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Local student shares memories of Italy exchange trip

Marcus Califf

River Falls High School senior Marcus Califf, 18, spent the 2016-17 school year in Lecco, Italy.

The son of Bill and Jenny Califf, Marcus plans to go to college and "study something involving business" after he graduates.

He shared some memories from his trip with the Journal.

How did you decide to go on an exchange trip?

I had seen two of my cousins do exchange with Rotary before me, so I always had a pretty good idea that I wanted to do an exchange trip at some point.

Why did you decide to travel to Italy?

I knew that Italy was full of all different types of history and culture, and I really enjoy that kind of stuff.

Was there a language barrier, when you arrived?

Absolutely, even though I thought otherwise, I didn't know much Italian at all when I got there, so the language barrier was quite prevalent for me.

Did you take language classes or learn as you went along?

A little bit of both. My Rotary Club provided me with weekly language lessons while I was there, but a lot of learning language for me was trial and error. It was really fun to watch how much I had learned over time.

What other countries/tourist sights did you visit and what did you do there?

I was fortunate to be able to travel all over Italy while I was there, going to places like Milan, Rome, Venice, Sicily, Verona, and many more. I was also very fortunate to be able to take a two-week "Eurotour" at the end of my exchange, traveling to places like Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, and Prague.

What was the name of your school?

Instituto Giovanni Bertacchi Lecco

What are some of the biggest differences you noticed between Instituto Giovanni Bertacchi Lecco and American schools?

One interesting thing about my school was the sheer size. My school had five floors and it took me weeks to figure out where all my classes were. I also found that schools in Italy are a lot more old school. It was really interesting to go to a school that uses chalkboards but hardly ever use computers.

What are some of the biggest similarities you noticed between schools in your host country and American schools?

The types of classes that I studied were more or less the same and the way teachers taught the class were pretty similar as well. I think that those parts of school are pretty universal.

What is your favorite memory from your trip?

My favorite memory from my trip was climbing up a mountain on the edge of my town in the dark. Once we reached the top, we could see the town all lit up. I just sat there for hours and stared.

What was the biggest challenge while you were studying abroad?

For me, one of my biggest challenges was adapting to all the different situations that my trip presented. Everything was going by so fast to the point where I had to start slowing it all down by giving myself some time to just rest and relax.

What are some things you learned about your host country and its culture?

I was really surprised just how much fascinating history and culture Italy has. Italians have a way of living that mirrors the way that the older generations did, and I found that really cool. I was also surprised just how much family means to Italians. Kids in Italy don't often seek the independence from their parents like many kids in the U.S. do.

Tell us about your host families.

I had three host families while I was in Italy, and all of them were very different. My first family lived out on a farm 30 minutes outside of town, my second family was a recently immigrated family from Mexico, and my third family lived in a small apartment right in the center of town. I enjoyed being able to experience all the different cultural things each family taught me.

What did you learn about yourself through this trip?

Seeing myself be able to learn a language in less than a year after starting from nothing, I really felt as though I learned just how far I can push myself and how much I can succeed if I give maximum effort.

Would you like to travel abroad again?

I think I'll try to stay home for a while, but I'd love to do something similar somewhere down the line.

What advice would you give anyone who's thinking about doing an exchange trip?

Do it! You don't have to do it for a whole year like I did, even going and being on your own for a couple days ends up changing you for the better.

Do you think going on this trip has changed your perspective in any way?

Not only did my trip change how I see the world, it also changed my perspective of my family and friends and the role they have in my life.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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