This is the second in a our series ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Giovanni Laquintana, from Saronno, Italy. He is one of four AFS foreign exchange students at Conard this school year.
Hi, Giovanni! Tell us about yourself.
My mom is from Cali, Colombia, and my dad is from the South of Italy, a town called Foggia in Puglia. We live in Saronno, which is famous for Amaretti. It’s a city of about 40,000 people, just a little smaller than West Hartford. I have two older sisters, and I go to my local high school with a focus on math and physics, rather than languages and literature. This year, as an AFS student I’m at Conard and a senior.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
Firstly, because I think it’s a really cool thing to do in our lives. Also, because my sisters did it. They said it was helpful – to learn English, but also to learn how to be independent and responsible. I wanted to discover a new culture.
Did you choose the U.S.?
Yes, but I didn’t choose Connecticut. I thought anywhere in the U.S. would be good. My oldest sister went to Texas, my other sister went to California, so now I am here with a new experience.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Italy and here?
The relationship, physically – in Italy we hug and kiss “hello” and it’s more physical. Here, it’s more of a handshake or just hello. Another thing that is different is the relationship between teachers and students. In Italy, we are more formal with the teacher. Here, it feels like the teacher is more friendly with the students, and it makes me more comfortable to participate in the class.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I really like the Center – because we have so many people and restaurants. It’s active and not boring. I like our neighborhood because it’s quiet. It’s colder, but I really like snow, so it’s good for me.
I really like my classes at Conard. I am learning a lot of things that I didn’t know before – like in math – the approach is different sometimes. So I learn new things. I also like American literature, because I am used to studying Italian literature … so now I am introduced to new writers and stories. For example, I really liked reading The Great Gatsby. In U.S. history we were talking about the 1920s at the same time I was reading The Great Gatsby, and I didn’t understand how important that period of time was for the American society. It gives me a different perspective. And the American perspective of World War I is different than what we learn in Europe. Before taking the class, I didn’t understand the situation in the U.S. and how it was affected by the wars. Now I have a deeper understanding of the U.S. point of view.
But what I like most here is my host family. From the beginning, they were warm and welcoming. I felt “at home” instantly – even though I didn’t speak English so well. The first days I spoke very little, because I didn’t have a lot of English. But they were really patient with me, and they could understand me. It’s really been so easy to join their family, and I think I’m pretty lucky to have found them.
What do you do outside of school here?
I joined the swim team at Conard. We started in early December. We practice every day for 2 hours, and on Saturday in the morning. It’s hard, but it’s fun. I think it’s cool. Tiring, but cool. We just had a swim meet, and we won. I do 100m butterfly – I was third.
What would you like people reading this to know about …
Italy: It is a beautiful country, with beautiful places to visit – from mountains to the sea, and ancient cities like Rome and Florence. You can feel part of the country thanks to the people who live there. Italians are kind and funny.
Hosting an AFS exchange student: Being a host family can help you have a new and different experience. You can learn things about each others’ countries and culture. You can share what you know about your country with someone who isn’t from there.
Being an AFS exchange student: it’s awesome. You can discover a new culture, make new friends and learn a new language. It’s beautiful. It can help you grow up, be independent, and to share this experience with others, like my older sisters did with me. And I get to meet other AFS students from around the world, too. We talk about our experiences, and it’s good to have others who are going through the same thing as me. Both are important parts to being an exchange student.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afs.org.
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