Fox Chapel Area exchange students immerse themselves in American experience
Ten months is both the blink of an eye and a millennium for exchange students at Fox Chapel Area High School.
That’s how long Julie Kuhdorf and Federico d’Amicis have lived in the Lower Valley, learning the ways of American teens.
In less than a year, the visitors from Europe have gone from knowing only basic British English to idiomatic American teenage language.
Sometimes d’Amicis dreams in English, but the changes experienced here run deeper than the obvious.
Both youngsters have learned about themselves.
“I’m more independent. I know about what I can do and can’t do,” said Kuhdorf, 15, a native of Marseille, France. “I know more how to connect with people I don’t have a lot in common with.”
Her peer, d’Amicis, 17, said, “I grew up in term of relationships. Less shy about what I can do in everything.”
Kuhdorf ventured to the area as a guest of the Good family in Fox Chapel. She immersed herself not only in her Fox Chapel Area High School classwork, but also activities. In the fall, she swam with the FCA team, and in winter she was part of the high school musical, “Les Misérables.”
This spring, she joined the ultimate Frisbee team.
Rome native d’Amicis stayed with the Huff family in O’Hara. Carol Huff has long been a volunteer of American Field Service, which facilitates the student exchange program.
Attending North Catholic for the first half of the year and Fox Chapel Area for the second semester, the Italian teen loaded up his course work with Advanced Placement calculus and chemistry, accelerated English and physics and health. When he returns home, d’Amicis will undergo a battery of tests to determine if he can step into the Italian system’s fifth year of high school.
He played lacrosse in the spring and noted the cultural differences in afterschool activities.
Participating in extracurricular teams allowed d’Amicis to interact with peers in a way that was purely American, he said. In his metropolitan home, teens walk to the city center to congregate after classes are done.
In Rome, teens pour out of school in the late afternoon to snack, relax and study in cafes and plazas.
“It’s a big public party,” d’Amicis said.
Kuhdorf likewise said they drink coffee and talk, then return home for formal evening meals, often spending an hour at the table.
Both teens commented on American food, enjoying the change.
The young French woman said she missed her mother’s cooking though. The young Roman said he missed family and friends but admitted, “I knew I would regret it if I didn’t come.”
Host parent Huff volunteered as a mentor for Kuhdorf, meeting at least once a month. She was pleased to hear both teens rave about their experience.
They each will return to Europe at the end of the month but plan to return at some future time for vacation, study or work, they said.