Experiencing America

Exchange Student Claudia DePeppo in front of Manta Ray Mural

Yessenia Martinez

Exchange Student Claudia DePeppo in front of Manta Ray Mural

Traveling to America

When I was little, I was always fascinated with and enthusiastic about watching American movies. They were so different from my reality, from my lifestyle, and I always dreamt to live the same emotions and experiences. Growing up, that dream and desire started to become stronger, especially when I went to England for two weeks in 2018. After that experience, I promised myself that one day I would have improved my English and with it, the opportunities for my future. In particular, I wished to live ten months in the United States.

I continued to keep that hope alive as much as possible, and after all that, here I am. My name is Claudia DePeppo, and I am an Italian exchange student. I have been living my American dream in Southwest Florida, specifically on Marco Island. I came to this extraordinary place on August 25th, 2021. I have been here for the last nine months and in less than one month I have to return to my home country. 

Being an exchange student is not as easy as it may appear to others. At sixteen years old, I had to travel by myself to the other side of the world – leaving my country, my family, my traditions, my habits, and ending up in a place where the language and culture are different. You don’t know anyone, and nobody knows you. 

Personally, it was very hard making friends, especially real ones I could trust and find support in. After a while, I found some friends and they made this experience more incredible than it already was. They will always be part of my life and I hope to stay a part of theirs. 

Lily Douglas (Left), Julia Vergo (Middle Left), Rosalie Walters (Middle Right), and Claudia DePeppo (Right) dressed for the Homecoming dance (Claudia DePeppo)

The Italian teenage lifestyle is much different than the American one. On weekends in Italy, we dress up and walk around the city, talking and meeting people. In the United States, my weekends are usually spent at my friends’ houses. I have missed the interaction and encounters with strangers that have always provided me with interesting conversations.

Claudia DePeppo and her host family on a vacation (Claudia DePeppo)

In these nine months I have experienced so many new things like food, fishing, jet skiing, and other activities. I also visited many other places; California, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey, New York City, Washington DC, Tennessee and the Bahamas. All of these have been possible thanks to my host family. I will always be grateful for everything they have done for me, for making my dream possible, for making these few months easier, and for being incredible parents. They are my second family and I know they will always be there for me, in any situation, although 5000 miles apart

How school is different:

My Italian and American high schools have nothing in common.  In many ways I like the American one most. First of all, in Italy, during the third year of middle school students have to decide what kind of school they want to attend, depending on a career path. There are several different high schools: the linguistic ones which focus on languages, scientific ones with math and physics, classical ones focused more on Greek, Latin and Italian, fashion high schools, business high schools and cooking high schools. In addition to the main subjects, there are other required subjects for each school: history, philosophy, chemistry, biology, religion, Italian, geography, english, etc. In total, 12 subjects are required. 

When you attend one of these schools, you must study all the 12 subjects and you don’t have the opportunity to pick them like you can in the American schools. I think that this system is much better than the Italian one, because when you are 13 years old, in order to pick a specific high school, you must know what profession you are going to do to have the right preparation. For example, if you want to be a doctor the best choice is a classical and scientific high school. 

Another difference between the two systems is the amount of years spent in high school. When I tell American people that Italian students have to attend five years of high school instead of four, and that the students do not change classes but the teachers do, they are shocked. Additionally, we go to school for six days and only have Sundays off. School begins at 8 AM and ends at 1 PM. After that we go home and we have lunch at home with the family. On the contrary, my American school starts at 8:25 AM and finishes at 3:17 PM. There is no school on Saturday and lunch is at school, not at home. 

Lessons are structured in a different way. The first day in my American school, they provided me with a schedule with all the classes and subjects, divided into four blocks. Every day, I had the same subjects in the same exact order, until the end of the semester. In Italy, the schedule is different every day, as the order of the subjects changes. For example, on Monday we can have English for the first block, then Greek for the second and third blocks, history for the fourth and Italian for the fifth. On Tuesday the subjects will be different from the ones listed and this works for the whole week. 

Also, the way teachers instruct is different. In Italy, teachers place much more importance on grades rather than the actual learning. Sometimes I have to study by myself after school because they just assign the topic without talking about it in class. In my American school, teachers explain all the topics in class, which I think is a better way and it helps more. The same situation goes for homework. In the U.S., much of the work is done in class with the help of the teacher, and after school I did not have so much homework. It took me one hour almost every day. In Italy, teachers assign so much homework and I spend almost five hours on it every day.

I also think that school is not only the place where you get your education, but that it should also be fun, and American schools have this characteristic. An example are the dances, like homecoming and prom. I have never been to one of them before this year, because my Italian school does not have them. I had so much fun and for me, they were a special moment. Similarly, my Italian school does not have sports, the school has nothing to do with that.  Instead, you have to apply in some societies or clubs that do it. School in Italy is just education. During my exchange year in the U.S., I did cheerleading at the school for the basketball season. It was a great experience and I loved the school spirit that sports create.

Reflecting on my experience:

“I recommend this experience to everybody because it changes your life and your personality in a positive way.” ”

— Claudia DePeppo

 

If I think about the Claudia of the past, and the Claudia of the present, the old one would be surprised by how much different the present one is. This experience taught me things that I have never thought about before. I started to appreciate more things which for me were normal, like my country and its traditions and culture, my family, and my friends. It changed me in a better way. I am more responsible, more rational, and more independent since my parents are not next to me to help me. 

The exchange year gave me so many opportunities. Now, I feel so much more confident and proud of myself for what I did and for how my English has improved. It made me understand how beautiful and different the world is. I have another perspective on it, and now I have so much more desire to travel and to learn. I recommend this experience to everybody because it changes your life and your personality in a positive way. 

In a few weeks, I have to leave and go back to my normal life in Italy. It’s going to be very hard and difficult to leave everything and everybody. I have gotten used to this life and I am going to miss all the people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made. I know that now this place is my second home and everyone’s like my second family. It will not be a “goodbye,” but more of a “see you soon.”