This is the next article in our series this year, ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS host mom and volunteer (now), host sister (1980s), and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Irene Falcetta from Rome, Italy. She is one of five AFS foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Irene, Tell us about yourself.
I’m from Rome, I’m 17 years old, and a senior at Conard High School. I live with a great host family here in West Hartford – it’s actually my second host family because I had to change from another town to here after the first semester here. At my school in Italy, I study the Classics – Latin and Ancient Greek. We have five years of high school in Italy, so when I go back I have another year to complete before starting university.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I wanted to challenge myself, and to see if I could learn to be adaptable enough to live in a different culture for a year. It’s funny because I actually applied to study in the Scandinavian countries but won a scholarship with AFS Italy to come to the U.S. instead. And now I’m really happy I’m here because I’ve learned that I’m not so good at living in really cold places.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Italy and here?
The major difference is the school system. Here the teachers are nice and truly interested in the students. There is a focus on critical thinking here, where Italian schools are all about memorization. The other major difference is the FOOD. Before I moved into my current host family, I really missed good Italian food, but my host mom in West Hartford cooks really well, and I’m okay now. And in the restaurants the portions here are huge – that I will never get used to.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
In particular, I like the diversity in West Hartford. (My school is in the center of Rome, near the Pantheon, and there is really no diversity.) I love the colors of fall – I’ve never experienced that before. But I’ve also seen differences within the two schools I’ve attended and two towns I lived in here. It’s fascinating that in such a small state, there can be such a difference just 45 minutes away. But I can’t tell you how much I like West Hartford and Conard – there is no comparison!
What do you do outside of school here?
I really like getting together with the other exchange students who are here this year because we understand really what we are experiencing. We are more than 24 students here, and it’s a great group of people. Sometimes I translate Ancient Greek text into English for fun (yes, I’m weird). I just started at Conard second semester and I’m going to work backstage on the musical. I’m also planning to join the tennis team in the spring.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Rome, Italy: I only realize now how special it is to walk through Rome and see all the things that people come from around the world to see. You should come visit. But don’t go during August – it’s too hot, and all the Romans are on vacation!
Hosting an AFS exchange student: When you host, you have to be really open minded. You should embrace the culture that they bring and try things your student proposes. And know that it’s fun for us to learn about everything here. I personally enjoy seeing everywhere my host families brought me this year.
Being an AFS exchange student: There are ups and downs during the exchange year. Sometimes it’s really hard. And sometimes it’s simply amazing. But when you go back you will really only remember the amazing parts.
AFS-USA, a non-profit organization, has been a leader in international student exchange for more than 70 years. Its mission is to enhance the global competency of U.S. citizens by providing intercultural learning experiences for individuals, families, communities and schools through a global volunteer partnership. Each year, AFS-USA awards more than $3 million in scholarships and financial aid to U.S. students applying to study abroad, and it maintains a network of more than 4,000 U.S. volunteers who support participating educators, students and families nationwide.
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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