Italian exchange student Carola Pastore grapples with American culture, homesickness


In E-8 during fourth period, Carola Pastore studies for her Chapter 3 AP Biology test Sept. 14. Pastore said working with advanced scientific concepts in English rather than her native Italian has been one of the most difficult parts of her exchange. Photo by Maya Gomez

Carola Pastore has wanted to study abroad in America for more than three years.

“I had already started thinking about it when I went to my first year of high school in Italy in about 2019,” Pastore said. “It’s taken a while because I had to convince my parents to let me do it. My mom was really happy about it, but my dad was like, ‘No, you’re not going to the other side of the world!’ So after a while, I convinced him to [let me] try it and I started my applications in September 2021.”

Pastore grew up in the small town of Vercelli, Italy – a commune in the Northern region that sits between Milan and Turin. She had lived in Vercelli for her whole life, 16 years, as an only child. 

“It is a very small town, so everyone knows each other. We don’t have good friends or friend groups because on weekends, we all just hang out in the same places,” Pastore said. “It’s totally different. We don’t have one specific place that we go to  – we just hang out in the center of the city. We sit in a bar, talk, have fun together and go around.”

After a full year of the exchange process, which included paperwork, waiver forms and payment, Pastore was accepted to a California exchange program. She said that her family paid a premium in order for her to stay in California, which was important to her. Despite the long build-up, Pastore did not experience the full realization of the transition until she arrived in the state.

“I was so excited about it, but it always seemed to be a day that would never come. About a week before my coming here, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really going! That’s crazy – I’ll be there for a year,” Pastore said.

While she said that she was thrilled to be participating in such a program, her excitement and anticipation became mixed with the weight of her exchange during the last leg of her journey. After a series of connecting flights – from Milan to Rome, Rome to New York, New York to San Francisco, and then San Francisco to Sacramento, Pastore said the experience became real.

“I was really happy until I took my flight from San Francisco to Sacramento. I cried the whole time,” Pastore said. “I was like, ‘I’m leaving my life here! My friends are going to forget about me. My parents will not love me anymore.’ But of course, it is not true – I’m just going away for one year and then I’ll come back. I’ve been shocked – the homesickness is a big deal. I’m doing this alone with no one.”

Pastore said that since meeting her host family and becoming settled in America, her sense of belonging has increased. One of the strongest ways she has built community has been through the relationships she has made with her host siblings.

“They’re younger than me – 9 and 6. They are so cute because they’re always showing me stuff and they ask me to help them with their homework,” Pastore said.

In addition to her hosts, Pastore has made friendships with her American peers. 

“Even though we don’t have any classes together, we hang out a lot outside of school,” Julia Reagin said. “She’s very outgoing and friendly; I love how she always has a great attitude and is open to new things.”

Phyllis Khuyag, an AP Biology classmate of Pastore’s, said they have learned about unique cultural differences between Italians and Americans. 

“She’s smart, funny and really admirable – she’s talked about the differences in transportation; the U.S. is much more car-oriented and you have to drive to get everywhere,” Khuyag said. “But in Italy, you’re able to walk from school, to the store, and home very easily.”

In addition to differences in transportation, Pastore said she has been shocked by American eating habits.

“I’m not getting used to eating like you guys. So unhealthy, so crazy, so salty. I tried some ‘Italian’ stuff that is totally not real,” Pastore said. “In Italy, it is much different. For breakfast, we just have a croissant or some sort of biscuit with coffee. Then for lunch, I usually eat pasta. I really love pasta – it’s my favorite dish. For dinner, we eat something like fish or chicken with vegetables.”

Although she is partial to an Italian diet, Pastore said there are several aspects of American culture that she prefers.

“I like that school is more important here — your whole life is based on school. You are so into sports and clubs and our school is not like that,” Pastore said. “We just go there six hours a day – we study six hours in the same room with the same people every day, and then we just go home.”

Pastore said the school-centric aspect of America is a stereotype held in Italy.

“We have this common idea of the American football team, cheerleader teams and people always doing practices and play. We think of the school dances and all that stuff. And yeah, it’s kind of true!” Pastore said.

Pastore has participated in some stereotypically “American” activities already – she attended the first home football game Aug. 26 and the camo-themed game Sept. 15.

“[The football games] are so cool – we didn’t have that kind of thing in Italy. I get so excited about it,” Pastore said. “I’m also going to Homecoming and I’ve already bought my dress. It’s green, which is one of my favorite colors. It has stripes on the back and I’m so excited to wear it.”

Pastore will be completing her American studies for the duration of the school year – her fourth year of high school.

“I have to go back to Italy and finish my high school because high schools in Italy are five years,” Pastore said. “So I’m doing my fourth year of high school here, I’ll graduate this year, then I’ll go back and have another year and then graduate again.”

Although she will be returning to Italy in 2023, Pastore has considered the possibility of returning to America as part of her college years.

Pastore said, “College here is very expensive, so I don’t know. But I’d like to start my college in Italy and then come back here. It really would be awesome to come back and finish college here in America.”