Senior explores new country, culture and language during exchange year

May 12, 2022 — by Apurva Chakravarthy
Fulfilling a lifelong dream of living in California, senior Carolina Guarienti has spent her time away from Italy assimilating to American high school. 

Growing up watching movies like “High School Musical,” in her native Italy, senior Carolina Guarienti pictured California as a place of surfing and hanging out with friends in the sun — in her eyes, the perfect place to be. 

“It’s every European’s dream to come and live here,” said Guarienti. “It’s very different from Italian schools, but California has been very fun.”
Guarienti is from Gualtieri, Italy, a small town near Bologna. When she learned about her school’s foreign exchange program, she immediately knew she wanted to participate.

After sorting out the details with her mother, Guarienti talked to her English teacher, who worked with Italian agencies that sent students abroad, as well as her French teacher, who helped get all the documents she needed for her visa. Her English teacher thought that it was a great idea because Guarienti could improve her English and experience new cultures and traditions. 

Guarienti started living with senior Giulio Morini Bianzino’s family because her mother and Morini Bianzino’s mother have been best friends since high school, when they lived in Florence together. 

Morini Bianzino’s mom immediately offered for Guarienti to stay at their house during her time in America.

“Sometimes she even tells me stories about the adventures she had with my mom and how well she knew my grandparents,” Guarienti said. 

After both families agreed, Guarienti applied for a visa and began the process of immigrating to the U.S.

To get her study-abroad visa, Guarienti had to travel to Florence, Italy, with her documents and her passport. There, an agent interviewed her, asking questions about where she would live and who would provide for her.

“I was kind of nervous because it was my first interview in English,” Guarienti said. “Even though we were in Italy, they still made us speak in English.”

In addition to the interview, exchange students need to follow many rules. According to International Student Exchange, the agency Guarienti works with, a foreign exchange student cannot do drugs, drink alcohol or smoke. They also cannot drive a car or make any “life changes” — change religions, receive cosmetic surgery, get married, pregnant, tattooed or  pierced or dye their hair an unnatural color (green, purple or blue). They need to maintain at least C average in their classes and must participate in school activities. 

Since coming to Saratoga, Guarienti has joined two clubs — the Persian club and Social Justice club to be a part of a variety of interesting activities. She has also joined the Track and Field team, a very tiring but fulfilling experience. 

Foreign exchange students are also not allowed to go back home during the program for any reason other than a death in their family. Only at the end of the program are parents, friends and relatives allowed to visit. Guarienti will go back home on June 7, right after graduation.

After graduation, Guarienti will go back to her hometown and finish her fifth, and final, year of high school. Then, she will apply to universities in Italy. 

Guarienti arrived in the U.S. on Aug. 4 and immediately felt the differences from Italy. So far — apart from Saratoga — she has visited Los Angeles and hung out at the beach in Santa Cruz.

“It’s way different, just by the way people act,” Guarienti said. “I like this place better because people here are way more sociable and friendly.”

Guarienti said that coming from a country with mostly one race and culture to another with much more racial and cultural diversity has been an extremely rewarding experience. She added  that she enjoys having the chance to start over in a new place.

Guarienti said her biggest challenge has been conducting daily life in a foreign language. Even though she said school is a great opportunity to improve her English, she finds it hard to remember English and automatically switches back to Italian when she is tired — at home, Guarienti speaks Italian with Morini Bianzino and his family, which she said provides her with a comfortable environment to come home to.

Despite slight language barriers, Guarienti has enjoyed being a student here and doing school in such a different way from Italy. She said she enjoys how SHS  gives students freedom to choose their own methods of studying and what projects they do because she can find her own way to learn, unlike in Italy, where she felt as if coursework was a constant cycle of doing the same exact things.

Although Guarienti tries to keep in touch with her family and friends back home, she said it is difficult because Italy is nine hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. She said she makes sure to call her family once a day, either during her lunch break when her family is having dinner or before she goes to bed when her family wakes up. 

Although she calls her family very often, it’s hard to find time to catch up with her friends. Because of this, Guarienti uses her weekends, usually Saturday mornings, to call her two best friends back home and tell them everything that happened that week.

“I wish I could talk to them more,” Guarienti said. “But it’s very hard for me to find the right moment here and in Italy to call them.”

Even though Guarienti has had trouble connecting with family and friends back home, Morini Bianzino and his family have done their best to create a welcoming home for her in California.

During the 2019-2020 school year, Morini Bianzino’s family hosted a Spanish foreign exchange student, Pau Garcia, so they were already familiar with the host family process. Both of Morini Bianzino’s brothers left for college this year, so his family thought it would be a great idea to have someone else around the house as well.

Morini Bianzino said he gets along with Guarienti well because they share a lot of similar interests. 

“The only big challenge was giving up my room because I had my own bathroom,” Morini Bianzino said. “But to be honest even that wasn’t that bad, so being a host hasn’t cost me too much.”

Initially, because Morini Bianzino has two older brothers — 2019 alumnus Vittorio Morini Bianzino and 2021 alumnus Tommasso Morini Bianzino — Guarienti stayed in Giulio Morini Bianzino’s room while he slept on the couch for a month. Once Vittorio Morini Bianzino left for college, Guilio Morini Bianzino was able to move back into his room. 

One of the biggest gifts that has come out of the experience has been connecting to his mother tongue and culture. Because the entire experience has taught him so much, he said he recommends anyone considering being a host to do it.

“At the end of the day, I hope that [Guarienti] has a really fun time and learns a lot,” Morini Bianzino said. “I hope she gets a taste of the American experience.”