Foreign exchange student from Italy spending school year in Walker County

By NICOLE SMITH, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 10/19/16

One of Walker High School’s newest students is flourishing and sharing her Italian heritage with her classmates.

Chiara Scirocco is a 17-year-old foreign exchange student from Turin, Italy. Chiara applied for the …

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Foreign exchange student from Italy spending school year in Walker County

Posted

One of Walker High School’s newest students is flourishing and sharing her Italian heritage with her classmates.

Chiara Scirocco is a 17-year-old foreign exchange student from Turin, Italy. Chiara applied for the exchange program and found out a year ago that she would be traveling to America. She said it has been her dream since she was 13 years old.

“I’m so glad to be here because I really want to do this. ... I’m in the second month, but I’m so glad to be with this beautiful family,” Chiara said.

Her host parents are Greg and Darlene Harrison, and their daughter, Morgan, wanted a foreign exchange student to stay with them during her senior year.

A couple of months ago, Chiara flew out of an airport near Milan to New York. After spending time with other foreign exchange students there from around the world, she flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, and finally made her way to Birmingham, Alabama. When Chiara got off the plane, she was greeted by her host mom and host sister, who were holding a welcome sign and a gift basket. Chiara was stunned. 

“My first impression was maybe a little bit of...I was afraid about it, but then when I saw Darlene, my house mom, and my house sister, I was super excited,” she said.

Chiara came back to Walker County and soon began school at Walker High. While she’s considered a senior in America, Chiara will still have one more year of high school when she returns to Italy.

“The first day [of school] I was so excited,” she said. “I thought about the difference of the school because we always think of the American high school like we see in the movies, and it was very, very similar. ... I have lots of people who see me in the halls [now] and wave their hands [at me]. And I’m so happy because I didn’t do anything special other than just being here or being nice.”

Chiara said she has an intense focus on academics, but did decide to join the school’s band, as she has always had an interest in music. She plays the marimba as part of the percussion section.

In Italy, Chiara said the school setting is much different than that of traditional American schools. Chiara has to go to different classrooms here for each course of study, and in Italy she stays in one classroom where the teachers rotate though her room during each school day.

“School is just school. It’s academic, it’s hard. ... There’s not a lot of social time,” Greg Harrison said of Chiara’s regimen in Italy. “She’s really intelligent. She learns things fast.”

Chiara added, “It’s very hard, and I have like 10 subjects. So here, it’s one year, but a beautiful year, that I can enjoy really every single second. I’m relaxed and I’m at peace with myself. ... All the things I’ve [studied] in Italy, they do it years after here. Something that I did a long time ago in middle school, they do it right now [here].”

Despite the many differences in schooling, Chiara has had little difficulty adjusting to American life, and she is particularly enjoying expanding her palate.

She loves biscuit and gravy, Snickers and sweet tea, and says the American version of Italian food isn’t very authentic, but doesn’t taste terrible. Chiara surprised the staff at Olive Garden in Birmingham when she ordered in Italian one day.

“It’s not bad. It’s very good, but it’s not Italian,” she said of the American take on Italian cuisine. ”If I thought about the American food I taste in Italy, it’s not the same as it is here.”

Chiara’s host family plans to take her to a few regional places to visit during her time here, and she will travel to Walt Disney World with Walker’s band in March of next year.

She misses her family back home and stays in touch with them regularly, but Chiara said she wants to focus on her journey as a foreign exchange student by making memories in the United States and exploring the many opportunities at her fingertips.

“At the beginning, it was very different and I felt like I was in a different world, but I’m trying to be involved because I really want to learn how you live here and be involved like an American person. ... I really want to learn everything that I can do this year,” Chiara said. “I like to enjoy every single moment here and not live in Italy, because I’m here and I want to live here.”

One of Chiara’s favorite things to do in America is to gaze at the stars. She rarely sees them in the mountainous region where she lives in Italy.

“I’m the first person that is always happy for the little things, and I’m so glad to be like this,” Chiara said with a bright smile. “Every single night here, I look at the sky and I stare at it. It’s beautiful. It’s magic.”