by ALLEN GRESS
Before coming to Louisville a Rotary foreign exchange student from her home in Pompai, Italy, Grace Salvio thought American teen-agers sang and danced a lot, just like the movie and TV series Glee. "American movies are very popular in Italy," she said, "So that was my perception of American teen-agers." She soon found that was an inaccurate perception.
Grace arrived in Louisville in mid-August and the 17-year old was excited about staying with her local host family Wayne and Cari Huthmacher, and their two daughters Denise, 19, and Marie, 17. It was two weeks before the first home football game.
"Everyone was so excited about taking me to my first football game and I got caught up in it too," she remembered. "The other kids painted their faces, boys without shirts, the marching band, pom poms and all... but I didn't have the slightest idea what the game was all about. Soccer is Italy's national sport and I thought a football would be round, like a soccer ball."
But by the end of the season, Grace said she had a
good idea of how the game is played. Each of those early days here
found more misperceptions.
"Coming to America I thought my knowledge of English was pretty good; I knew I could get by," she continued. "Early on I was taken to supper at a restaurant and I thought I was ordering an evening meal, but I ended up with a breakfast."
And even more language barriers to be hurtled. Grace was late the day of her first test in one of her classes and her teacher told her to go somewhere and Grace thought she had to get an excuse from the office. Anyway, she ended up in study hall and her teacher came looking for her. The teacher had just asked her to wait outside until the test was underway and she would give Grace a different test.
But with a bubbly personality and a perpetual sunny outlook, she adapted, she learned and the English language became second nature.
Last spring, Grace's school officials informed her about the Rotary exchange program. "My grades were good and they told me it would open my mind," she said. "I wasn't sure my mind needed opened and my father was against the idea of me going to America, but my mother supported my decision. And my mind has been
Grace's father is in the automotive business and her
mother is a marine biologist who works for the government. She has
two younger brothers, Giovanni who is 14, and Maximillian, 8. "I miss
them all very much, but I talk to them each week using SKYPE," she explained.
Grace's classes include American Studies, Geometry, English, Biology and College Readiness. Besides her native tongue and English, Grace speaks French, Spanish, Latin and Greek.
Besides her schoolwork, Grace sings in the Christ United Methodist choir and is a bus mascot for the marching band. Grace's future is college, perhaps in America, to study medicine with the goal of becoming a physician.
Back home, Grace enjoys the local YMCA, playing the guitar and dabbling at painting. She has traveled around Europe, visiting London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Stockholm and others. She's looking forward to visiting Washington D.C and New York City before returning to Italy.
Grace likes American food, but says our portions are too large. One surprise was Italian food American style. "I was taken to Olive Garden and was anxious to enjoy some good Italian food," she said. "But Olive Garden is not Italian." In Italy, she says fish, breads and coffee are staples - along with different pasta dishes. American pizza is too greasy for her tastes. "My favorite
dish is apple pie topped with vanilla ice
Grace, a vegetarian, enjoyed her first Thanksgiving and tasted cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie with the Huthmacher family.
Christmas is a major holiday in Italy, too, and they decorate a tree and exchange gifts. "We have a house full of children and relatives," she said. "We eat fish for Christmas dinner and celebrate with champagne, exchange gifts at midnight and stay up until two or three on Christmas morning. Santa Clause brings gifts to the little children."
While here she has learned to love her UGGS, sheep-skinned boots. "I wear them all the time," she confessed.
Teen girls in Italy wear more jewelry, pay more attention to matching clothes colors and their hair has to be perfect. On Friday and Saturday nights, Italian teens travel to Rome, go to clubs and party with friends, according to Grace. "In the summer, we like to sleep on the beaches." Teens can drive at age 16 and buy alcohol at 17.
Grace said LHS have been very friendly and helpful
but sometimes think she comes from another planet "They ask if
we have Facebook."
Ten years from now, Grace sees herself back in America, perhaps in Seattle, Washington working as a doctor, probably single living in a high rise overlooking the ocean. A husband? "Comme ci, comme ca" she responds, her dark eyes flashing while flouncing her arms for punctuation. Translated from French the expression means like this, like that or perhaps easy come, easy go.
"I want to thank the Rotary for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity," she said. "I just love it here."
Cari, her host mother, said she would recommend the hosting of foreign exchange students to others. "Grace is delightful, Grace wakes up happy," she said.
One thing for certain, Grace Salvio brings a little different style and grace to America.