This is the fourth article in the 2019-20 academic year 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 Giulio Ciralli from Palermo, Sicily (Italy). He is one of seven foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Giulio! Tell us about yourself.
I am 17, I’m from Palermo. I’m a Senior at Farmington High, and as you’ll see when you meet me, an extrovert. I’m very passionate about the environment and am following the environmental sciences in school. And I just found out that I love theater, because I was in my first play at Farmington High School! My hobbies are listening to music and going for a good run. I also love winter – but mostly from inside the house, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow fall.
I’m living with the Giuffria family, Rob (my host dad), and my three host siblings. They are really sweet. Before I got here they helped me understand what I needed to do for school, and for spending a year here. And Moxsea, the best part of the family – she’s a Portuguese Water dog. When my host siblings spend time with their mom, I get to spend time with Rob and his partner, Meg Rush, and her four children who are at Conard, Sedgwick, and Smith. I love having two American families.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
Two years ago, I met a family friend who spent a year in Australia on exchange. I didn’t know you could do that! I decided that I was tired of the Italian school system, and really wanted new places, new friends. I needed to change something. And my father always said that “traveling opens your mind,” and I try to live by that.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Palermo, Italy and here?
Besides the fact that the distances are just so much bigger here, from Italy to America, the biggest difference is the school system. It is so cool here that you get to choose your classes. In Italy, we cannot choose – we follow a program that the government prescribes. Here, you can have an idea of what you want to do, and then set your study program to achieve that goal. And I love that we have clubs here – it blows my mind. I’m in GSA, I’m in Eco club, I’m in Astronomy club, and now the drama club. We don’t have anything like this in Italy. It’s a pity because all we have is homework. I got so many new friends and really amazing memories from these clubs.
What have you liked about Connecticut and Farmington/West Hartford?
The people here are so sweet. I went for a run once and was almost dying at a stoplight … but someone passed me in her car, rolled down the window and encouraged me with, “Come on, you can do it!” It was really inspiring.
Also, I am in love with Dunkin’ Donuts. The coffee is so good. And Costco is amazing – it’s like Paradise.
What do you do outside of school here?
I’ve talked about the school clubs – and I’m planning to join the indoor track team for winter (I’m a sprinter). I just finished playing Professor Plum in my very first theatrical production ever. It was incredible – I met so many people, and it was really fun. I tried out for the musical, too, and I’m going to be in the ensemble. (Come see us!) Right now, I spend a lot of time with both of my families, friends, and some of the other AFS exchange students, too.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Italy – Sicily: We are NOT all in the mafia! (Yes, I get this question a lot!)
Hosting an AFS exchange student: It would be so cool for a family who is interested – it’s such a great thing. It’s not really so much for just one year. My host family is learning so much from me, and I’m learning so much from them, too. It’s an amazing cultural exchange.
Being an AFS exchange student: I get how it could sound scary at first, but it’s just 10 months … you’ll wish that it would last longer, I assure you. If you’re even thinking about it, then you are probably someone who should apply to go. And I’m going to host someone next year, I hope! So maybe you could come live with me!
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 afsUSA.org.
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