Gianmarco, a 16-year-old student from Rome, has two older siblings that completed international exchange experiences. He was inspired to follow in their footsteps. Arriving in January on the PSE Semester program, his dream became a reality.

“I was excited to meet new people and immerse myself in a new and different environment that would help me grow and make great memories.” Gianmarco says, “My two big sisters went on this journey, and I can’t wait to share mine with them. I was excited to go beyond my comfort zone and experience having a second family on the other side of the ocean.”  

When Gianmarco arrived to his host family of four in Gilbert, AZ, he quickly learned how to adapt from having two older sisters in Italy to having two younger sisters in America. Arya (6 years old) and Alessandra (4 years old) have relished in having Gianmarco as their older host brother. 

Flo, who is Gianmarco’s Local Coordinator, shares:

“Every time I pick up Gianmarco to take him to a student activity, the girls hug him and tell him how much they will miss him when he is gone. It is always a precious moment when observing their sweet bond.”

Eric and Natalia, the host parents, are dedicated to Gianmarco’s exchange experience and are supportive of all he is involved in. “This experience has forever changed us and our family. We had high hopes for a positive experience, and this has exceeded all of our expectations. Gianmarco is considered family now and forever.”

Gianmarco’s Passion for Soccer

Gianmarco shares that this passion for playing soccer was ignited at 6 years old after his first year on a team. “Soccer for me is love, passion, and a hobby, but it is also a friend to me who can help in bad moments. I just need a ball, and I am the happiest guy in the world.”

Gianmarco shares that he loves watching the games of Real Madrid, a Spanish professional soccer club, though he also follows his favorite team, AS Roma, the Italian club based in his home city of Rome. Gianmarco says that watching professional soccer games, especially, his favorite player, Paulo Dybala, inspires him to further develop his soccer skills. “I really miss going to the stadium in Rome and watching Dybala play in real life. The ambiance of the soccer stadium is magic!” he shares.

Playing Soccer in America

Flo became aware of Gianmarco’s passion for soccer early one when reading his application. “Gianmarco and his natural parents wrote extensively about his prior and current experiences playing soccer. He had played since he was 5 years old and his dedication to practice and attending matches, paired with being the team captain for two years, showcased his leadership and team spirit. I knew that I needed to find a host family who would be committed to supporting his desire to play soccer in America.”

Eric and Natalia immediately began searching for a league in the area even before he arrived on the program. They recall, “When Gianmarco was placed with us, we knew his passion was soccer. We immediately began looking for soccer teams and clubs that he would be able to participate in. Soccer is part of his everyday life in Italy, and we wanted to continue that drive here.”

Finding a club did not turn out to be an easy task. “The biggest challenge at first was not being familiar with the soccer clubs and finding an age-appropriate team for him,” says Natalia. They reached out to a local Facebook group to inquire about joining a club, and reached out to a coach who was very helpful. “Everyone has been very helpful to make this a positive experience.”

Eric, Natalia, and their daughters have been a pillar of support for Gianmarco and his soccer experiences in America. They report that his soccer training usually occurs three days a week plus games on Saturday and Sunday. The host parents split the responsibility of taking him to and from practices. Natalia shares, “Our family goes to all the local games to cheer him on!”

The team traveled one time out of state to Albuquerque, NM for a game. Gianmarco rode the bus with his team, and Eric followed in his car.  Natalia explains, “It was not required that Eric go, but we felt more comfortable in case of emergency and also to show support.”

Gianmarco reports that his soccer experience in America has been rewarding and that he enjoys being part of an amazing team. “I’m really enjoying playing here. I was so curious to play in America, and it’s going very well!”

Though he notices that American soccer is very different from “football” (soccer) in Italy, he very much enjoys it. He especially notes that American soccer is more physical and faster, as opposed to Italian which is more technical.

Eric shares, “Gianmarco has embraced the team and opportunity to play soccer here. The style and training are a bit different, but I think it will only make him better as a player and teammate. We have noticed the coaches have praised Gianmarco for different skills that he is teaching the other teammates. He has been a great example.”

Gianmarco’s message to other soccer lovers:

“I decided to embrace this exchange experience, and I’m so glad to be here having the opportunity to play soccer on the opposite side of the world. I would like to suggest to all the guys who love soccer and want to have this experience to jump on a soccer team. It’s a great way to meet new people and make new friends!”

Flo closes with this message to Gianmarco:

“Gianmarco, you are smart, kind, respectful, and a self-disciplined young man. I remember when you told me that playing soccer for you is like breathing air, it’s essential! Your high level of enthusiasm, dedication, and overall positive mindset will help you achieve whatever you want in life. I believe that all your dreams of becoming a professional soccer player will come true. I only ask that you remember us when you become famous! We will always cheer you on.”

Written by Flo Webb; Edited by Lauren Lunt

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