Exchange brings Italy to Auburn

Placer High starts school year with seven students from afar
By: Lien Hoang Journal Correspondent
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John and Julia Camillucci, 8 and 11, respectively, have never had an older sister, but for the next year they will. Ilaria Piredda is living with the Camilluccis through an exchange program placing her at Placer High. The 17-year-old entering 12th grade arrived Saturday after a week stopover in New York. “New York was very big, Auburn is better for me because it’s smaller,” said Piredda, who comes from a small town on the Western Italian island of Sardinia. She is one of seven students Placer High will welcome from abroad this year. Most apply through programs like Cultural Homestay International or the Rotary Club, which match them up with families willing to provide room and board. Tony Camillucci, a special education teacher at the school, will be especially welcoming; Piredda is the first exchange student he and his family have hosted. But he has long believed in the merits of cultural exchange, especially at Placer High, where the student body is 80 percent white. “We’re in Auburn so there’s not a lot of diversity,” Camillucci said. “If there’s prejudice, it stems from fear of the unknown, but if our kids get to know more from other cultures, that fear goes away.” That cultural exposure, of course, cuts both ways. Placer students learn from their foreign peers, who in turn begin to shed preconceptions they held about the United States. Sofia Migliori, also from Italy and entering Placer High as a senior, traveled to Auburn with images of surfers and Hollywood in mind. It wasn’t long before pine trees and bike trails replaced that vision. But, in addition to San Francisco and Las Vegas, Migliori arrived with plans to explore Coloma and the American River Canyon. “She had a lot of knowledge of local sites,” said Nick Willick, Migliori’s host father until December. Last year he and his wife, Sarah, welcomed a Belgian student, whom they treated like a family member, whether it was to go hunting in Wyoming, or to take out the trash when it was his turn. They intend the same for Migliori. The 17-year-old moved in on Aug. 7, and in a week, her English was already improving. “It’s remarkable how fast they catch on,” Willick said. “I’m not kidding, in one week it was like the difference between day and night.” She had a one-week advantage over Piredda, who was still learning to practice the English she’d been studying for six years in Sardinia. In an interview Tuesday, Piredda spoke in halting English, gesturing with both hands to make herself understood. When she failed to grasp a question, her face sank with disappointment, but lit up again when she had answers to volunteer. With help from Camillucci, she fired off enthusiastic responses in “very, very” quick succession – as in, “The family is very, very nice,” or, “The weather is very, very hot.” That’s all part of the experience. Melanie Barton, the Rotary Club’s youth exchange officer, said not enough families enlist or know about the cultural returns they’d be getting from these interactions. “Having lived abroad, I know that being an exchange student will impact a person for the rest of their lives because it opens up their minds and hearts,” Barton said. That goes for their host families, too.