Imagine you’re a 17-year-old Italian girl traveling to the United States for the first time as a foreign-exchange student. You’re leaving your family, friends, classmates — and Italian pizza — and trading them for Starbucks, peanut butter and the beach. You’re about to make what will feel like the longest journey of your life, but you’ve never even set foot on an airplane.
Veronica Bergamini could only choose the country where she wanted to study when she signed up to participate in the World Heritage International Student Exchange, and she found out in June that she would be spending the following year in Florida. On Aug. 12, she flew from Bologna, Italy, and after stops in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., she arrived in Sarasota.
“I chose to come here because in Europe, English is very important for a job,” Bergamini says. “After high school, you have to know it. I also wanted to experience other cultures, meet other people and a different way to think. It’s very different from Europe, and it’s a good thing also for me; a new experience.”
A junior at Riverview High School, Bergamini has noticed some differences. Here, students wear flip-flops and T-shirts to school as opposed to long pants and closed-toed shoes. Teachers are more lenient, her daily homework load doesn’t take three hours to complete and she attends class five days per week as opposed to six.
American food has taken some getting used to, but Bergamini is getting the hang of it with the help of her host family, Richard and Barbara Cedrone, who introduced her to peanut butter.
“The food here is greasy and fat, but I love peanut butter,” Bergamini says. “Jif Extra Crunchy. It’s not sweet, not salty, but a good taste. I also love Starbucks.”
Bergamini bakes lemon pies and cookies for everyone in the Cedrones’ neighborhood, and her parents regularly send the family aged Parmesan cheese. And Bergamini has ridden Space Mountain, her favorite roller coaster at Disney World, witnessed Asolo Repertory Theatre’s “Bonnie and Clyde” and has been treated to pizza and pasta (her favorites) every week.
“Back home I have a brother, Filippo, who is 25,” Bergamini says. “I always saw him like a second father. My family here is like my family back home — I have a good relationship with them.”
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