Under the Monocle: an Italian senior year


Photo courtesy of Lanie Meyer.

Lanie Meyer and her foreign exchange friend from Poland visiting Duomo di Milano in Milan, Lombardy, Italy.

Christine Cannon, Copy Editor

Meyer stood anxiously in front of the banquet hall, all eyes on her, and popped her balloon; inside, a slip read one word: Italy. This split second and small piece of paper determined her new home for her senior year of high school.

During her junior year of high school, former York student Lanie Meyer decided to apply to Rotary Youth Exchange, blindly gambling her chances of what country she would spend the next year in. After interviews by Rotary leaders, Meyer was accepted into the programs and invited to a four-day leadership conference in Geneva.

“In December, I was invited to a banquet along with the other teenagers that were invited to study abroad,” Meyer said. “At the dinner, we all had to stand up and pop balloons, inside my balloon was a slip of paper that said Italy.” 

A few months after she found out her country, Lanie received a text from her Italian host sister letting her know she was going to live on an island off the mainland of Italy, Sardinia. Once she knew where she was going, the countdown to her departure began.

“I was nervous to leave all my friends, but overall I was ready to explore something new,” Meyer said. 

Lanie arrived in Sardinia after the 12-hour flight welcomed by her host mother and sister holding posters with her name written in sparkly letters.

“My host mom is so nice, and my little sister is super funny and kind of obsessed with me,” Meyer said. “My [host] mom is a Buddhist which is different but really interesting, and she lives with her parents and her two daughters; one of the daughters is a foreign exchange student in Brazil right now so I haven’t met her.” 

As Lanie drove from the airport to her home for the next year, she soaked in the island town of Sardinia.

“My new house is very different than houses in Elmhurst, and where I live is not really a neighborhood; there is only one other house on my street,” Meyer said. “My host family’s property is about a block all the way around and has cacti and wild goats everywhere.

Lanie Meyer’s new house in Sardinia. Photo courtesy of Lanie Meyer.

Nine days after Meyer arrived at her destination, school started. The school weeks go from Monday to Saturday but the school days are only four hours long; since the days are so short the students only have two to three classes a day. 

“The school program is probably the biggest difference between here and home,” Meyer said. “The high schools are specialized by what you want to study at university and I go to a science-based school; I learn biology, physics, chemistry, math, art history and English.”

At her school, Meyer’s teachers switch classrooms while the kids stay in one classroom all day.

“It can get very boring because the only way the teachers teach is by lecture, but I try to take the time to pick up more Italian,” Meyer said.

Without speaking the native language, it seems like it would be a challenge to communicate and make friends, but Meyer proves quite the contrary.

“I don’t speak Italian perfectly yet, but all the students and teachers are very welcoming and try to help me understand what’s going on,” Meyer said. “It was pretty easy to make friends because everyone is very interested in Chicago and asks me questions about American culture.” 

On the weekends, Meyer hangs out with her Italian classmates, but during the week she has a much different group of friends. 

“I have also become very close with other exchange students,” Meyer said. “Most days after school I go to the beach with exchange students from France, Belgium, Brazil and the Netherlands.”

Despite going through a major cultural change, Meyer has no regrets when it comes to her decision to study abroad. 

“I’ve been having a really amazing time so far this year, and if anyone is debating applying to Rotary Exchange I strongly suggest going through with it,” Meyer said.