Learning the American way

Italian exchange student experiences culture shock in a Midwestern town

By Nancy Price

Not long after 17-year-old Italian exchange student Eleonora “Elo” (pronounced A-Lo) Mazzocchi flew into the Indianapolis International Airport, her new Southside host family, anxious to get acquainted, asked what she would like to do.

Mazzocchi’s response? “It’s different,” she said to the confused family.

It’s a response Mazzocchi and her host family now laugh about. “Where we might say, ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I don’t care,’ she meant to say, ‘It makes no difference,’ said Nicole Otte.

Eleonora (Elo) Mazzocchi (holding sign) meeting her new host family, the Ottes. From left, Faith, 16, Joe, Nicole and Chase, 13. On the right are Columbus Rotary members (who sponsored Elo): Lacretia Ulery (left) and Priscilla Scalf (right). (Submitted
photos)

Nicole, along with her husband, Joe, and their kids, Faith, 16 and Chase, 13, participate as a host family in the Greenwood Rotary Club’s Youth Exchange program, open to students ages 15-19 from 100 countries. The Rotary Youth Exchange program helps students learn a new language, immerses them in another culture and helps them become more globally aware. It also helps students develop leadership skills and build friendships around the world.

A Year in the Life

“I decided to (participate) because I wanted to change my life in one year,” Mazzocchi said. Currently a junior at Franklin Community High School, she is from Reggio Emilia, a city with a population of about 170,000, home to producing Ferraris and mozzarella cheese.

Foreign-language classes (usually English) are required for Italian grade school students. “You study a lot of grammar but never have the opportunity to speak it,” Mazzocchi said. ”I was excited for school (in the U.S.) but I was worried about (speaking the) language.”

Attending an Indiana Pacers game with her host sister, Faith.

Her new friends, meanwhile, are also adjusting to Italian. “My last name is difficult to say,” she said. “One of my friends said, ‘From now on, I’ll call you macaroni.’ Now my other friends call me that.”

Her host family was surprised to learn what foods are which aren’t considered authentic Italian food. “Sometimes it’s hard to understand but spaghetti and meatballs and fettuccini alfredo is not Italian,” Joe said. “Meatballs by itself is Italian, so is pasta (but not combined).” Mazzocchi has treated the Ottes to authentic pasta with red sauce and her own tiramisu recipe (recipe at the bottom of this article).

Mazzocchi admitted that the biggest culture shock when comparing a mid-sized Italian city to a smaller Midwest city is the lack of opportunity to travel by foot for entertainment. “In my hometown you can go downtown and walk around the city squares,” she said. “Here, it’s not really possible.”

Decorating Christmas cookies with her friend Emily.

An Education

Yet, she noted American high school students have more choices as elective classes, and a high school education is four years, compared with five years in Italy. As well, Italian high schools are branched into two different types: one for math and science, and the other for language. “You cannot choose your classes (in Italy),” Mazzocchi said.

As an exchange student, Mazzocchi may have learned the most outside of the classroom. “I understood how much my family does for me and I learned a lot about myself, because before I came here, I thought, I’m not shy, but maybe it’s the language (as the reason) I’m scared to talk and speak with someone else,” she said.

She may be underestimating herself. Nicole said she has seen positive changes in Mazzocchi since she arrived last July. “I have really noticed Elo grow in her confidence and comfort with the language),” she said. “When she first arrived, she was very shy and nervous when it came to speaking English. Although she still gets things mixed up, she is much more confident and just laughs off any mistake now. She’s like our daughter.”

Mazzocchi tries an American summer treat: s’mores.

For more information about the Rotary Youth Exchange, go to rotary.org/en/our-programs/youth-exchanges.

FIVE QUESTIONS WITH ELEONORA (ELO) MAZZOCCHI

  1. What is your favorite Southside restaurant?

Buffalo Wild Wings

  1. What foods have you tried that you like or dislike?

Likes: Corndogs and fettuccini alfredo. Dislike: Pizza with pineapple.

  1. Favorite American sport?

Tennis.

  1. What activity have you tried here for the first time?

Roller skating. I’m not so good at that.

  1. What is a noticeable difference between the way Italians and Americans communicate?

Sometimes I move my hands when I talk. Most of my friends laugh at me.

Eleonora Mazzocchi’s Tiramisu Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 egg yolks
  • .5 cups sugar
  • 8 ounces mascarpone
  • Strong coffee (espresso)
  • Marsala (optional)
  • Cookies (It is better if they are like ladyfingers cookies – Elo used Biscotti cookies)
  • Shaved/grated chocolate (Elo used Hershey’s Special Dark and grated it in the cheese grater, and it was made into a powder for dusting)
  • Directions:
  1. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites.
  2. In a separate bowl, whip the egg yolks with sugar, until the egg yolks are thick and pale yellow in color.
  3. Add the mascarpone to the egg yolks and whip until combined.
  4. Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.
  5. In a small flat dish or bowl, combine the espresso and marsala.
  6. Dunk each cookie into the coffee mixture for one to two seconds and place into the bottom of a dish or into individual ramekins. Don’t let the cookie soak so much that it falls apart; just a quick dunk to let it absorb a little bit of coffee.
  7. Once the cookies have formed a single layer in the bottom of the dish, spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers.
  8. Arrange another layer of espresso-soaked ladyfingers on top and spread over the remaining mascarpone cream.
  9. Cover with a light dusting of dark chocolate on top.
  10. Cover the top of the dish with plastic wrap and let the tiramisu refrigerate for one night.
  11. Serve cold.