I lived in Italy during the summer when I was 16... in 1993. Wow, that seems like it was a hundred years ago! I had the most incredible time and was changed because of it.
I went to Italy with the Lion's Club as part of their youth exchange program. The goal of the program was to allow youth from around the world to live in and experience another culture as well as meet other people their own age in order to start communication and international relationships. I was blessed in that my parents could afford the airfare to send me, all the program cost was the airfare. I chose Italy because I was fascinated by it and because my older cousin had just returned from a year as an exchange student outside of Venice. I was excited and terrified all at the same time. I remember crying for hours the night before because I was so scared to travel internationally by myself and to a country where I didn't speak a word of their language. My mom told me I could stay home if I needed or wanted to, but I knew I had to go...it was something that I had to do. (Hmm....could it be that God was working in my life before I knew Him? :) )
The plan was that I was to meet up with another girl from Tucson at the airport in Germany (or at least I think that's where we were supposed to meet) and we would continue on to Venice together to meet our host family. Imagine my scared 16-year-old-self when she didn't show and to top it off when I got to Venice my host family didn't know that I was coming as well! Talk about freaked out! I managed to hold in the tears until I was alone. Oh, and did I mention that the airline lost my luggage? Benvenuto a Italia! (Not much changes...)
Anyways, Catherine, the other girl from Tucson, eventually arrived as did my luggage and what ensued was arguably one of the best summers of my life. I spent time outside of Venice in Mestre with an incredibly loving and welcoming family. Their daughters showed us Venice and took us out with their friends.
From there, we went on to camp with other exchange students from all over the world outside of Trieste. It was a great time meeting other people our age from all over the world...I remember Abbie from England, Tim from Germany, Yael from Israel, Uri from then-Yugoslavia, and Tomas from Hungary. (He holds a 'special' place in my heart!)
Finally we landed outside of Udine at another family's home. They had two boys, Antonio and Paolo. Ahhh...they were an incredible family. They took us exploring in the mountains and in the tiny towns that surrounded their home, cooked us delicious pizza in their backyard brick oven, pushed me in the pool, took us on their beach holiday, and so much more.
I left Italy that summer completely and utterly in love with Italy and its people. That summer was a catalyst for the life I am now living.
I have been to Venice twice now since moving to Rome and each time I am there I wonder if I might bump into a member of one of my host families. Would I recognize them? Would they recognize me? So, I decided that I wanted to look them up and get in touch with them. Perhaps I could meet up with them the next time I am in the area....except I can't remember their last names! I know I have the information at home somewhere, but I couldn't find it the last time I was home and besides, I want to know now!! (Delayed gratification and I aren't friends.)
What's a girl to do? Facebook! That's always the answer! I was able to track down Catherine on FB and ask her if she remembered the names of our host families, but she didn't....I mean it has been 17, gulp, years. I am now more determined than ever to reconnect with them and to thank them for how they helped to shape my life. I can't wait to write to them, in Italian, and tell them that I am now living here.