Meet West Hartford’s AFS Students: Veronica Vaccaro from Italy

Veronica (second from left) with her host family, Lilla Magee and Ilisa Kessler. Courtesy photo

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 Ruby Michtom, sophomore at Hall High School and Veronica’s liaison family.

Meet Veronica Vaccaro from Italy. She is one of the AFS exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.

Veronica (at right) hiking with her host sister, Parker. Courtesy photo

Hi, Veronica! Tell us about yourself.

I am 17 and from Gazzolo, a small town near Verona, Italy. I am currently a senior at Hall. I have many hobbies. I love hanging out with friends. I love playing the piano, drawing, and writing. I love nature, especially drawing while in nature, like landscapes. I want to be a teacher because I love children and have wanted to be one all my life. I want to help children improve, and help the next generation, help them be more open-minded. 

Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?

I decided to be an AFS student because I really wanted to meet and get to know new people and places. I wanted to see the world with my own eyes, to confirm the things I’ve seen in American movies. It’s so amazing that I get to be here. I look around and think “Where am I?” because I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.

What are the biggest cultural differences between Italy and here?

The wildlife! The first day here I was jump-scared by a squirrel. Also, no one called 911 when there was a bear. Another thing that’s different is that everything is huge in the U.S. Cars, roads, buildings, distances are all so much bigger. I’m getting used to long drives because the U.S. is basically like all of Europe, so driving state-to-state is more like country to country in Europe. I also like that it’s easier to go running here because of the sidewalks.

What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?

West Hartford Center! I am from such a small village, which is very different. Here there are so many places to go in the Center! Everyone here is so nice, small talk is not really a thing in Italy. There are so many parks and reservoirs, they are so huge. Everything is bigger than in Italy, I would call Elizabeth Park a national park in Italy. The casino was cool because I went to the WNBA game. We went to a farm and picked blueberries, nectarines and peaches and it reminded me of home, going around with tractors (we don’t actually do that a lot) it was so much like my house. Weirdly I didn’t feel homesick or sad I was just really happy. 

Veronica ice skating with friends. Courtesy photo

What do you do outside of school here?

I joined Unified Theater and Unified Soccer, and Model UN and I got to go on the field trip to New York – and that was so cool I loved it, it was just like the movies. I got to meet the Mexican ambassadors and I felt like a businesswoman. 

What would you like people reading this to know about:

Italy: We have lots of high quality food. People are friendly, especially in tourist spots. Our terrain is really varied, with some of the tallest mountains in the north, beautiful hills, and of course beaches. I live in the countryside, but I’ve been getting closer to people who live in central Verona, a small town. In Italy we have lots of very old buildings, from the Medieval Ages or the Romans or even before, much older than buildings in the U.S. Italian is a very beautiful language, and well worth learning.

Hosting an AFS exchange student: First of all, the Italian AFS exchange students go through so many tests and interviews  to be selected. Ultimately this means it’s basically impossible to get an Italian student who isn’t hard-working, smart, and responsible. I think there are a lot of families who might benefit from having an exchange sibling, because you can learn so much about different cultures and other places and the world. It’s important for there to be more host families, so all the amazing exchange students can experience a year abroad. 

Being an AFS exchange student: I have exciting news for anyone who wants to study in Italy! There are two scholarships to go to Italy, $2k each, and many others for many other places around the world. I know it can sound scary, it’s scary to think of leaving your family, your life, your friends, but you shouldn’t regret it, because you will  have the best experience of your life. You will experience a high school in another country, and it makes you into a more mature person. There are so many amazing experiences that you could never imagine.

About AFS: I have so many beautiful things to say about AFS here. I got so lucky because I got an amazing community in the U.S., from the very first day when we started doing AFS gatherings, from the very first day. We’re always there for each other to help each other. The community here is amazing, they really want us to be comfortable, they always check on us to see how we’re doing, they never let us down, they organize so many events. I’m hoping that some of these friends will last for life. I want to be a host when I grow up. I love AFS so much and I hope I can keep it going for so long. It’s an amazing community full of amazing people and it’s so much fun. 

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 visit afsUSA.org.

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