Two exchange students navigating new culture at Minooka High School
MINOOKA — Back in August, the AFS Intercultural Program welcomed eight students from around the world, who will be studying at area high schools this year, with a picnic at Harris Forest Preserve in Yorkville. The students came from Bolivia, Finland, Argentina, Paraguay and Italy, among other countries.
While they differ in cultures, languages and traditions, two things they have in common is learning to live in a foreign land and packing as much of the experience into one year as possible.
Andrea Fronteddu, of Italy, and Elizabeth Shih Ding, of Paraguay, are both fulfilling their exchange student experience at Minooka Community High School.
For Andrea, America was at the top of his list. Where he would spend this year studying was not in his control and he spent many stressful months waiting to find out. But when he got the word it was the U.S.A., he was more than excited.
“I didn’t believe I would come here, it was my first choice,” Fronteddu said. “I am very lucky.”
Being in America is what every Italian exchange student wants, Fronteddu said. It’s about the American Dream, high schools with lockers, fast food, big roads, big cities and football.
Although he had never played football in his life, and knew very little about the rules, Fronteddu wanted to play for the Minooka Indians. He is on the varsity team and is working hard to catch up, he said. He hopes to get some field play in before the end of the season.
“My expectation is to play a sport I can’t play in Italy,” he said. “I knew football is most popular sport here. It is very hard when you don’t know it.”
School sports in Italy are only practiced three or four times a week at the most. They are also focused more on fun and less on competition. So Fronteddu’s schedule through the football season is grueling.
Some days he is up at 3:45 a.m. to ride a bike to the gym with his host dad Ken Kunz. Weightlifting is something Fronteddu has been doing for two years and he wants to maintain it.
One sleepy morning he fell asleep while riding to the gym and flew over the handlebars of the bike, he said.
Then it’s back home for breakfast and off to school. After his last class, Fronteddu heads to football practice and doesn’t get home until at least 6 p.m. There’s just enough time for dinner, homework and occasionally some time to Skype or Facebook with his friends back in Italy before he falls into bed exhausted.
One of the first rules of being an exchange student is to never give up, he was told during his many orientations.
Being away from family, and especially good friends, for an entire year can be difficult at times, particularly around the holidays or when there’s down time. So keeping busy is important.
“The goal of the exchange student is to do everything you can in the year,” he said.
He is looking forward to going to Homecoming, prom and going into Chicago once football season has ended.
Fronteddu’s English is very good. But sometimes translations are difficult, he has found. There are many written rules and laws he needed to learn about before he came to America. For instance, drinking is allowed in Italy when you turn 16, but driving not until 18. There is no curfew at night for Italian teenagers.
But there are also many unwritten rules that can only be learned by living in a different culture, like how guys and girls interact, how to dress appropriately in certain situations and what’s appropriate for teenagers to do at night, he said.
But whatever America dishes out for Fronteddu, he is eager to experience, whether it’s school, his social life or his family life with Ken and Kathy Kunz and family.
He knows all too well that a year will go by before he knows it. While he’s been here a month already, he feels like it’s just been a week.
“It is very busy here compared to Italy,” he said. “Time is running too fast.”