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American high school is mythologized in TV and movies the world over, and it can be daunting for foreign students. You could excuse Elisabetta Dosi, a junior at St. Petersburg High School, for feeling out of place since moving here from La Spezia, Italy in 2019.
That’s far from the case.
In addition to her regular studies, Dosi’s volunteered at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, distributing pamphlets, sifting through documents, archiving and helping to plan new exhibits.
The museum, coincidentally, is run by her history teacher, Rui Farias.
“But that’s not how I got involved in the museum,” she explains.
“I was looking for volunteering opportunities, and I just kind of emailed this museum because I was like, ‘Oh, a museum of the history of St. Pete – that’s so cool.’ I just emailed it and then Mrs. Trewin, my art teacher, told me, ‘Oh yeah, Mr. Farias told me that you asked to volunteer at his museum’, and I was like, completely clueless,” she said, laughing.
She’s since settled in, however, it took her some time to adjust to taking classes in the U.S.
“When I first came here, my English was really, really bad,” she said. “The first day of school, I was just not understanding anything of what the teachers were saying. I was just completely lost. The one thing that helped me was a teacher that spoke Italian for some reason, [Mrs. Bosco].”
Dosi found her Spanish classes easier than her English-language ones, thanks to the three years of Spanish she had already taken in Italy.
“School in Italy is kind of, not harder, but like, they give so much work. So like in three years of middle school studying Spanish, you’re most likely to be fluent already,” she said.
Aside from the language barrier, she’s noticed a number of major differences in the school system compared to back home – like the fact that American high school ends after four years, compared to five in Italy.
Also, in the U.S., high schoolers have some freedom to choose their classes based on their fields of interest, but in Italy you choose a school based on what you want to study, and from there your classes are set in stone.
“A classical school can teach [ancient] Greek while a scientific school can do physics or chemistry,” she explained.
Some differences are more cultural, particularly in the way that students and teachers interact.
“The people. Oh, my God, that’s such a difference. That’s something I say all the time. People in America are so much nicer. I’m just stating facts…. I became so close to some of my teachers here…. This could never happen in Italy. You just keep a really professional relationship with your teachers in Italy. They just see you as students.”
Q: As a junior, do you have any specific plans for college – where you might want to apply, or what you might want to study?
A: I have no idea where I want to apply, personally, because of the fact that none of my parents lived here, and they never went through school here. I’ve been here for only, like, a year and a half or something, and it’s just so complicated to understand the American system, because college is so expensive. So unless I get a scholarship, I don’t know if I can stay.
Q: Have you thought about applying back in Italy?
A: Yeah, but I kind of don’t want to. I like how America works. I like the fact that if you’re good, you go on; it’s not all about the money….If you don’t know people in Italy, you don’t usually get to go into school that you like. But here, if you’re good, you do.
Q: If you had to give one piece of advice to a freshman, what would it be?
A: I don’t know, maybe communication? I don’t know about middle school here, but like in middle school where I was, there was no communication between us and the teachers. So I think one of the most important things when you get into high school is trying to talk to the teachers, and let them understand if you have problems or anything. They’re there for you, so like, just talk to them.
Q: If you could tell everyone who reads this one thing, what would it be?
A: Creativity, I think, is one of the most important things in life. Just getting to do something with your own hands…. Like, I love to paint, and I do whenever I can. I think that’s one of the things that’s helped me the most throughout high school. Just getting some time for myself when I am really, really stressed. That’s what I think is most important, just taking care of yourself and not getting eaten alive by stress.