Rotary Exchange

My Exchange in Italy so far…..

Hello to everyone at St Mary’s.  For those who don’t know me, I am Gerard O’Brien.  I was in Year 10 in 2018 and am currently spending one year in Italy on a Rotary Student Exchange program.

This experience gives me the opportunity to live like a local and attend school here while living with local host families.  I live in a small town of two thousand people in the north of Italy at the foot of the Alps next to the Swiss border called Berzo Inferiore.  The closest city is Milan which is about one hour by car.

I arrived in Italy in January and was greeted at the airport by my two host sisters and my host parents. They have been wonderful, extremely kind and treat me like their real brother/son.  They have taken me to different towns, places and short trips around the lovely lakes and villages.

I started school the day after I arrived. School here goes for 6 days (Monday-Saturday including 2 half days). For the first two weeks, I visited each class to meet and get to know all of the students. The school is very different to Cairns with only about 13 students in each grade!  I can do ok with a few subjects but for sports at every lesson they play soccer, which is impossible for me because they are Italians!

I have not taken any language classes or anything extra to improve my Italian as I feel it is improving at a good rate. My Italian is starting to catch up a lot faster lately and I am getting a lot more comfortable with speaking and understanding the language and making friends. 

My host mum is the best and tries to take me places whenever she can.  She even organised a trip for me to see Milan. I had been saying I really wanted to visit Milan and she made it happen! It was amazing and quite overwhelming to be honest. It was a very busy day full of cramming in as much sightseeing in as possible, so we were all exhausted afterwards.  I celebrated my host mother’s birthday recently and organised a surprise party for her.

I have also spent some time with my host “nonnas” (grandmothers) who have been very kind and generous with me.  They have introduced me to new foods, fed me well and shown me simple village tradition like sausage making.   Once when I was at a fruit and vegetable shop with one of my nonnas I was looking at a pot plant and my host nonna noticed and insisted to buy it for me; so I have a plant to look after now. :) I have been on many walks with my host sister and I'm starting to really enjoy the gelato as spring is here so it’s not too cold for ice cream!

I have made so many amazing friends in the short three months that I have been here both through my school and also students from all over the world that are on exchange in Italy.  This incredible experience has opened me up so much as a person, making me more comfortable to try new experiences and foods that I would have never dare to touch back in Australia.  I am also learning a new language faster that I believed was possible.  Rotary has been fantastic in the support they provide and opportunities that they make available to students.  I have now been on a few educational and cultural trips with Rotary and in June I am looking forward to going on a European bus trip with many other international students.

I truly recommend anyone who has a passion for traveling, learning a new language, wanting to make life-long friendships and who want to step out of their comfort zone to look into going on an exchange.  It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it can open up so many doors and possibilities for your future.

by Gerard O’Brien


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