The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

Welcome to Houston

Maria Borsa
When the Italian exchange students arrived at the airport, their host families awaited them at the arrivals center. They welcomed them with a big sign.

At the George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s arrivals area, 14 Italian exchange students are greeted by their host families with a sign welcoming them to Houston.

Smiling, they wave at each other as they rush to reunite after meeting in November in Italy. After a round of photos and hugs, Bellaire students take their exchange siblings to what will become their new home for the next two weeks.

As part of the foreign exchange program, Bellaire connects Bellaire and Italian students from Telesio High School in Cosenza, Italy. From Feb. 20 to March 5, students from Italy came to Houston to experience American high school life.

The Italian exchange students had different motivations for studying abroad, whether inspired by watching American teenage movies or desiring to connect with their past family heritage.

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“I’ve always loved the US,” Italian junior Carolina Berardelli said. “So I wanted to come and learn about it. I’ve been to the US, but of course, as a tourist. I wanted to understand American high school student life.”

Italian junior Alfredo Infante had family who had previously lived in the States, so this trip was a chance to experience their lifestyles.

“I was to come here because my mom was born in the US and, like her family, migrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s,” Infante said. “So, my great-grandparents lived in New Jersey. My mom lived in New Jersey until she was 12 when she moved back to LA, so I wanted to go through the kind of life my grandparents have always told me about.”

While on the exchange trip, the Spring Fling dance hosted by STUCO was on the calendar for the Italian students. Alfredo Infante poses with his date at the dance. (Maria Borsa)

The program was presented by Italian teacher Maria Borsa, who encouraged her students to take advantage of the opportunity. Previously, from November 16-28, 13 Bellaire students traveled to Cosenza, Italy. They lived with their host families and embraced European culture and academic lifestyles. This time, the Bellaire students were the hosts for the exchange students.

“Coming to America was the best part of the exchange program,” Infante said. “It was fun having the American guys over, but it’s much better to just get to experience a completely different reality.”

Having never been to the States, Telesio junior Martina De Marco was surprised by the quicker-paced lifestyle compared to her hometown.

“Everything is very different,” De Marco said. “Everything is huge. In my town, there is very little; everything is tiny. It is a very quick life, I guess. I think that life in Italy and America is stressful but in a different way. “

The moment the Telesio High School students arrived at Bellaire, differences between the schools became clear.

“In Italy, we always stay in the same class, and the teachers come in, and here, the students move.” Junior Carla Gensini said. “Also, the architecture is huge compared to Italian schools. This was a shock for me.”

Regarding the school schedule, De Marco preferred the flexibility of course selection. In contrast to American schooling, Italian students must choose their specialty schools at age 13 and must take 11 mandatory classes.

“I liked how the school system is in America,” De Marco said. “You can pick your classes. If I had that in Italy, I would be so much happier. You know you can study something you like, which is different from studying something you don’t like, and I don’t like the mandatory subjects that I’m studying in Italy. So I would like to have that in my school.”

Italian students and their host siblings had the opportunity to explore what Houston had to offer. One of their many trip was going to NASA’s Johnson Space Center to discover. (Maria Borsa)

Since school in Italy typically ends around 1 pm, the schedule in America was another factor that needed adjusting for the Telosio students.

“I’d say the biggest difference is the after-school life,” junior Alfredo Infante said. I’ve seen that the school year is like life here as a teenager. It’s very school-focused, and it takes up at least part of your day. And I’d say that probably the biggest difference is that schools in Italy end much earlier. And that also gives you a lot of free time in the afternoon. You can literally do whatever you want.”

Regarding everyday routines, Bellaire junior Luca Rainusso and his exchange student Carolina Berardelli’s schedule depended on how much homework Rainusso had that day.

“So we wake up, we go to school, and then we go back home,“ Rainusso said. “And then depending on the day, if, like, I didn’t have a lot of homework, we would try to, like, go out a little. The point is obviously an academic exchange, but you also just don’t want to keep your guests trapped inside the house the entire day. So we’d go out and see what we could show them, parts of our city or whatnot. That was really cool because they did the same for us.”

In addition to experiencing American high school life, Italian exchange students had the opportunity to explore the Houston area and beyond with their host siblings.

“ We have been offered many school activities, like going to George Ranch, “ Infante said. “We went to NASA, which was a fun trip. So yeah, we’ve been quite busy, but I’d say probably the best part is shopping. And I really liked going to the Galleria Mall.”

The trips around the city made Bellaire junior Khang Nyguen realize he could appreciate the local activities more.

“It helped me appreciate Houston a bit better,” Nyguen said. “Well, because I live here, I don’t find them special. When I was in Italy, I would see buildings or castles from the 13th century, and the Italian students would be like, oh, yeah, that’s normal. They wouldn’t bat an eye. And it was really strange to me to see that.”

Similarly, De Marco noticed something strange: an American social norm of how often her peers complimented each other.

“I could not go to someone and just be like, ‘Oh, I like your hair.’” De Marco said. “That’s weird. You don’t do that in Italy. But here, it is very common. And I like that, so that’s one difference.”

Leonardo Andrade poses with his host sibling, Martina De Marco, at the airport. He offers her flowers to welcome her to America. (Maria Borsa)

As the number one public high school for diversity in the Houston area, Bellaire pleasantly surprised junior Alfredo Infante with the number of students from different backgrounds he met.

“I’d say probably the best part of being in the US is seeing diversity,” Infante said. “We don’t really see that in Italy. I love to see Bellaire High School as a melting pot of different cultures and people from different backgrounds. I got to meet some amazing people who taught me so much about their different cultures and heritage, and I’d say that’s probably what I will bring out from the exchange.”

Before the trip ended, the exchange students reflected on their time here and the people they would miss.

“ I’m gonna miss most of the people I’ve met along the journey because I was expecting it to be much less personal,” Infante said. “But I’ve realized there are so many people who are so inclusive, and I feel welcomed with open arms by literally anybody. And that’s probably because I was told that I’m a foreigner. But it was great getting to meet so many different people and having the chance to be friends.”

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  • C

    ClarissaApr 13, 2024 at 7:43 pm

    Love the quotes! This is a great story.

  • G

    GraceApr 12, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    Really good story! The quotes are so interesting

  • E

    EllaApr 11, 2024 at 3:52 pm

    Great reporting! Love the story