• 12 Armadillos

My parents must have been crazy! Exchange students in Italy!

One thing I love (and sometimes dislike) about my twin sister is that when she makes up her mind about something, she is going to do it.  And when I say she, it usually means we.  I’m not saying she forces me to go along with her “adventures”, but like I have said before, I don’t want to miss out.

Examples of her crazy ideas that actually worked:

  1. Graduating from high school in 3 years.

  1. Graduating from college in 4 years after losing lots of credits by starting in other majors (me- Business Administration, her- Political Science). The education secretaries would never let us meet with our advisor. We need to take 28 hours our last semester in order to graduate in May. They said, “nope”. We decided to ignore them, take a couple of correspondence courses through LSU and made it work! Oh the power of determination.

  1. Italy….poor Christa, she had the bright idea and got the short end of the stick.

When Christa and I were sophomores in high school, our school made an announcement that Rotary Club members would be available in the library for anyone who would be interested in participating in a summer international exchange. Christa did not walk, but RAN to the library.  Where was I?  About two seconds behind her. By the end of the day we were so excited to go home and tell our parents that we were participating in an international summer exchange and we decided we wanted to go to Italy. (Remember this was about 25 years ago and my parents were not rich, far from it). But we were bound and determined to make it work.

We begged and begged and begged some more! We put on our best sales pitch and convinced them that this trip of a lifetime would be such a great deal.  We would each be placed with a different Italian family that had a girl our age.  This would be free trip other than the plane ticket (around $1,000 a piece). We wore our parents down with the promise that if they bought our plane tickets we would work our tails off making our spending money. We worked in the hotdog stand outside of Super One, we dressed as a Keebler elf, we cleaned houses, you name it, we did it.

The day finally arrived and we were off to Italy.  Thinking about two 16 year old blonde girls on an airplane traveling to another continent is crazy.  I remember that two VERY HANDSOME Italian men (much older) flirted with us the entire trip.  Talk about an ego boost.  I was thinking, I love Christa; this was the best idea ever!

Our two families picked us up at the Milanairport. We were staying in Rovigo, which was located in the north in the Dolomite Mountains. I was met by the friendliest family ever! They were very normal (the mom was a school teacher) and they had two teenage daughters. Poor Christa on the other hand was met by a mob family.  Seriously, for sure they were in the mob.  They looked like the Sopranos.

I spent three weeks in pure Heaven. We had so much fun!  For some reason in Northern Italy there were not a lot of blonds, so I stood out like a sore thumb, but in a good way.  The mother took me to the store to buy “disco clothes” because my clothes were too “square”. I remember being pulled onto a stage at a disco with at least a thousand people being introduced as the girl from America.

Christa, on the other hand, was with the mob family. Their house was a huge mansion in the middle of town surrounded by 24 hour monitored gates. There was a full time maid and tons of exotic dead animals on the wall of the bedroom where Christa was sleeping. What exactly did the dad do to amass his wealth? The family was shady when asked this question and said something about producing soaps for hotels. Ok, I get it. Producing soaps for hotels would defiantly require people coming to the house at all hours of the night. Christa spent two weeks at the family’s beach condo and two weeks at their main house.

Poor Christa, the one with this idea, tried to make the best of an awkward mob family stay.  The mob father would make her get on his motorcycle and drive her slowly around the town center showing her off like a trophy. He would also drive her around in his Lamborghini. None of Christa’s family could speak English so Christa definitely could speak more Italian than me at the end of the month. The teenage girl was so rude to Christa. Christa would call and beg for us to meet up because she was miserable.  We met up a few times, but I still feel guiltily that she was stuck with the weirdoes.

The plan was for the girls to fly back with us and spend three weeks with our family. 

This is where the fun (not!) began.  As soon as they landed on American soil the two Italian girls complained. Nothing was as good as Italy. My mom spent hours preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and they refused to eat any of it and asked to be taken to McDonalds. We took them on trips to New Orleans, Houston, and other places.  My father is a man of few words and finally had enough of their complaining.  He told them to pack their bags he was taking them back to the airport.  If they wanted to go home, they could.  This shocked them. They both realized their parents had spent a lot of money on this exchange and if they got sent home early it would not be good. Soon the Italian girls turned on each other.  The “mob girl” ended up stealing money (Italian Lira) from my girl.

Overall I would say I am so blessed to have gone on that trip.  I still remember the experiences like it was yesterday. Even Christa feels like it was the opportunity of a lifetime. The experience of living with an Italian family for a month was priceless. The experience of living with a mob family is even more priceless. Here are some of the things that I look back on and it makes me smile

  1. We would ride our bikes into town to go to the disco. I was able to leave my purse (with money in it) on the bike and not worry about it being missing when I returned. Maybe things are different today but it was very nice to experience this.

  2. We were 16 and stayed out all night at the disco. This was normal, just like teenagers drinking wine at dinner.

  3. We were in Italy when they were in the World Cup. The small towns would all have huge TV screens where the entire town would gather to watch. This was the World Cup where the soccer player was killed.

  4. Italians are very into themselves. They have an immense pride in their culture, their food, and their country. According to them, Italy is the best place on the planet. They also have no problems cutting you in line or pushing to get what they want.

  5. We would wake up really early, pack a lunch, and catch the train to a different city. Days were filled with exploring different parts of Italy on our own. This seems crazy to me now (without parents) but it was very safe at the time. Some cities explored included Florence, Bologna, Venice, and Rimini.

  6. Women were expected to take care of their men. It was strange but both of the mothers babied their families and did everything for them, especially for the husbands and sons. I remember my host mother ironing my underwear. I don’t know if things are different now but women definitely were expected to do EVERYTHING in the household while the men were treated like kings.

  7. The food was amazing. It was funny because someone told my host mother that Americans eat cereal every single day. She made me cereal every day but she heated up the milk. I think she thought that is how we eat our cereal. I didn’t have the heart to tell her we have it cold so I just sucked it up and put a smile on my face.

So my question for you is this.  Would you let your teenage daughter/son be an exchange student today?  


Brenham, Texas


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