower because you look disgusting and you smell like airplane.” :p

            My host parents are divorced.  For the first weekend, I was with my host mom, Giuliana and three of four sisters. My sisters; Elena is 20, Anna is 19 and Laura is 14 years old.  One other sister, Francesca, who is 17, is in Arizona for her exchange.  Every other weekend, every Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and every other Thursday night/Friday morning,  I am at my host dad’s house, Alberto.  My parents in Texas are not divorced so I’m experiencing what a divorced family goes through.  It isn’t easy but my host dad and mom still work as a team even though they are not married.  I think that is amazing!!  On Sundays, Alberto comes over to eat dinner with all of us and together, they Skype their daughter, Francesca in Arizona.  Sundays are the most relaxing days, as they should be.  Oh, by the way, my host mom has 6 cats and a dog.  Yes, I said s.i.x.

            I live in a little town called Bergamo right outside of Milan.  There are two parts to Bergamo, Città Alta, (“Upper City”), which is on top of a hill.  The lower part is called, “The Center.”  Città Alta was originally all Bergamo was until they had to extend it.  It is surrounded by a huge wall because it used to protect them from the enemy.  I get the best of both worlds.  My host mom lives in the country part of Bergamo, which is near Città Alta, and my host dad lives in the center!  I love the beauty of both parts.

  I go to an artistic school in the center of Bergamo. I am taking Italian, Italian History,  History of Art, Sculpting, Painting, Design,  Chemistry, Religion, P.E. and English. When we take English test, my chair is moved into the hall because I am “dangerous” when they take the test! Lol…  Sculpting is my favorite class!  School is very different here.  For instance, we go to school EVERY SATURDDAY from 8am-1pm.  On the days the teacher does not show up, we do not have that class.  I guess they do not have subs.  The other day, there were about five kids in class because the rest were marching around outside in some protest.  It was crazy.   Another difference is that the boys and the girls use the same bathroom!  This is odd in Italy as well. Barely any schools are like that here.  The toilets at school and inside a lot of public rest rooms are just a hole in the ground.  I am still getting used to that.  (There are regular toilets in their homes.)   Also, you stay in the same classroom all day with the same students while the teachers move from class to class.  Unless you have a class in one of the rooms with the computers or gym, then you move with your whole class to the other room so you are with the same people all day. You make such strong relationships because of that.  I really love my class, I feel like they are my home away from home...away from home. J

            On September 7th, I met an Exchange student in my area and her host family.  Her name is Shih- Yuan Huang but we call her Kitty.  She is from Taiwan. I love her and her family.  She goes to my school and her host family will be my second host family and my host family will be her second host family!  My host mom took us on what she called a “little walk”… “up a hill”… to Città Alta. We walked what felt like 563, 293, 710, 439 miles uphill, more like up a mountain!  It was crazy but it was so beautiful.  From Città Alta, you can see all of the lower part of Bergamo and it is absolutely gorgeous! When we made it to the top, my host mom bought us gelato and oh-my-gosh!!  Y’all,  it is ahhh-ma-zinggggg!  It’s like ice cream but so much creamier! It’s a big scoop of deliciousness in a cone with chocolate at the bottom!!  It was a nice surprise and worth the walk!

            I’ve been trying to plan a day when I can see my ‘brother’, Carlo Ferraris, in Milan.  He lived with us in Texas last year.  I was his host sister for 7 months.  He became very close with my family that it feels like he was not just an exchange student to us but more of a real brother to me and my sister. I hope I feel like this with my host sisters towards the end of my stay in this house. J

            On September 10th, I went shopping in Milan.  Afterwards, my host dad took me to a fashion show in Milan!  He has all the right connections being in the fashion industry.  It was an amazing experience and I felt very proud and important being there with my host dad, Alberto.  I saw some nice and some strange outfits there.  This was not clothing from J.C Penny or Target that I am used to in Texas. This was the high end name brands like Louis Vuitton.  After all, I am in the fashion capitol of the world.  I was in such AWE!!  We sat on the row right behind the designers and the mayor which is first row for anyone else and it was great. The mayor smiled at me!

            On September 12th , school started. I absolutely LOVE my classmates! They were so welcoming and so fun!  At first, I was not thinking that.  On the first day of school, when I got to the classroom, there were only 2 girls in the room.  I decided to try and make friends with them.  I said, “Ciao! Mi chiamo Annie.  Sono Americano, vango dal Texas!” which means, “Hello! My name is Annie. I am an American, I live in Texas!”  They said, “Che bello!!!” which means, “How nice!!” Then I Google Translated and asked if I could sit with them but they Google Translated back and told me, “no, we are saving seats for our friends.”  So I found somewhere else to sit and wondered how I was going to make it.  It didn’t take long to make friends and figure out that everyone is actually very nice.  At first no one was interested in me or cared that I was a foreign exchange student but last week I changed classes. I am no longer in classes like Physics and Philosophy, I now take Sculpting and Painting and I have met so many people! During the 15 minute break at 11:00am, students come up to me and say, “Hello! You don’t know me but I’m friends of your friends’ friend! Do you like Italy? What kind of music do you like?”  E V E R Y O N E asks me what kind of school I go to in Texas! They all want to know if it’s like High School Musical.  They wonder if I listen to country music and if I have a horse.  I rarely see horses in Texas but here in Italy I see horses, cows and sheep every day.  My host mom lives in the country part of Bergamo so outside her house there is an area with sheep, horses and cows.  There is a girl in my class named Anna and she is from the Ukraine.  She does not Italian or English and somehow we communicate very well.   I can’t imagine how hard it is for her.   All my teachers are really nice even though most of them do not know English.   Six hours is a long time to be sitting in the same spot and not understanding a word. :p  I will get there.  It will just take time and a whole lot of patience…

            From September 27th - 29th, I was at a Rotary meeting in Fognano, Italy. It was a meeting where all the exchange students came together. I met so many different, amazing people from all over the world!  I became really good friends with a boy, Salvador, from Mexico, also, a boy, Agusto, from Brazil, and a girl, Ale from Australia!  For the meeting, we went to Parco Carnè where we walked this trail and saw very beautiful mountains, fields and a mine!  We also visited the town of Brisighella, where we tasted different special oils on bread! That was such an awesome weekend!  My beautiful Rotary blazer filled up with pins real fast! There were 108 exchange students there, most of them from America.

A few weeks ago, I started going to the gym with my host sister, Anna, and her friend, Francesca.  I really need to go to the gym any time I get the chance. This exchange weight is getting bad, hahaha. PASTA, PIZZA, GELATO, PASTA…PASTA…PASTA!  Pasta yesterday, pasta today, and pasta tomorrow! It is all so good.  I love the food here so it’s worth the time in the gym. :P

This first month has been wonderful.  It has exceeded all my expectations. The first few weeks were difficult because it took a while for it to sink in that I wasn’t in America anymore and I was living in a house with people I didn’t know very well. You know, MAJOR CULTURE SHOCK…  But towards the end of the month, I feel much more comfortable here and I love it. J  It was also difficult because I barely knew any Italian but I’ve picked up so much!   A few times a week I go to an Italian lesson with Kitty from Taiwan, Luci from France, and Alina from Germany.  There is another Italian lesson I attend with Kitty and a girl from the Ukraine named Anna every Tuesday for 2 hours in the morning at school.  These lessons have helped me out tremendously!

            Being a Rotary Exchange student in Italy is helping me to learn so much about this historical country and I am able to see all its beauty.  Beauty that is beyond words. It is also teaching me about all the other countries as well.  I have to close for now and I will try to get a report in to you again soon!  I will love to tell you more of my stories when I get back.  Thank you so much to Rotary International for making this happen!

A couple of pictures before I close…

Here is a picture of the area my host mom, Giuliana, lives: