It is always fascinating to meet newcomers to the United States, and talking with two new foreign exchange students attending Sycamore High School was no exception. Nana Grønlund Mohr from Denmark and Giulia Cattivelli from northern Italy arrived just before school started and have yet to witness a high school football game. Both are more familiar with soccer in their home countries.
Nana has a younger sister at home, with one parent living in Aarhus and the other in Randers. Her father owns a commercial insurance firm, and her mother has worked in retail, is into floral decorating and studied to teach special needs children. Nana chose to enter school here as a junior because she is 16 years old, even though she has completed high school in Denmark. To enter a Danish university, you must be proficient in three languages – hers are Danish, English and German. She faces seven years of college because she wants to become a doctor. But there is no tuition as the government provides free education.
Nana said she has found peanut butter and macaroni and cheese to her liking, but the flavored popcorn leaves something to be desired. School days are much easier for her here. Back home they have a longer day, with two breaks and they stay in the same room all year; the teachers come to them.
The most famous star in Denmark? That’s guitarist and songwriter Kim Larsen. She said she hopes to visit the White House and some national parks before her U.S. stay ends; she holds President Barack Obama in high regard. Her Rotary host family here are Ben and Lori Swedberg.
Talking with Giulia, I found that Italian schools also are different than here. She is 17, so she entered the senior class at Sycamore. Next fall she will return to her fifth year of high school in Italy. They attend classes six hours a day with only one short break to have a snack. Their teachers also move from room to room and they stay with the same classmates through all five years of high school, in classes of about 22 to 25 students.
Her father is a computer programmer for a bank and her mother formerly worked as a secretary for a beverage company. She has one sister four years her junior. New foods she has enjoyed here so far are corn on the cob, pancakes with maple syrup, some pastries and brownies.
Giulia’s hometown of Monticelli d’Ongina has a population of only 5,000 and has no high school, so she attends a boarding school in a nearby city, commuting by bus daily. Similar to Nana’s school, they have digital “smart boards” in front of the class, operated by computers. This is a recent innovation in Italy, she said, and computers for students at school must be paid for by the parents. She has her own laptop and iPod, plus a cellphone. To keep in touch with family and friends she sends text messages and uses Skype, which provides a video connection as well.
Guilia said she would like to see Colorado and Alaska before leaving the country. She said her educational and career plans after high school are still fluid. Dan and Jody Ryan are her host family for her Sycamore schooling, through the American Field Service intercultural program.
I decided to save the more controversial questions – like their opinions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Illinois’ power politics, or American intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan – for the end of their stay here, so they will have time to hear what Americans think as well. It will be a pleasure to chat with them again next summer.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday on this page.