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Alessia Barabani - an Italian studying in Philip

Alessia Barabani, upper left, then clockwise, Kianna, Katlin, Edna and Barry Knutson.

Alessia is here as part of a foreign exchange program due to her love of travel and interest in the English language. This 10-month program brought 190 Italian students who arrived in August and will be leaving in June. The group first stopped in New York - touring the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, and Fifth Avenue - before going to meet their host families.

Alessia is hosted by Barry and Edna Knutson and their two girls, Katlin and Kianna.

Back home, she has dad and mom, Danilo and Marv Barabani, and older brother, Andrea. This is her first time with younger siblings, Katlin 9, and Kianna 12. However, this is not her first time in America. She spent a month last summer with a host family in New Jersey, which is what encouraged her to come back.

Alessia is attending Philip High School as a junior studying; advanced computers, Algebra II, Spanish II, school to work, and English II. English is her favorite class, "because it's so interesting." She is already fluent in three other languages - Italian, Spanish and French. In Turin, Alessia is a student of Regina Margherita, a language high school, where school is in session six days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

When asked if she preferred Philip's four day school week, she said, "Yeah totally, absolutely!" In Italy, students are not labeled as freshmen or seniors. She wouldn't say I am a junior, but would say, "I am in my third year of high school." Here students earn letter grades where A is excellent and F is failing. In Italy, they grade on a one to 10 scale with one being the worst and 10 being the best. You must have a six to be passing.

The grades Alessia earns here will transfer back and be counted in Italy, whereas with some schools the year is lost and has to be made up.

Alessia greatly enjoys her school to work where she is a teacher's aide to Mrs. Marie Slovek, the first grade teacher.

"I like kids and it's easy work, I don't have to talk a lot. I read them books with one word per page.

"In Turin, a city with an estimated population of 1,294,000, she and her friends enjoy spending time at DiscoTech, a 16-and-up dance club that can host as many as a hundred people on any given night.

In Philip, she likes spending time with friends and going to football games, saying "I don't understand what's going on because football isn't played in Italy, but I can tell it's a big deal in the town and it's still fun to go."

She prefers Italian food to American food but hasn't necessarily found anything she dislikes and especially likes super nachos. Having lived in the city all her life, Alessia enjoys the closeness of the Philip community and how everyone on the street waves as you pass by.

She looks forward to hopefully attending prom. "I always see prom on TV shows and everyone is having a great time." Since her Italian school does not offer any sports, she also looks forward to going out for the girls' basketball team here this winter.

Alessia communicates with friends and family from Italy by phone and instant messenger. "I sometimes wake up and am homesick for my life and family in Italy," said Alessia. "But, overall this has been an important experience for me because I can learn English anywhere, but here you can really see the culture and what you are learning. You also learn to be independent and resolve problems on your own while away from home.

"The first week was hard, but it is gradually getting easier. Sometimes I would want to say something, but couldn't because I couldn't find the language. This has been very exciting experience and everyone has been very kind.