My Welcome to America


Sofia Meritano, General Assignment

My name is Sofia Meritano. I’m an exchange student from Italy, and I arrived in the U.S. late at night on August 22 at the small narrow Spokane airport. I was terribly tired because of my numerous flights to get here, but I still had some unknown energy to jump into my host mom’s car and head towards my new home: Rathdrum.


I was sitting there during the trip and looking out the window. There were green hills covered by conifers. Here and there, some farms with their cowboys and giant roads. This included enough fast food to make your head spin. There’s always a moment when you realize where you really are, which was definitely my moment. And I wasn’t just in the USA; I was in the real heart of America; I was in Idaho, man!


The first days are very exciting because everything is new, original, and always a surprise. I was happy in each little and insignificant moment. My first time at the grocery store, for example, was epic. When the automatic doors opened, I felt like I was at the entrance of paradise. Large lanes with all the products of the world and every single thing was in the biggest package that I’ve ever seen. 


I could have died for corn dogs, Lucky Charms, sour cream, cheddar cheese, peanut butter, or a cheeseburger. In Italy, there aren’t any of these. I know that my words can sound crazy because my foreign cuisine is one of the best in the world, but this was just the magic illusion of the first days.


After a carefree beginning, reason starts working again, and a lot of confusion and doubts rise to the surface. These giant supermarkets, with their giant food, are beautiful, but why is everything so big? The cars are big, the houses are big, and even the kids seem bigger than they really are.


And then, in my culture, people sit around a table and share a meal together. Why do people here eat whenever they want, wherever they want? Why does nobody have the gates in front of the houses or lock their doors?


In short, those differences that were fascinating before, at that moment, were just confusing. My biggest perplexity was probably the way Americans measure things. There is an international system based on meters and liters etc., but the USA prefers measuring distance with miles and baking cakes using measuring cups and tablespoons. 


After hours, days of reflections, adjustments, and several “Why?” “What?” “How?”, you stop questioning and judging every aspect of a culture and start accepting. You begin to be a part of the society that surrounds you. At that point, you can also decide what you like and what not. The American philosophy teaches me that you must concentrate on what is positive and just be glad. 


I asked the other exchange students of Lakeland High School what difference they liked the most or, on the contrary, what they found more upsetting. And their answers are very interesting:


Alice from France said, “School in France finishes around 4:30 p.m. I like the fact that here, we can go home earlier. And also, at LHS, we can eat and drink in our classes!”


Francesca from Italy said, “Here, cars are used way more than in Italy, where we can just walk to places or take public transportation. One thing that I love about the USA is school because you can choose your subjects and play sports without any oral tests.”


Bjork from Denmark said, “Doing sports is easier in the U.S. You can play sports at school, and you don’t have to be great to start.”


Isabell from Sweden said, “School is more stressful here. We don’t have breaks, except for lunch and 5 minutes at the end of each period just to walk to our next class. So it’s hard to make friends because you change classmates every hour and there isn’t enough time to socialize. However, in that way, you can meet a lot of people.”


Today it’s been almost a month since I arrived and I really appreciate a lot of things.  I like the colorful American schools, the bond between teachers and students, and the playful and interactive way of teaching. I like the fact that people say a lot of “thank you” and “sorry” even when it’s not necessary, and I understand that just because it isn’t necessary, it acquires more value.  


However, my favorite thing is probably the hospitality and the welcome towards the “stranger.” I was really worried about feeling like a “stranger.” I felt that nervousness when I went to France, Germany, England, or any other country that I have been to. But I can swear, I didn’t feel like that when I was alone, many miles from my home on the first night here in that old, narrow airport in Spokane.