HOST FAMILIES CHANGE STUDENTS' LIVES, AND VICE VERSA.


It is well known that the experience of living one year abroad at a host family's changes foreign students completely, but what sometimes we fail to acknowledge is that also host families change.

Hosting a Stranger.
Every time I see that students complain about their host families I get annoyed because, most of the times, they do not make an effort to make things work. I know that it can be tough to step in a stranger's home, but think out of the box, think about the family that welcomes a teenager from abroad who was raised in a different culture. They also go through a tough time. Lots of things need to be taken into account when problems arise. Maybe the family doesn't know how to approach a teenager from another country. Students are the ones who moved abroad to learn the local culture, therefore they are the ones who should show interest in connecting with the family. Do not complain right away just because you feel like you are not treated well. Observe how host parents treat their own sons and then compare their behavior with the one they have when they deal with you. If you feel like you tried everything and still did not connect then you have all the reasons to "complain", but still do something about it. I just want to highlight the fact that it is not just hard for the student. This experience affects everyone involved.


Once the two have connected.
There is nothing more beautiful than establishing a connection with the family who's hosting you. Over time, your "host" family becomes just family and you feel part of it. Show them that it is important for you to feel that way. If you are having a drink, pour one for your host parents too, even if they did not ask for one. They will take it as a sign of attention. When I was abroad I slowly stopped calling my host parents by name, I simply called them mom and dad, because they were taking good care of me just like my biological parents would. Your host parents will feel appreciated and will remember you forever as the kid who changed their lives. Prior to your arrival maybe they just thought of hosting a foreign exchange student so that they could spend time with their sons or because they wanted to give it a try. Your job as a student is to give them a thousand reasons to keep hosting exchange students after you leave. When it was almost time for me to fly back to Italy, my American dad told me that he wanted to stop hosting because seeing me leave was too hard for him to handle. He wanted me to stay. I felt loved, which was good, but I also encouraged him to keep hosting because I was the seventeenth exchange student they had and this meant just one thing: they enjoy hosting. I did not want to be the reason why they had to stop doing it. If they kept doing it for years, it just means that they enjoy doing it. 
They are the kindest people I have ever met and I wanted them to keep hosting just so that everyone else after me could have the beautiful opportunity to get to know them.

It's okay if you don't connect, too.
I know that sometimes families are not great. Some of my friends did not connect with the family and there was nothing left for them to do then just give up, and this is sad. This is not how the experience should be for both the student and the family, but you can still have nice memories and turn your experience upside down. Try to make lots of friends, try to be involved in as many things as you can.
That said, you can still seek help if your host family is being horrible to you. I encourage you to talk to your counselor, organization or whoever you have been assigned to. Do not fear the person just because he or she is a part of the company. If you do not give it a try you will never know if you will get any help. You invested money and time in this, so it is your right to get help if the service you are receiving is not the one you were promised at the beginning.

- Cris

LIVERPOOL AND LONDON IN TWO DAYS.


Reading Week is a period of time without classes during which professors encourage students to catch up with work they left behind and to spend some time getting stuff done before the second part of the semester starts. In other words, international students have some time to travel (and maybe yeah, do some readings). Of course, I spent two of the nine days in bed with a fever and a sore throat because this is what happens when you have days off. I did not recover completely but on the third day, I went to Liverpool and right after that I hit Capitol city.

Liverpool. 
Monday, Oct. 30th.

I woke up at 5.45am to shower and have breakfast before leaving campus and catching a train at 7.15am. Approximately three hours later my friend and I were in Liverpool. It was a bit cold but the sun came out during the day and the weather ended up being just fine.
We signed up for a free walking tour that lasted approximately three hours. I would recommend it because we had fun and we learned a lot of things about the city that I am pretty sure I'd have never learned if I just wandered around without a local guide.
To start off, Liverpool used to be a very poor city but throughout the years a lot of things shaped it to what it is right now. One of the things that everyone thinks about, of course, is The Beatles because the band had a huge impact on the city itself, given that more people gathered around the town hall for them then the Queen herself. Another unique thing about this wonderful city is the fact that it hosts the world's first building with a metal framed glass curtain wall. It is basically the father of skyscrapers, isn't it interesting? The central library is also a really nice building, situated between the World Museum and the Walker Art Gallery. It is a really nice building, but unfortunately, I couldn't reach the terrace as it was under construction. The main entrance is also quite cool. On the pavement, you can see a lot of words. Some of the ones I've spotted are "Wonderful Life" and "Il Principe" which in Italian means "The Prince".
Last but not least, the Cathedral. Fun fact, this is the biggest cathedral in the UK and the fifth biggest in the world; it precedes Milan's Duomo Cathedral which comes sixth.


London.
Tuesday, Oct. 31st.

Liverpool was just the beginning of my travels, in fact, the day after I went to London. The bus dropped me off at the Victoria and Albert Museum at around midday. Camera in one hand and phone in the other, I was trying to reach my first destination, which was Holland Park and subsequently Notting Hill. Given the fact that I was there on Halloween day, the exterior of lots of houses was decorated with spider nets, pumpkins, and creepy skeletons. I really liked the area because all the buildings are colorful.


As I wanted to reach the Marble Arch I realized there was Little Venice on the way so I aimed for that area first but I didn't realize I was going to face a huge construction site. The whole area of Paddington was just a mess, so I eventually kept going. At the intersection with the Arch, I decided to leave Oxford Street for later and continue walking along Hyde Park. I eventually reached Buckingham Palace. After waiving the Queen, I continued my journey and arrived at Trafalgar Square, which was incredible. Lots of people, chalk arts and street artists performing their songs. Believe it or not, my second and last camera battery died and I had to continue my tour of London with only my phone, which thankfully does not suck in taking decent photos. I've crossed the Hungerford Bridge halfway when I stopped and enjoyed the view. The London Eye on the left and an unfortunately covered Big Ben. As I was traveling solo this time, I asked a stranger to take a picture of me and of course it ended up awful. Not only I was ugly, but the whole composition was terrible, starting with the fact that she took it vertically and not horizontally. 
I went back to Trafalgar Square where I realized LGBT traffic lights and I just thought that was cool. I then left and walked through Picadilly and Soho. It was rush hour, around five in the afternoon to be precise, and the size of the crowd was unbelievable. I was getting exhausted and my phone congratulated me on achieving 30 thousand steps. At that stage I almost gave up but given that I was going to take a train from Euston Station, one of my friends told me to absolutely check out Camden Town. I carried on and as I reached the area I've been asked twice if I wanted weed. Moved on, the markets were really cool and I definitely wish I had some money to spend on the food there because everything looked very tasty. On my way back to the station, I stopped at Mc Donald's not only to charge my phone but also to rest my poor legs. There I started thinking about all the things I've done in literally less than five hours and I was satisfied. I also managed to see the US Embassy on my way to the palace and it was not planned. I heard a lot of Italian people basically everywhere, to the point that I started asking myself if I was in Italy or if I was still in Great Britain.

 

I used to think that London is impossible to visit in one day, just like the majority of capital cities around the world. And in fact, it is true. In one day you won't be able to see everything, but I am certainly happy I went even for just a few hours because I literally spent only eleven pounds for the train and I've got to see some of the major attractions. A really helpful thing was also the weather being loyal to me as the sky did not release any rain throughout the whole day.

If you have any question about my trips Liverpool or London do not hesitate to contact me and remember, always watch out for crazy deals, because there are always some you just need to look for them.

- Cris

ONE YEAR IN DK, ONE SEMESTER IN UK.


I don't even know how, but one whole year is gone. Eleven months ago I departed from Milan. With me, I had a couple of bags and just a feeling of uncertainty. I was, of course, excited, but it was different from what I experienced one year prior to that. I was not going on exchange. I was not going to live with a host family, and I wasn't going to the USA either. I landed in Denmark, that tiny & cold country above Germany.

I did not have a clue of what living in a country where the main language isn't either mine or English could be like. Of course, most of the people in Denmark know English, but sometimes I got asked questions on the streets and as soon as I said "I'm sorry, English please?" they looked at me like I was an alien and left without even saying "never-mind". I did not want to be the foreigner who was going to simply speak English just because everyone knows it and because the course is in English. I wanted to give it at least a try. "Danish language, here I come" I applied for classes, which I attended until Christmas. I used to have a lot of free time during my first semester, but then I found a job and everything relied on it. I had a flexible schedule, which meant good and bad. Good because I could go to work whenever I wanted, bad because they could call me on the day. It made it harder to schedule my life the way it was supposed to be, but I learned to deal with situations like those.


My year in Denmark has definitely been different from my exchange year in the US, but I knew all along that it wouldn't be the same because no experience will ever be comparable to my exchange. Denmark has given me an even wider view of the world.

I wrote everything you just read in July when I was back in Milan Italy. Now I am spending an academic semester (pretty much three months) in the UK as an Erasmus Student. I don't know if there have been other students like me before, but I feel like I'm unstoppable, which for some reasons is awesome, but for others, it is quite sad.


Think about it. It's always me, myself and my belongings moving around. No one ever comes and stays. One year is long enough to meet people but too short to be able to deeply fall in love and keep in touch afterward. It is possible, but very challenging and sometimes I fail to keep in touch with everyone, and this is why: whoever meets me loses me and only me, but when I leave I lose everyone, and it happens every time I go abroad, the story repeats itself.

Throughout the years I got stronger and learned that even though it is hard to say goodbye it is always worth to get out there because the things we gain in the long run are more important.

- Cris

BOOM GONE, MOVED ON: HELLO UNITED KINGDOM.


Here I am, again, for the third time to be exact. It's eleven in the evening and in less than 12 hours I will be at the airport will a huge luggage, a backpack and a carry-on. I will be standing in front of the big gate that says "Departures" and I will be facing a new adventure. 

I did it three years ago and I did it last year as well, which means that I've been pretty much living a big challenge since 2013, when I recklessly decided to go abroad simply because I wanted to live in the USA. I did not really think about the bigger picture, cmon I was 15, but honestly, it was best this way. I had the time of my life and this was just the first of many steps. 


It was followed by me being a senior in Milan Italy, me starting college in Denmark and now by me catching a plane headed to the UK, where I will be an exchange student of a higher level. In fact, I did not leave with an organization and I will not live with a host family. This is me going to live on campus, in one of the six dorm-rooms of the apartment that I will share with other five students. 
I will be taking new classes, I will be partying with new people, learning about a new culture and will get to know a new city. I will travel, smile, laugh, cry. I don't know what I will do, but I know I will try with all my heart to spend these three months in the most effective way. I will try not to overthink, but to relax and enjoy the ride. I will just be true to who I am and everything will go as it has to go. No plans, no expectations, no disappointments. 

I've met people who told me that I was the most interesting teenager the have ever met and that if I continue like this I will achieve all my goals, others thought that I always looked sad instead, and some more told me that before getting to know me they did not think I was the type of guy I actually am... truth is, sometimes I don't even know what makes me happy and what I really want, so I don't expect others to know that for me. I may have lots of flaws but I am proud of one thing: I dare to try. I don't like regrets. I always try to push myself out of the comfort zone, even when I could avoid it and just live a simple life. And this time is not going to be different. I will show the world that I have more to offer, I don't like simple, in fact they say "If your dreams don't scare you, they are not big enough".

- Cris

I TRAVELED SOLO AND I LIKED IT.


Sometimes I receive some spam from specific airlines, I open the emails and I look at the deals they offer. Most of the time I feel like booking the cheapest flight and leave, but then I stop dreaming and get angry because even if I want to go, I can't. I'd love to visit countless places, and I don't mind doing it on my own. That said, I don't mean I prefer it better than traveling with friends, but that I simply learned that I can have fun even on my own, and, more than anything, that I sometimes need time for myself.

Think about it, if you travel on your own, you can listen to music whenever you feel like it. You can choose where to go and what to see first, you decide if you want to have Asian food rather than Italian and, with no pressure of any kind, you choose everything.

You can also meet locals, which is good because you get the chance to connect with the culture of your host country, even if you are there just for a few days. A local will show you places and areas that are less touristy but worth to visit. It's just awesome to have someone guide you around and show you what he usually does daily.


That happened to me in Copenhagen. I actually flew there to meet some exchange student friends, but I happened to be the first one landing there, one day earlier. As soon as I got at the apartment I received a text message, from a Danish guy I connected with on Facebook, saying "Are you in Copenhagen? we should get a beer!" I was totally down for it and even if I didn't know how to get into the city, I managed to arrive at the central station safe and sound. Danish people are very nice, I asked for help and everyone was really kind. After a few glasses of beer and Mc french fries, an Uber driver took me back to my place at around 2 am as trains were no longer available.

The fun fact is that the Uber driver even offered me a job, which means that I managed to receive a job offer within six hours from my landing in that country. I had to google his brother's Italian restaurant because he wanted to show me, he was like "We need Italians at our place, think about it!"

My point is: if you really wanna go somewhere, just go. Do not wait for people to figure things out. Don't wait for your friend who has to let you know whether he has enough money or not, whether his parents let him or not. Just catch that aircraft, or whatever means of transport, and live your adventure up. You won't regret it. Sometimes it is good to travel and put some distance between routine and ourselves, to forget about problems for a few days. I know some people are scared to do it on their own simply because they think that it is weird to go to a restaurant alone or to check in a hotel alone, but find the courage to take off and do it because even this kind of experience will change your life. At the end of the day what matters is how you feel and now what people think of you.

- Cris