Italian exchange student shows 'love'
By By Adam Prestridge
Federico Lizzani's arrival to America wasn't one to write home about.
But since settling down in Atmore two months ago, he's beginning to love small-town living and the Southern hospitality that accompanies it.
"I love it here," Lizzani said. "I love my family and I love spending time with the boys. The people here are very nice and friendly."
Lizzani, a foreign exchange student from Rome, Italy, has settled in to Atmore with his host family, the Appletons. Since becoming more familiar with America and its customs, the Escambia County High School senior has become comfortable in his surroundings even though his arrival on U.S. soil was a bit alarming.
"He was lost for 31 hours in the Chicago airport," Melanie Appleton said. "No one would help him after his flight was cancelled."
Appleton said she received a call from Lizzani in Chicago informing her that he was lost. She contacted the STS Foundation, the company that sponsored Lizzani as an exchange student, and other officials in Chicago who were able to make contact with the 17 year old and ensure that he got on the right flight.
"I would like to visit a lot of states like New York, California and Maine," Lizzani said.
Revisiting Chicago wasn't an option.
Appleton said the idea of hosting a foreign exchange student came from an article she read in the Advance. A photo of Lizzani and a girl from Holland accompanied the article.
"Of course, since we have the boys (Nate and Tyler), we wanted a boy," Appleton explained. "So I called the 800 number and actually thought they wouldn't call me back, but they did. Brian with STS out of Arizona got the ball rolling. You have to have a criminal background check and other paperwork. The next thing I knew, we were lined up to get him. We called and talked to him several times over the period of several months before he came and kind of all got to know each other before he came."
Appleton also thought having Lizzani live with them for a year would be a learning experience for her sons, her husband, Matthew, and herself.
"I thought it would be really neat because they (her sons) are at an age that they can learn a lot from him," she said. "It has been a lot of fun. We've learned a lot from each other, he's taught us some Italian."
Not only has everyone learned from each other, but several similarities have been revealed as well.
"He and I are almost identical, our personalities are almost identical," Appleton said. "That's sometimes good and sometimes bad."
Lizzani also views his visit to America as a learning experience, but also an investment for his future.
"First of all, I want to learn English because I'll need it for my future job, I want to be an archeologist," he said. "Second thing, I want to meet new people and learn about a different culture. I also wanted to try to stay with another family other than mine and I was very lucky because they are amazing."
Lizzani's love for history and traveling inspired him to pursue archeology. He said he wants to unearth fossils and artifacts.
With its rich history, Appleton said she thought Alabama would be a great state for Lizzani to grow culturally.
"I thought Alabama would be a great state for him to visit and Atmore would be a great city for him to come to," Appleton said.
But Lizzani said at times, he does miss being home.
"Sometimes I get homesick," Lizzani said. "I miss my dad, he's my best friend and I miss him. I miss my mom and sister, but she's spoiled. I miss my girlfriend and my friends."
Fortunately, Lizzani is able to speak with his parents, Amerigo and Paula, and his sister, Laura, via the Internet and see them using a Webcam daily.
Appleton said the language barrier hasn't been that big of an issue except with Lizzani's parents.
"He got sick and I had to talk to his parents and they can't understand English very well at all," Appleton said. "So if a problem arises, we have to go through the Italian STS and he has to call his parents and translate."
Upon his arrival, Appleton said it was difficult for Lizzani to adapt to Atmore. Eventually he did, until school started in mid-August.
"I think he had a little bit of separation anxiety," she said. "When school finally started and he got away from me, he didn't like that very much. But he's enjoying school now."
Lizzani, who will return to Italy on June 28, 2007 for his senior year of high school in Italy, said his favorite thing about school in America is learning new things.
"The guys at school are very nice," he said. "I love learning stuff like U.S. History and chemistry because it's different."
Lizzani said school in Italy is six days a week, but only lasts for five hours a day with a 10-minute break. Italians also attend high school for five years as opposed to four years in the U.S. He said longer school days have posed somewhat of a challenge.
"In Italy, I studied ancient Greek and Latin," Lizzani said. "I can translate from Greek to Italian, Latin to Italian, Italian to Greek or Latin, English to Italian and Italian to English."
Lizzani said he started to study English when he was seven and Greek and Latin when he was 14.
ECHS principal Kyle Ferguson said Lizzani has been a joy to have as a student and that the students have adapted to him well.
"He's a real neat kid with a good personality that has been well received by the students at ECHS," he said. "He's taken some rigorous classes and so far seems to be doing real well. He really likes it here in Atmore and I think he has plans of sticking around here for a while."
Appleton said Lizzani is "very, very intelligent" and is taking several honors classes. As for Lizzani, he's looking forward to driver's education and trying out for the basketball team.
Not only can school in America be a learning experience for Lizzani, but also Ferguson said his students can learn from their new classmate.
"They learn something about his home country," Ferguson said. "He's here soaking up our customs and culture. The students have been real eager to help him overcome the language barrier and are ensuring that he has a smooth transition."
For fun, the Appletons have taken Lizzani fishing and they attended the Alabama Crimson Tide's opener against Hawaii two weeks ago.
"He's an Alabama fan," Appleton said. "He likes the colors."
Among some of the new things that have dumbfounded Lizzani is a dryer. In Italy there are washing machines, but clothes are line dried.
As for Atmore, Lizzani said he can't compare it to home, but doesn't believe Rome is any better of a place.
"Rome and Atmore are just different," Lizzani said. "Rome is no better than Atmore and Atmore is no better than Rome, they are just different."
Lizzani said he would like to go back to Italy next summer to complete his final year of high school and then return to attend college in Alabama.