Italian exchange student has a change of attitude
Georgia Ratti from Lecco, Italy, has been in Quincy since Aug. 21 as a Rotary Club exchange student at Quincy High School.
Georgia (spelled “Giorgia” in Italian) arrived with an open mind, having avoided building up ideas of what the year might bring.
“I started to think about my year in America about two days before departure,” she said.
She avoided focusing on her trip partly because she was afraid of feeling homesick even before she left, and also because she simply wanted to experience things as they are.
Back home in Lecco, in the scenic Lake Como area near Milan, she has an older sister and parents waiting for her, as well as many friends.
“I used to spend a lot of time with my friends at (coffee shops), just hanging out. They were encouraging about my decision to spend a year as an exchange student. They said everybody will still be there when I return,” Georgia said.
She admits having felt homesick on occasion, but she is enjoying her year in a new country most of the time.
Her first host “parents” in Quincy were Matt and Hydi Hoeger. Georgia stayed at their home for three months. She went out trick-or-treating and had fun.
“The good girl that she is, it was nice having her with us,” Matt Hoeger said. “We would be happy to have another exchange student in the future.”
The Hoegers have four children of their own. Before Georgia’s arrival, Matt and Hydi Hoeger went through the Rotary exchange student training.
Currently, Georgia is staying with John and Marie Rylaarsdam.
“She is the perfect exchange student,” Marie Rylaarsdam commented. “Georgia will take the dog for walks and help around the house.”
Georgia likes to spend unstructured time with friends here just like she did in Italy. She has also taken up volleyball again in Quincy, a sport she was active in two years ago. She played at varsity level and also plays as an extracurricular activity.
She hasn’t had much trouble with school, other than dealing with the English language at times.
“School is too easy in America,” Georgia said. “They should make it harder.”
In Italy she will have one more year of the five-year high school left before going to a university. She studies architecture at the high school level in Italy but is also interested in fashion.
Besides the academic level in America, Georgia is trying to get used to the food in her host country.
“Pizza – it just isn’t the same here,” she said. “And I miss pasta and sushi.”
Georgia made a trip to Idaho with the Hoegers over Thanksgiving and got to experience the family togetherness and the elaborate meal of the holiday. Mashed potatoes were her favorite, turkey she well enjoyed, while yams were very far down on her list of favorite edibles.
Another food-related dilemma has been the early dinner hour. Italians eat late in the evening, around 9 or 10 p.m., because they usually have a large lunch, which is often followed by siesta or rest of a couple of hours.
“I’m getting used to it,” Georgia said with a smile.
She seems a balanced, contented young lady.
“Being an exchange student isn’t for everyone,” Georgia pointed out. “You cannot be … what is now … ? She looked up the English translation on her phone. “ ‘Fragile.’ Mentally fragile.”
Her mental strength, along with the physical, were recently tested when she suddenly became violently ill. The Rylaarsdams had to rush Georgia from a volleyball game to an emergency room as she was vomiting and ran a high fever. She had to be transported to a hospital in Wenatchee. It turned out to be severe dehydration and an infection. She missed two weeks of school, but she is doing better now.
“That was scary for me, being away from home and having to stay in the hospital,” Georgia said.
While Georgia had no preconceived ideas of the United States before her arrival as an exchange student, she feels she has gone through some personal changes during the past months, some shifts in her attitude.
“When I was living in Italy, I didn’t like it. Now I’ve been away for a while and grown to … ‘apprezzare’,” she took a quick look at her phone’s translation again, “appreciate my home country.”
If she could change one thing about Italy, Georgia wishes people weren’t so formal. She likes the American openness and friendliness.
“I have started to think that I want to help people,” she said.
When you live in Quincy, the mindset of helping easily rubs off on a person.
The Rylaarsdams have taken their Italian guest to Seattle and will be going to San Francisco soon. Georgia will transfer to her third host family during spring break.
“I want to travel and see as much as I can. I really want to go to Texas,” Georgia said with eyes sparkling.
“Felice Anno Nuovo” (Happy New Year), Georgia! Yes, see Texas – you have already crossed an ocean.
By Jaana Hatton, For the Post-Register