Thousands of Miles Away From Home

Thousands of Miles Away From Home
by Joanna Brenner

Thousands of miles away from home and six hours behind his familiar schedule, eighteen-year-old Marco Rotini spent a night or two sneaking into the kitchen after bedtime for a midnight snack. But who could blame him?
"In Italy we eat dinner at 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. But here dinner is so early. Sometimes I would go to bed so hungry!" said Marco.
The earlier dinner hour was only one of the numerous changes the Italian foreign exchange student had to adjust to over the year. After 11 months in Boonsboro, Marco is returning home to Bologna, Italy on June 26. He spent the year with Mark and Jayne Angle, owners of Family Recreation Park on Route 40, and their four children.
"I wish I had more time," said Marco. "Now it's summer, and there are some things I just didn't completely cover."
Coming from a family of American Field Service (AFS) participants, Marco arrived in the United States on August 10, 2006. AFS started as a program designed for those afflicted from war, according to Jayne, and developed into an exchange program.
AFS is a free program, Marco said. It keeps in close contact with the student to make any changes necessary, should problems occur.
"It's a good experience," said Marco of AFS. It makes you grow, and learn the language. It's important."
Marco attended Boonsboro High as a senior during the school year. He enjoyed the classes, particularly chemistry, his favorite course. Marco was surprised that the class structure in the Washington County Public Schools was so different from that of his high school in Italy.
"The system is a completely different thing," said Marco. "In Italy, you stay with the same classmates every day for five years."
Although he was told to arrive without expectations, Marco was excited about the experiences, knowledge and relationships he hoped to gain. Any initial fears he might have had were assuaged when he met and became familiar with the entire Angle family. With four children, two of whom attended high school with him, Marco quickly grew close with the family.
"We had a lot of fun together," Marco said. "Before [I left], I was thinking about this trip like just an exchange program. Of course I knew I was going to meet a lot of people and have a new family, but I couldn't imagine all these relations were going to be so strong! I mean, I really feel like home here! I didn't think anything so great!"
Marco spent some weekends with Samuel (12), Marcus (16) and Jennifer (17) at the mall and the movies. He was blown away not by the films themselves, but by the size of the theaters.
"The movie theater is crazy," said Marco. "It's the best thing. We love our movies in Italy-but the room is not that big. Here is so advanced."
On other typical weekends, Marco enjoyed sleeping in, working around the house and going to the YMCA with the Angle family. He loved the spontaneity that weekends could bring.
"On Sunday morning we have church from nine to 12 and after lunch we usually go somewhere random...it doesn't really matter where, just go," said Marco. "I like this kind of weekend, it's fun!"
Marco also enjoyed the "little jobs" an American family household has. He loved gardening and mowing the lawn, two things he didn't regularly attend to in Italy.
Aside from his surrogate brothers and sisters in Maryland, Marco also has a 16-year-old sister named Carlotta. His parents, Roberto and Franca, visited him in Boonsboro in May.
"I think the hardest thing in being here was the homesickness," said Marco, "especially at Christmas I started to miss my family, my friends and even some places in which I used to spend a lot of time. It was a pretty uncomfortable sensation...but it passes after a couple of months."
The different meal times, school systems and cinema sizes took some getting used to, but the adjustment was not too difficult, Marco said. The most prominent difference he perceived between living in Boonsboro and his town is the distance from place to place in this area.
"Here, if you don't have a car, you don't have freedom," said Marco. "Where I live you can just go outside and walk anywhere. You don't need a car-a bicycle is enough."
The most intriguing thing to Marco, however, was not the lack of activities within walking distance. Rather, it was the topography of the region that took him by surprise.
"Before [coming] I was thinking about Maryland like a state made of fields and big crops-no trees, all country," said Marco. "Then I arrived and, 'what the heck?' woods everywhere!"
Time and time again Marco spoke of the good times he had during his stay in Boonsboro. The malls, the movie theaters, the school activities and the family relationships he developed left a lasting impression. What would it be like returning home after so long?
"I think it's going to be weird at first," said Marco. "I kept in contact, but I wonder if it's going to be different-if my friends are going to ask me a lot of questions. I don't know if they're going to think the same. I'm a little scared-but I'm happy to go back. It was a good experience."