Elena Aresi's face lights up as soon as she hears the words "the Aledo football team."
The Italy native is an exchange student at Aledo High School this year, and following a season where her adopted school's team won the 5A-Division I state championship, Aresi is now a certifiable devotee of Bearcat Nation.
"From the first game I really fell in love with it," Aresi said. "I didn't know anything, so I started asking questions to my host family about the sport, and then I kind of got obsessed with it. Now I love American football. All the games were so much fun — the home games, the playoffs and all the way to state. I lost my voice, but it was amazing."
Gina Davis, Aresi's host mother during her stay in the United States, could not agree more.
"My husband is a huge sports fan and he has taken her to every sporting event we have," Davis said. "She went to the Mavericks, and she went to the Rangers and she went to a tennis tournament that was here. But when she said she is obsessed with the Aledo football team, that is not an understatement. She was probably their biggest fan."
The AHS junior has even memorized the Bearcat roster.
Aresi, 17, grew up in the city of Milan and came to the U.S. in August of 2022 to spend her junior year abroad and expand her horizons a bit.
"I wanted to learn English and find out what Texas is all about," Aresi said. "I wanted to learn about your culture."
And what has she learned?
"It's a lot different from my life in Italy,” Aresi said. “Italy is completely different. We don't have any sports in high school. The food is different, and people here are nicer than they are in Italy. And then we have smaller cars, and we don't have the rodeo or American football."
Another difference is how she gets around these days.
"One of the biggest adjustments for me was that I used a lot of public transportation in Italy," Aresi said. "And I walked a lot. But I can't walk anywhere here. And then one of the conditions of doing this is that I can't drive, and I don't have a license. So I have to rely on my host family to take me everywhere, and that's different.”
But the Davis family does not mind, and Aresi has traveled extensively with her host family throughout her stay.
One of Aresi's biggest objectives in studying abroad this school year was to improve her English, and Davis said she has certainly accomplished that goal.
“I think it's improved quite a bit," Davis said. "Her vocabulary has always been extremely impressive. The students have to do a language test before they come and she scored high on that. She has been studying English throughout her time in school, and so when she got here she was using some words that typical 17-year olds from the United States don't use. She spoke really slowly at first when she got here, and now she speaks almost as fast in English as she does in Italian."
Aresi said that in Milan, her typical day usually involved walking to school with her friends, coming home and making some pasta in the early afternoon.
The school day is not as long in Italy and students do not eat at school.
Aresi would then go to the gym and maybe into town to hang out with her friends.
There are no extra-curricular activities in Italian schools, and while that makes for a shorter day than in American Schools, Aresi sees the virtues of both.
“I like how American Schools are organized with the extracurricular stuff," Aresi said. "But I don't like eating at school. I prefer eating alone at my house. So they both have their pros and cons, but I would say the American School day is way more fun."
Aresi admits that while some of her ideas of what America would be like before her visit were pretty accurate, others were a little bit different than reality.
"I watched a lot of movies like 'High School Musical,'" Aresi said. "I thought people would be dancing and singing, but that didn't happen. I had expectations about prom, and I'm really excited about it and all of the sports. I wanted to travel a lot, and we have done that. But I always knew that I was going to have a great time here."
Aresi was allowed to participate in extracurricular activities and decided to join the yearbook staff.
One of the things she has enjoyed the most about her visit is the Aledo community itself.
"It's been really welcoming," Aresi said. "The school has helped me a lot to make new friends. And I like that it's a small town, and I've gotten to meet a lot of people. It's a lot different than a big city. I have a lot of special people here that I'm going to miss, my friends and host family and just the community. There is so much spirit, and I love the school."
Davis said this is her family's first exchange student and said it could not have gone better.
"It's been a fantastic experience," Davis said. "We're all glad we did it. She has joined with our family and participated in everything, and she's 100 percent in on any new thing that we want to do or place we go to eat. She is all in. It's also given us a chance to go back to do a lot of the tourist type of things that we haven't done in a long time, and it's so much fun to see her get so excited."
Aresi said she did not miss Italy at all for the first five months of her trip, but in January began to struggle with homesickness for about two weeks.
She did get past it, and it taught the Aledo junior something about herself that she says is one of the most important takeaways from her time here.
"I'm stronger than I imagined," Aresi said. "Because when you're alone, and you don't have your family or friends, you have to count on yourself. Even though I have a host family that I love, and they've helped me a lot, there are some days where you're alone, and you feel alone. You just have to react and get through that by yourself. And I've been able to do that."
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here