Irish Welcome Foreign Exchange Student

Emily McDougall, Co-Editor

Francesca Agricola joins the junior class as a foreign exchange student this semester, traveling from her hometown of Fano, Italy.

“I contacted an agency that is called WEP (World Education Program), and the agency provided me with everything – so many sheets of paper to sign and it is a long process,” Agricola said. “I started the process in December 2019, and I got my scholarship in March, the day before we got in lockdown.” 

COVID created strict lockdowns across the world, but especially in Italy, where almost all businesses were closed and residents confined to their homes for weeks on end. Agricola’s program was put on hold until November, and even then was delayed until this spring. 

“I planned to come this year, but because of COVID I was not sure to leave until I was in the plane,” Agricola said. “I received the date of my departure two days before. I said goodbye to all my friends in two days, and then I left Italy.”

Through WEP and International Student Exchange (ISE), the American agency that works with Italian students through WEP, Agricola was matched with a host family. Once she arrived in the States, she experienced her first culture shock: a seven-hour time change.

“The first thing that an exchange student feels is the jetlag, of course,” Agricola said. “So I’m seven hours earlier than my friends in Italy, so it’s difficult to talk with them because if I’m at school, they can’t talk with me. If they are at school and sleeping, I can’t talk with them. So that’s one of the things that was difficult.”

Along with the jetlag, Agricola had to learn to adjust to the culture shock of American high school.

“Italian high school is so much more different from America, ” Agricola said. “We don’t have lunch at school. We go to school from eight to one o’clock. We go to school Monday through Saturday. We don’t have sports or any activities in the afternoon. Everything is different.”

Agricola also explained that American students have much more freedom in their academic choices. Instead of choosing individual classes, Italian students pick a high school based on the academic focus they wish to pursue.

“For example, I studied Latin, Greek philosophy, and history mostly, because when I was 14 after Middle School, I’ve chosen the classic high school,” Agricola said. “If you want to study more physics, mathematics, or other stuff like that, you choose the scientific high school. Even if I am in a classics school, I study also math and physics and science, just less hours than the classics.”

And yet, Agricola’s home school and Bishop McGuinness share some similarities despite being an ocean apart.

“I think all the schools in Italy are Catholic, but if you’re not supposed to take part in the lesson you can ask permission to go home, or just go out of the classroom, during the religion hour,” Agricola said. 

Adjusting to cultural differences and jetlag is a small price to pay, however, for an experience that Agricola is incredibly grateful for.

“I’ve never been to America before,” Agricola said. “I’m so glad to be here. I’m very much appreciating what everyone is doing for me.”

It’s been a warm welcome for Agricola, and she’s found how exciting the American high school experience can be.

“I like everything about this,” Agricola said. “The school spirit, this school style is so cool for me. You can learn things, not just studying but also having fun, and everyone is so kind here so I feel so comfortable.”