Cultural exchange programme for foreign students visiting Italy.
It is a cross cultural experience where the Exchange Student has the chance to know the "Bel Paese": beautiful countryside, lovely beaches, highest mountains, historical towns in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
Italy: a land of artists, painters, sculptors, stylists, designers, chefs… Together, to build a story of shared memories...
In a global society, the borders of each country are easier to cross: knowing, meeting other people, becomes a necessity and a personal enrichment, a cultural heritage to acquire and manage in a world where communication is instant and relationships are increasingly important. The world is a network that brings us closer together, but also demands a deeper understanding of others; it is, then, an opening for dialogue—a means of interacting while respecting every culture.
Superficial relationships are unsatisfying; travelling as a tourist is not enough to understand a nation's culture and civilisation and we all feel the need to go beyond and discover the true identity of the country in order to appreciate it.
All too often, each country is known through its stereotypes, which are brought up for discussion whenever a process of deeper understanding is begun.
Let's consider the image Italy has built over the years. In the early 1900s, the country was considered a land of poor, starving emigrants, looking for work. Then, as their skills and abilities became more widely known, they gained a reputation for being great workers, excellent masters of tailoring, carpentry, and cabinetry: people with skills, abilities and a desire to redeem themselves. Luckily, Italy is also a land of able navigators, artists, painters, sculptors, creative, fashion stylists, designers of furniture and machines, of chefs… the list is endless. Abroad, Italians are said to be chatty, friendly, imaginative, refined, stylish, tasteful, who often wear designer clothing, are terrible drivers, detest rules and pay only lip-service to laws; they are flexible, and always open to compromise; they only eat pasta and pizza, the women are beautiful, and the men are Latin lovers. This description is a very superficial way to label an entire population.
The stereotypes are a poor fit for all and lose their effectiveness thanks to the possibilities opened up by the many communications options available today. Now, few of us trust what we have heard; we want to deepen our understanding, to learn in person, and hospitality is the way to achieve this, to help people understand and appreciate the uniqueness of each of us. This need is what powers the welcome and opens the front door to a young person who wants to try out a new location.
For young people, living abroad and attending a local school is a great adventure: a formative, educational, and cultural life experience for study and learning about a people. The motivations of a foreign youth for coming to Italy to study are many: perhaps they love the beautiful country, its art, its history, the historic cities, the landscapes, the design, the variety of Italian and regional cuisine, the Slow Food movement. Then there's the lifestyle, the hospitality, and last but not least, Italy's language and culture. What makes all this possible, given the ambition of such a project for someone so young, is the ability to stay with a family, entering the very heart of the chosen country's society, learning and exploring the culture within, from a privileged position.
The Host Family is a key protagonist, along with the student, of this adventure. Welcoming a student into your own home is a difficult choice and requires patience, time, sensitivity and attention to the student's needs, just as with your own children. The student will be arriving at a family with its own structure, its own life, its own past, and a balance created over many years, based on explicit and implicit rules, customs, and shared interests. Obviously, the student will feel like a stranger on their arrival. They must learn, understand, and adapt to the dynamics of the family; they must find their own space and learn to relate with everyone positively. Similarly, the family must be welcoming, understanding, and willing to share space and time with the adolescent, who is not a guest, but one of the family.
Living abroad is not easy for the student. The student must learn the family's own customs, changing their behaviour to suit. They must perform actions they considered simple, daily, habitual in new ways, and always remember to correct themselves. This process requires a continuous mental effort. An illustrative example is accepting the tactility typically found in an Italian family, or learning to recognise the many gestures used. The student's adaptation happens at a cognitive level and thus create acculturative stress that will be overcome over time, adjusting to the new behavioural rules.
The family must communicate with the student and talk clearly to them, explaining the rules without making any assumptions. All difficulties can be overcome through communication.
The family also has their own expectations. Students should be respectful, available, flexible, courageous, strong, constant, enthusiast. They should also expect to take part in the family's management and perform chores assigned to them. And what should the student expect from the host family? Affection, hospitality, and availability. This act of great generosity on the part of the family, and the efforts of both, is repaid in spades by the student's smile and affection.
Together, the student and host family create a story: a jigsaw puzzle of shared memories that become a key part of a relationship that will last a lifetime. Relationships based on mutual trust and esteem forge deep and lasting friendships.
A foreign student is obliged to attend a school, and to attain good results. Usually, the nearest and most convenient school for the family is chosen, taking into account the student's academic level and skills. The family has the duty to ensure the student follows their academic path. Depending on the student's Italian language skills, they will be assigned to one or more classes in subjects similar to those studied in their home country, and follow a custom schedule. This does not exclude the possibility of studying new subjects. Italian educational institutions are required to host foreign students and comply with the Student Mobility Plan, as covered in Ministerial Circular no. 181, dated 17th March 1997:
"The hosting, for a period not longer than a school year, by higher secondary schools, of individual students from abroad who intend to stay to study in Italy, but who are not studying here for a specific qualification, is not subject to the regulations described in Article 192, clause 3, of Legislative Decree no. 297 dated 16th April 1994. In order to enter the Italian school, the same will acquire the necessary information from the originating foreign school regarding the system used by said school, including the study plan followed by the same. At the end of the stay, the Italian school issues a certificate of attendance that includes the educational results and knowledge acquired by the foreign student during their studies in Italy. However, because the young people in question are entered into classes and there is an obligation to watch over them, the foreign student must be covered by an insurance policy during their time at the Italian school that covers them for medical and hospital expenses, and against any risks arising from accidents, and from civil liability for damages and other related legal burdens.
The Community's citizens, who are registered on the national health system of the community where they reside, must present the relevant forms directly to the applicable USL (health centre) in their place of residence in Italy. The student, as non-EU citizen, must obtain a residence permit for study purposes. This permit is issued by the police headquarters responsible for the area, on presentation of the student entry visa that granted them entry to Italy. The student must be informed of their obligation to declare to the same police headquarters, within 8 days of their arrival in Italy, of their presence in the country."
This is a programme of study, not tourism. Therefore, the family has no obligation to organise excursions around the country. The family does not have the worry of following the student during the day, being available all the time, and always positive. Families don't do this for their own children, so there is no need for them to do so for their exchange student, who must be allowed to manage his own time by himself.
The host family is not alone in looking after the student. They are assisted by the Area Rep, a local person who accompanies, and takes care of, both the student and their host family, assisted by the staff at Euro Master Studies. All prospective host families must complete a form for the hosting, providing their information. The form can be downloaded from: www.masterstudio.it/highschool or requested in the Milan office: Tel. +39 02 29533748. Once completed, the local Area Rep will set an appointment to visit and vet the prospective host family, who should all be present. They will explain the role, and the duties the family will take on with regard to the exchange student. The purpose of the Area Rep is also that of explaining their rights to each student, ensuring they understand their own responsibilities, and explain and ensure that all family and school rules are abided by. The Area Reap is the student's mentor and the contact for the family who will accompany them on their adventure.
On arrival, Euro Master Studies organises an intercultural camp to get to know the exchange students who are taking part in this experience, to help boost confidence, and to share the differences between the countries, explaining Italy's rules, traditions, and culture. This is a soft landing, before beginning the experience for real. This helps the students understand that there is always help available from qualified staff, who they can contact if needed, even if they just need someone to talk to during a difficult period, or want to share a wonderful experience.