Benvenuto to Sahuaro

Andrea Valdez, Exchange Student from Italy

Benvenuto+to+Sahuaro

Marley Gandee, Reporter

What makes a teenager leave his home country in the middle of a pandemic to go to school for a semester in Tucson, AZ?  I went to Andrea Valdez, an exchange student from Livingo, Italy to hear it first hand. Andrea, a senior, was quick to immediately immerse himself in Cougar life and runs cross country.  In Italy school is a lot different than here, especially the fact that students choose what kind of school they want to go to. They actually have to pick a major when they finish middle school, and everyone goes to a specialized high school. Andrea went to a scientific boarding school, in Bolzano Italy,  where he did not change classes at all. They actually stay all together, which Andrea prefers because he got to know his classmates better. His class didn’t just study science, they set their students up for success by having them study math, science, physics, biology… all the different kinds of science. One of the hardest parts for Andrea is the language; he started learning English when he was 11-years-old, and also knows German, because the city where his school is, was part of Germany before WWII.  He also can speak three languages: Italian, German, and English.  His high school is incredibly small; it can fit fifty times into our school, and is as big as one of the largest classrooms here!

Another big difference between American and Italian schools is that they do not have school sports.  Anyone interested in being an athlete, must just a club team and pay for it on their own.  Before Andrea came here, he ran on his own, but prior to cross country, he was into cross country skiing. He started running after moving to a boarding school where he was unable to ski. He doesn’t like to watch any other sports, saying, “I watched like fifteen hours of baseball with my brother, and I did not like it. It was too boring.”

Getting everything together to come to the U.S. did not come without challenge for Andrea.  He had to go through six months of paperwork to come here! He is planning on staying here for only one semester, and then will go back to Italy and finish the semester there, so he doesn’t lose a full year of school.  His original plan was to stay here for the whole year, but then he decided that it would be better to stay for only one semester because if he stayed the whole year, he would have to repeat it in Italy. Andrea says, “Just don’t be too much on your phone, and get out of your comfort zone.” Originally he was going to go to Oregon, but it didn’t work out because there was no family for him to stay with there. He is staying here with a family that he calls his own, but isn’t related to him. He doesn’t get to see his family until he goes back to Italy, but he gets to FaceTime with them a lot. He has 3 brothers in his family in Italy, his eldest brother lives in New York, studying English! He has 2 younger brothers in his family in America.

During the pandemic, as we all know very well by now, Italy unfortunately got hit hard. All of Andrea’s family got Covid, him having the worst time with it. Although he only had the worst of the symptoms for one day, being immunocompromised was a stressful time. They stayed inside a lot, and that is why Andrea wanted to be an exchange student. He was tired of being stuck inside, so he decided to go big, obviously really BIG. The pandemic did not really affect Andrea’s travel a lot. He did have to wear a mask, but because he was fully vaccinated, there was really no other effect.

Andrea also wants to go to China, because he says, “They have the second best food, after Italy.” His favorite food in Italy is pizza, but he does not like to eat it here because it gives him a stomach ache and is not real. He loves applesauce, because in Italy it’s “just for kids.” Here he really enjoys Mexican food, especially burritos. In Italy they do have Mexican food, but it just isn’t the same. Being an exchange student in a foreign country can come with challenges, but Andrea has overcame everything that has been thrown his way.