CLINTON — Traveling abroad, whether you live in Europe or the United States, is something many people never get the chance to do, but for four young people in Clinton and Waterville, not only are they doing it, they’re doing it before they graduate high school.
Giuseppe Wicki from Switzerland, the equivalent in Switzerland of a American high school junior, and Sophia Sivelli, from Italy, also a high school junior are visiting the United States through the Rotary Club 7150 of Utica Youth Exchange Program.
For five weeks these students get to experience the culture, environment, food and the American way of life. And when they return to their native countries, not only will they be taking memories and souvenirs with them, but also their U.S. counterparts within the exchange program, Seamus Gale and Elizabeth Wratten both juniors at Clinton Central High School.
The Rotary application for prespective American students offers the opportunity to visit Spain, Italy, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, England, Ireland and Switzerland. The program’s main objective is to further international goodwill and understanding by enabling students to study first hand some of the accomplishments and problems of people in lands other than their own, according to their website.
Once the applications are complete the Rotary works with their international counterparts to match American Students with European Students.
“We all had to write an “interests” paragraph.” Wratten said. “They (the Rotary) then try to match you up based on that.”
Gale’s father, Dan Gale said once the Utica Rotary get a good match between two students, due to similar likes and interests they give the students the ability to communicate via social media.
“In both our paragraphs we talked about the kind of music we liked,” Gale said. “The sports we play, like basketball, and I play soccer in the fall. I play basketball with my friends and he plays with his brother and riding our bikes around town, hanging outdoors we both like to do that.”
The girls also found they has similar interests.
“We both come from a musical background, Wratten said. “We like sing, even though we’re both kind of shy.”
Sivelli agreed with a smile, nodding her head up and down in agreement.
This is Sivelli’s first time to the U.S. and she said she was very impressed with one thing in particular.
“Everything is so green,” she said with laugh. I’m from a town like Clinton, but not so many buildings, but also we have the sea. But here- I love it.”
Her home town is Cesenatico, Italy- a seaside community, it’s considered a highlight of the Emilia-Romagna riviera, defined by it’s water, boating a highlight port canal designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Also, its Adriatic coastline is defined by it’s golden beaches.
Wicki also said things were not as he imagined things would be, not that they are bad, just different.
“The streets are very different, also more green (grass and lawn in general),” he said. “Also, the houses are different, not like large buildings, but smaller houses with gardens.”
Wicki hails from Lugano, noted for Lake Lugano, in southern Switzerland, the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, with a population much like Utica with just over 63,000 and the largest Italian speaking region outside of Italy, which it borders on the eastern side of the city.
Wratten said she is really looking forward to visiting Italy.
“I’m really excited, honestly to meet her friends,” Wratten said. “They seem way cool, and what they do there is so much different than what we do here. Like here in my family we kind of do things separate, but there she says they do everything as a family.”
Gale said he’s very interested in seeing the lake when he goes to Switzerland.
“It’s kind of different because everyday me and my friends here in Clinton go play basketball, Gale said. “ Instead of playing basketball Giuseepa and his friends go to the lake...which sounds cool.”
Michael Wratten, Elizabeth’s father, said he’s excited for his daughter to visit Italy for all the experiences she will have.
“I have a brother you visited France as a kid and he still talks about it to this day, “ Wratten said.
Written said it was very nice to meet Sophia’s parents, who they said they spoke to on Skype.
“There was certainly a bonding there,” said. “ I think it had a lot to do with the fact we were going to responsible for their child and vic-versa. The first impressions are so important and I think ours for them was lasting.”
Gale, the elder, agreed.
“Yes, we spoke to Giuseppe’s parents a couple of times, both parents, both me and my wife and it was very exciting,” Gale said. “I’m excited for Seamus to meet Giuseppe’s family and how he will interact with them in their daily lives. Also, Giuseppe’s family are going to take Seamus different places and allow him to experience all these wonderful different places.”
The one shared feeling with everyone and what they hoped to convey to the public is this program offers the opportunity to meet each other, and that in of itself is wonderful, but it’s not just about meeting one person, but all the people these kids will meet and learn from and how social media will allow them to stay active in each others lives long after everyone goes home.
For now, Sophia and Giuseppe said they have bigger fish to fry, sort of speak. They will learn and from others as their days here in Clinton come to end in July, but before they go- they are on a very important mission.
“We need to find this area’s best pizza,” said Wicki with a smile on his face. “That’s what’s important.”
For more information on the Rotary Youth exchange program visit they website online at http://7150youthexchange.org/about-us/program-objectives/.