MARQUETTE - This summer, 16-year-old Lane Whitley of Marquette had a dream come true - she spent five weeks in Italy.
The junior at Marquette Senior High School participated in a Rotary Summer Youth Exchange program that allowed her not only to travel to Vigevano, a city about 25 minutes from Milan in the north of Italy, but also allowed one of her host sisters to spend five weeks in Marquette.
"I'm a complete European fanatic," Whitley said. "I didn't really care where I ended up."
Earlier this summer, Marquette Senior High School student Lane Whitley, 16, participated in a five-week student exchange in Italy through Rotary. Here Whitley visits an island on Lago Maggiore called Isola Bella. (Photo courtesy of Lane Whitley)
Rotary ended up matching Whitley with the Zago family - dad Franco, mom Debora and sisters Linda and Diana - in Italy.
Whitley's adventure actually started with a five week visit in Marquette from her host sister, Linda, 16. Whitley said the exchange program matches students with similar interests, with the length of stay depending on what the families wanted.
While visiting Marquette, Zago and Whitley did everything from going to the beach to visiting Mackinac Island, even a trip to Washington, D.C.
"I showed her the lake and she stuck her foot in and said 'That's the last time I'm doing that,'" Whitley said.
Then it was time for Whitley to visit the Zagos.
"My (host) family was extremely enthusiastic," Whitley said. "They took me everywhere."
Having never taken any Italian classes before, Whitley said she picked up some Italian during her stay, and that her host family spoke English fairly well.
Newly arrived in Italy for five weeks, Whitley had nothing to do but take in the culture. Besides visiting landmarks like the canals of Venice or Juliet's House in Verona, Whitley also got a close look at everyday Italian life.
"They eat pasta every night," she said, laughing. "It's pretty much the only thing they sell in grocery stores."
While grocery stores might not be filled with only pasta, you will find a bigger emphasis on freshness - particularly at the meat counter.
"They cut it right in front of you," Whitley said. "They don't have as many processed foods as we do."
Another cultural change for Whitley was how close families were.
"They're very family-oriented over there," she said, adding that extended families often live nearby.
Even though she had limited knowledge of Italian, Whitley said being an American in Italy wasn't a problem.
"You always hear the stereotype of how Europeans don't like Americans, but they really like Americans," she said. "They're all so friendly. They treat you like family."
Getting the chance to participate in the summer exchange was a great experience, Whitley said, especially since her high school schedule didn't allow for a more long-term trip.
"I have one big tip - just do it. Just go out there and do it," she said. "There's no reason not to do it.
"I was dead set on going. I was just looking for any way to get over there."
Rotary Exchanges are open to students between the ages of 15 and 19, with long-term programs available for a year or shorter programs during the summer. Programs are available in a variety of countries in Europe, South America and Asia, and are designed to increase international communication between students and increase knowledge of other countries and cultures through firsthand experiences.
To find out more about programs available in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, visit www.summerexchange.org.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.