Sofia and Aris are 16-year-old students from Rome, Italy attending high school in Eugene, OR. When their school in Rome presented their class with the opportunity to participate on the three-month PSE Trimester program, they both decided it was an adventure they wanted to be a part of.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, travel, see new places, make new friends, and so much more!” exclaims Sofia.

As for Aris, “I thought it would be cool to experience a totally different lifestyle than mine in my country,” he shares.

Both Sofia and Aris have discovered several differences between American culture and their native Italian culture during their time in the U.S.

“There are lots of different things, for example, the school, the city, and the food. At school, there are lots of different subjects you can choose to study, while back in Rome they are previously assigned. Eugene is more spread out than Rome. I like that there are mostly houses and not so many apartments,” Aris explains.

Among Sofia’s discoveries are the newer buildings, variety of foods, patriotism she has noticed in American people, and the custom of giving hugs when greeting and departing one another. She has also noticed many small differences, such as in customary mealtimes in America and how even those differ from her native home in Italy.

“Something new I have learned is that people have dinner very early in America compared to in Italy. There, we have dinner between 8:00 and 9:00pm,” she shares.

And there are more discoveries. Aris states:

“Since I’m taking drawing and sculpture at school, I discovered that I’m much more creative than I thought!” He further explains, “Americans are very practical, like at school. For example, we do lots of drawings and clay sculptures. Throughout the process, the teacher explains to us the theory that is behind what we are doing at the moment.”

Both Sofia and Aris have adjusted well and have embraced all of the opportunities made available to them at school, in their communities, and with their host families. Daria, who is Sofia’s host mother, explains that the transition has seemed to be quite easy for her.

“She is comfortable in any situation and knows herself well,” says Daria, who describes Sofia as independent, smart and considerate. She shares that their exchange experience has been great, and that Sofia goes with the flow and fits right in with their family.

“We learn about each other and share views. Her values and our family values are very similar, and so we agree on many things. I think we teach each other new perspectives where we disagree.”

Sofia’s Local Coordinator, Sandra, describes her as a very positive and mature young lady. “Sofia related to her family and school right away. She is very capable, nice, independent, and respectful,” she shares. Sofia has made the most of her short time here in America while partaking in activities such as crossfit, movies, going to the mall with friends, and bowling.

One of Sofia’s favorite memories on the PSE program is a trip she took to Seattle with her host family. “We went up in the Space Needle, to the Public Market, and we also did the iFly indoor skydiving which was really fun!” she recalls. While in Seattle, she and her host family also visited the Amazon headquarters.

Aris has had an equally rewarding and unique experience on the program.

“Aris adjusted and made a lot of his own friends outside of the PSE program,” shares Sandra, who describes him as being easy-going, having a great sense of humor, and a boy who loves to have fun. “He really enjoyed traveling on the PSE trips…especially the trip to the Grand Canyon.”

His brief time in America has brought forward many positive experiences and memories.  He recounts:

“With my host family, we went to Portland to see a soccer game and the Ducks football game. Then, we went to the west coast to see the ocean. We also went to the Saturday market which is a huge place where we did some shopping and saw lots of beautiful handmade items.”

In addition to spending time with his host family, Aris enjoys spending time with other exchange students and his American friends. He shares, “My host family is very nice, as are the other exchange students I met in this experience. I also made American friends, and I hope I’ll see them again in the future!”

Both Sofia and Aris agreed that some of their fondest memories on the program were having the opportunity to experience Halloween in America and, of course, attending the Homecoming dance at their school.

They agree that this exchange experience has helped to shape their future.

“First of all, it made me experience life in another country. So, now I know what it would be like to live in America. Also, it made me discover more college opportunities, and I had a small taste of independence,” says Sofia. While Sofia is pondering her future, she says that she might want to study Economics or Fashion Marketing in college. She hopes to find a job that will allow her to travel to many places.

Aris says that the experience has helped him realize his best skills that he may put into practice when he is older.  “When I return to Italy, I’m going to finish my last year and a half of high school and then probably go to a university in a foreign country,” he shares.

Whatever the future holds for them, we wish Sofia and Aris all the best!

Written by Flo Ruiz; Edited by Ann Steffen

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