CHANNAHON – Anthony Devier felt like he hadn’t left home when he returned July 6 after a year spent studying in Italy on the island of Sicily.
But his mother Betsy noticed the difference in her son. Anthony, 17, of Channahon, had developed a maturity to deal with anything that life put in front of him.
“He might not recognize that now, but those are skills that some people develop in their 20s,” Betsy said.
Although home hadn’t changed, Anthony commented on the changes in himself.
“I’m more confident in what I say. ... I’ve learned about the United States, as well as Italy. I’ve learned about people,” he said.
Anthony left for Italy last fall though the AFS International program, which he heard about through the International Club at Minooka Community High School. He spent one full school year in Agrigento, a city of 50,000, living with a series of host families. He attended a high school modeled on studying the classics including history, art and Latin. All of his experiences were in Italian, which he had never spoken before.
Interestingly enough, two of the families he stayed with complained that Anthony was “too quiet” and was then switched to live with another family.
Initially, he said, his quietness was because he didn’t understand Italian. By about December, although, he felt he was “good enough where I could just talk [Italian].”
The families, he thought, seemed to have a different sense of what the expectations were for his interaction with them and with the outside community.
“The last family worked out the best,” he said. “They were already hosting another exchange student from Germany.”
Together with his host sister, that family was able to show him local sites, and he and the host siblings hung with the same group of friends.
Anthony said he feels Italians are gregarious.
“As soon as they meet you, people will ask you every question imaginable. As soon as you tell them about yourself, they will start to give you advice,” he said.
As a culture, he said, the Italians “have no reserve. They are just themselves from the beginning,” whereas Americans, he said, will take time to get to know you before they get into personal questions.
He found Italian teenagers have more freedom to move about town without parental oversight. On weekends, when he was not studying, friends from school would assemble at bars where students could drink alcohol. Students smoked, as well. Anthony did not drink, in part, because the AFS guidelines forbid that activity.
One unique experience he had was being part of a student strike.
“The occupation,” as he called it, was organized by students at his school to protest the lack of funding for their school. There was no teaching that week, but it was a week where students hung out at the school building, even staying all night.
The schools, he said, are underfunded. Old equipment is used. Desks in rooms may be of five different types, and repairs to the building may take months to complete.
“It didn’t really bother me, but American schools have a lot more,” he said.
The Italian students in turn were quite thrilled when he showed them videos of lockers and the gymnasium at Minooka High School.
“They said, ‘It is just like ‘High School Musical,’ ” Anthony said, referring to a popular Disney Channel movie.
He found himself thinking about the United States from a different perspective.
Many Italians, he said, have a great fondness for the United States, but there were others, especially students from South America, who would say things that he felt were actually true, in part.
“They would yell ‘The United States is so rich that you don’t help anyone else; your houses are so much bigger,’ ” but it opened Anthony to the idea that there are many viewpoints about the wealth that United States holds.
In terms of daily living, Italian cities, he noted, are served by public transportation systems much more so than what he has seen in the U.S. He traveled by bus and walked, but was driven to school by his host parents. Students frequently walk or drive Vespas, which are Italian scooters; although, again, AFS rules don’t allow students in the program to drive scooters, so Anthony did not.
“I walked to most of the places I went to; there are no school buses,” he said. Things are close together. Families tend to live in apartments near other relatives. Communities center around central resources, so things are easy to walk to.
The Italian men he met seemed more appearance conscience than Italian women. With that influence, Anthony is now sporting a haircut which has fuller volume on the top and it shorter on the sides. He shaved the goatee he went to Italy with, because his Italian friends told him it made him look “too old.”
With a foreign experience under his belt, Anthony is now re-registering to return to Minooka High School as a senior this fall. He would recommend an international experience to other students and is ready to travel again. He has Argentina and Germany in his sights for his next adventure.