My Heart Will Remain

All the eyes were on me, as if I were a foreign creature from Mars or an underwater civilization. I felt I was literally under a magnifying glass—every move monitored and evaluated. In reality, I was intently watching them, their every move and attempting to decipher every word they say.
“Where are you from?” asked one girl from the group of unfamiliar people.
“Wisconsin, ” I said with hesitation.
A look of bewilderment and doubt spreads across her face as she said, in a doubtful strange voice, “Ohhh…yes, Wisconsin.”
It was obvious they did not know where this state was. I could see disappointment that I hadn’t come from some other, well-known location.
The teacher sat me at a desk with a chair. The wall behind me had a map of the world as to remind me of the great distance I am from my once called ‘home.’ The unknown girl sat next to me.

This was all too strange for one day.
Soon as I sat everyone stood. Each individual watches me as they bustle towards the door; we left the room and entered a bus…one like I have never seen before.
This was my first day in this alien place and I had to interpret a movie.
Six more months…five more months…four more months…three more months… After the third month the countdown stopped.
Over the months, the stranger who had originally quizzed me—with her poor English skill—soon became my closest ally of all the foreign alien type people. She taught me the common knowledge of her home and I, in turn, taught her the ways of Wisconsin and of my country. Clarified the typical stereotypes, not all parties are like American Pie parties, not every 16 year old gets pregnant, and not every person is overly obese as often portrayed.
Months passed from moist and cold to warm and humid. Through the vigorous classes, I was put in and the time spent on focusing on my new best friend, Dante Alighieri, I slowly learned the language of these foreign people. Slowly I became one of them.
“Si, parlo l’italiano.” Stares shot in my direction from shop owners, school teachers, and most of all, my friends. All amazed I retained the knowledge of their language, in actuality I was also astonished by these words escaping my mouth.
These foreign aliens became Italians; this strange girl in the desk next to me became my best friend, this country of Italy became my second home.
I experienced something that many have not, I, in fact, was the foreign being that they made me seem. I was a foreign exchange student. I gained not only a new language and outlook on life, but also second family, close friends to last a life time, and weight to show where I had been for the entire semester I was gone. The country of Italy became a part of me and will always remain in my heart.

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