A whole new world

Nov. 9, 2006, midnight | By Josie Callahan | 16 years ago

Spirit week left Italian exchange students with lasting impression of American high school

A girl with neon pink leggings, a floral print green dress, gold fairy wings and red rain boots darts quickly through the SAC toward a group of her friends, who are all clad in equally outrageous apparel. Blair Boulevard is alive with decorations of the board games Life, Clue, Candyland and Monopoly. On the way to class one might pass a paper mountain or a giant crossword puzzle on the walls of the hallways. This was the start of spirit week 2006, in which Blair students eagerly anticipated and embraced, while 11 teenage visitors to America stood amid the enthusiasm and chaos in awe.

As Blair students took full advantage of the opportunity to flaunt crazy outfits that would have been prohibited on any other school day, 11 Italian foreign exchange students watched as the antics of spirit week unfolded with utter surprise. These 11 Italian students, one boy and 10 girls, visited Blair from Oct. 9 to the 19th from the Liceo Giodano Bruno High School in Rome, organized through Blair's International Studies Academy. For these teens, spirit week at Blair was their first glimpse at an American high school, and they will never forget it.

Really reality TV?

On television, American high school is generally portrayed as a carefree environment where excitement and drama are in store for even the dreariest Monday mornings. The exchange students, whose first impression of American high school was formulated during spirit week at Blair, found many comparisons between real high school and its media portrayal.

For Claudia La Barbera, American high school was surprisingly similar to what she thought it would be like based on movies and television. On her first day at Blair, which was also pajama/formal day and the first day of spirit week, she said she was pleasantly surprised by the school spirit. "It was so funny and amazing. I was so surprised at the participation by the students."

Culture clash

Despite the drastic cultural differences that La Barbers encountered at Blair, she saw a few traces of Italy in unexpected places. "The pep rally was kind of like a soccer stadium in Italy with all of the people screaming and cheering, except not quite as loud," La Barbera said.

Isabella Carucci, a junior who is visiting Blair for the entire school year was humored by the antics of spirit week and events such as the pep really. "I found it extremely weird and funny. Everybody seemed to be screaming without a reason," she said. Carucci noted that there was a change in students' behavior as the week continued, as theclothes and festivities brought with them an entertaining rowdiness in her American peers in and out of classes.

During spirit week, the exchange students encountered many first-time experiences. For La Barbera, the homecoming football game was the first and last one she would attend. Although she was amused by her observation that the game was quite similar to typical images of American high school on television, she found the actual experience to be dull and cold rather than thrilling.

Worlds apart

For Blair students who hosted the exchange students, the exchange was fascinating and fulfilling. Junior Lily Naden, whose family volunteered to host La Barbera during her stay in America, said that there was a lot to be learned from her international housemate, La Barbera, who became her friend over her 10 day stay.

Among the aspects of Italian culture that Naden learned from La Barbera, the differences in education were most notable. "In Italy, she told me that kids chose their career paths at age 13. You have two years to change your path, but after that, it is permanent and decides where you go to college and what career you chose," Naden says.

Naden learned that the intensity in Italian schooling extends to class environments and schedules. "Claudia was surprised that I took an arts class and a music class in the same day," Naden says of La Barbera's reaction to an average school day, because in Italy all high school classes are focused around the students' career choice.

Naden describes La Barbera as being ecstatic with anticipation at the new experiences that she embraced at Blair. "She was utterly shocked, but she absolutely loved it, and she really got into it throughout the week," Naden says. Throughout the week, Naden helped her housemate participate in the spirit days, as she recalls helping La Barbera make her own costume for Adventure Day.

Though their stay lasted little over a week, the Italian foreign exchange students learned much about American culture and in return taught Blair students much about their Italian heritage during their time at Blair, or, "the little city," as La Barbera referred to it, "pajamas, pirate costumes and all."

Josie Callahan. Josie Callahan is particularly opinionated despite her small appearance. She loves everything Irish and her life is consumed by her one true love- Irish Dancing- which suits her just fine. She also adores British accents, performing, theatre, tiaras, and sparkly dresses. Josie is particularly excited … More »

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