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Maren McClelland – Italy

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Ciao! Mi chiamo Maren. Hello! My name is Maren. I am a senior at John Glenn High School, and I will be spending a gap year in Italy. I am extremely excited to have this opportunity and be able to experience the Italian culture and language. I am thankful for the Zanesville Noon Rotary club for sponsoring me and allowing me to have this opportunity. I became interested in culture when I was eight years old because my family adopted two of my sisters from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since then, I have travelled to Costa Rica in 2013, and I did a Short Term Rotary Youth Exchange to Germany June 2016. Outside of being a Rotary Exchange Student, I am involved with marching band, steel pan orchestra, concert band, National Honors Society, and Girl Scouts. My life at home consists of three younger sisters, a dog, a cat, a turtle, and two chinchillas. I am excited to mix up my hectic American life and integrate some Italian chaos. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to embark on the journey of a life time!

October 1, 2017

It is hard to believe that I have already been in Italy for a month! On September 1st I walked out of baggage claim and was welcomed by my loving host family with a handmade poster, multiple hugs, lots of smiles, a gooey chocolate croissant, and a cappuccino. If that doesn’t explain how warm and accepting the Italian people are, I don’t know what will! I spent my first few weeks getting to know my host family and exploring nearby cities. Calcinato and Montichiari are just as inviting as the people. It is incredible how you can be walking along a cobblestone street that is hundreds of years old and lined with houses and shops, but when you turn the corner, you have a direct line of sight to the Alps that are standing on the horizon.


I live in Calcinato and go to school in Montichiari. For the past two weeks I have been attending Don Milani, and it is very different than John Glenn High School. First off the school has 2,000 students (roughly the population of New Concord!), and the students don’t change classrooms the teachers do. Also school starts at 8am and ends at 1pm Monday – Friday and at 12pm on Saturday. My school friends were shocked to hear I went to school until 2:30pm in Ohio, but they said it is fair because American teenagers can drive at 16, whereas Italians must wait until they are 18 to drive. I have really enjoyed making new friends, learning the culture and being able to share my culture with my classmates and family. One week into my exchange I learned my host sister didn’t know what brownies were, so we took the afternoon to bake brownies and play an Italian card game called briscola that is very similar to euchre. Italians are very social people and are always playing games, walking, shopping, or cooking together. Contrary to popular belief, Italians do not eat pasta with every meal; however, every meal is an important event and a lot of time, energy, and love is put into the process. The meal is started with a main course which is generally meat, fish, rice, pasta, or soup. Then you get a clean plate and have a variety of cheese, bread, and salad. When everyone has finished the first two courses, the fruit is brought out. Meal times are very important in the Italian culture because it is an opportunity to share what happened during the day and upcoming events with your family.
At the training sessions leading up to my departure, I learned of the six B’s that are tools to use to help make your exchange a more incredible experience. The B’s are be first, be curious, be of service, be in the moment, be on purpose, and be grateful. This month I have focused on be curious and be first. Be curious has helped me learn a lot of italian words in a short period of time. By being first, I have been able to make and spend time with new friends. It is extremely intimidating to try and have a conversation with someone your age with the vocabulary of an elementary student, but it is very rewarding when you accomplish your goal even if you make a lot of mistakes in the process. But, thankfully everyone has been very helpful by correcting me and teaching me new words. This month has been a wonderful experience, and I cannot wait to see what the next 9 months have in store for me. Thank you so much for sponsoring me and allowing me participate in such an enriching experience. I am extremely grateful. I hope all is well in Ohio. If you have any questions for me, please do not hesitate to contact me! I would love to share more of my experience with you.


















November1, 2017

I have been in Italy for 2 months now, and I have loved every minute of it! The month of October was filled with a lot of firsts for me! At the beginning of the month I got to ride my first train and visit Milan with my host family. It was wonderful to be able to watch the rolling hills and scattered towns turn to mountains then a metropolis of history and architecture within the span of an hour. While in Milan, I got to try a sicilian cannoli, visit the Duomo, and stroll along the historic streets. I also had the fortune of having my 18th birthday being celebrated in Italy. My new friends threw me a surprise party for me at school complete with candles and a cake! I truly felt welcomed into their class and was touched that they thought to do this for me. My host family also held a small party for me, and by the end of the night, I felt like I’d never be hungry again! I was very grateful to everyone for creating a day I will never be able to forget. I also travelled for the first time out of Lombardy to to the province of Tuscany for three days with all of the rotary exchange students in my district. I was incredible to be able to experience the historic towns of Pisa, Pienza, Siena, San Gimignano, and Montalcino with students of different nationalities and religions. We had many interesting conversations and made a lot of memories.
Halloween isn’t an extremely popular holiday in Italy, but my friends and I decided to celebrate it anyway with new foods. They made me a treccia which is a dish with ham and cheese in the middle and bread on the outside, (the bread dough is woven to look like a braid, so they literally call the dish braid) and I showed them how to make their first hamburger.
But of all those memorable firsts, my favorite first is being able to successfully communicate in a foreign language! I have been learning Italian faster than I thought possible thanks to the help of my friends and family. I have also been attending italian lessons every Tuesday and Thursday which is great because I get to practice with other beginners. I have decided to join choir and theater through the school in hopes to meet more people and to help me with my pronunciation. This month the B I have really focused on is being grateful and expressing my gratefulness to those around me. I am extremely grateful to my host family for taking me in as their own, my new friends for their patience and support as a fumble my way through class, and to all the Rotarians in Ohio and Italy for making this experience possible. I cannot wait to see what the month of November brings.
















December 1, 2017

Today marks my 3rd month in Italy! I can honestly say I truly feel at home here in Calcinato. This month has been fairly busy. I started choir and theater this month. Those paired with my italian lessons and spending time with my host family fill up my weekdays. On the weekends I have been visiting nearby cities and christmas markets! I had the opportunity to visit Limone sul Garda which is a beautiful town located on the cliffs of Lake Garda. I also was able to visit Verona for the first time. I got to stand on the inside of the Arena di Verona (which is a smaller version of the Colosseum, but still enormous!), see Juliet’s balcony, and go shopping in the Christmas market! Another day 90 rotary exchange students got together and visited the Festival of Torrone in Cremona which is where torrone (nougat) was created. It was incredible to meet so many students from around the world and experience the festival with them.

Christmas decorations started going up around the 19th of November; however, my host family and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner on the 23rd. I made homemade noodles and my host father made a turkey. I was nervous to make noodles in a country known for pasta, but everyone said they tasted wonderful. I enjoyed the opportunity to share and explain some of our traditions while simultaneously being able to thank everyone who has helped make me feel at home in this wonderful country. This month I have focused on the B being in the moment. This B has really helped me improve my italian by being present and involved in conversations even if someone isn’t talking directly to me.

It is hard to believe that I have only been here for three months because I feel as if I have known these people my entire lives. There are no words to describe how thankful I am to you for giving me this opportunity. I am thrilled to see what the last of 2017 has to offer me. I hope all is well in Ohio and you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you have any questions, please contact me. I’d love to share more of my experience with you.



January 1, 2018

The start of the new year also signifies my 4th month here in Italy. I can’t believe it is already time for me to write another letter; the month of December flew by! This month I had the chance to go to Verona with my friends for school and to Milan with my host family. I’ve visited both of these cities before, but it was wonderful to see the cities in the Christmas spirit. The Italians have a tradition of eating all day long on Christmas day. Our lunch was five hours long and filled with a lot of new dishes including cow tongue. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, but I don’t think it will ever be one of my favorite dishes. Overall, Christmas was a truly memorable day, and I’m grateful to my host family for making it so. Unfortunately, the end of four months means it is time for me to change families. I am very sad to leave their warm home, but I am also excited to experience a different aspect of the Italian culture with a new host family. I met my new family the other day, and they are very sweet. I will have two younger brothers and a dog for the next 3 ½ months! We are going to spend our first week together in the Alps! I’m ready to explore a new part of Italy with new people.

This month I focused on Being of Service, and I started volunteering at a local community center where children go to have a safe space to do their homework and socialize with other kids. I have been helping them with their english homework and teaching them english while we play games. I’m excited to spend more time with them in the new year!

As always, I am extremely grateful to your club for giving me the opportunity to have this amazing adventure. I wish you all the best for the 2018!










February 1, 2018

The end of January means I’ve been in Italy for five months, and I’m at the halfway point of my exchange! My time here has really flown by, so I try to make the most of it everyday. This month was a blast, and I was able to experience so many new things. I spent the first week of 2018 in the Alps with my new host family, and I got to explore the town of Pinzolo and take a walk/hike in the mountains everyday. We also made a day trip to the town of Madonna Campo and used snowshoes to hike further into the mountains. There were places where the snow reached my knees even with the special shoes! I also went cross country skiing one day. I think I did relatively well considering it was my first time on skis! This month I also got to visit the Ferrari museum and explore the cities of Brescia, Sirmione, and Salo. I also got to see a burning of the witch ceremony. The witch (it’s more like a scarecrow) is burned by a giant fire (the fire at least 40 feet tall!) to determine if this year is lucky or not. If the witch burns right away, it will be a lucky year. If the witch “dances” at the top of the fire and taunts you by not burning, the year will be unlucky. The ceremony takes place every year during epiphany. When I did my short term exchange to Germany, I got to see a burning of the witch ceremony for the summer solstice. It was interesting to see the differences between two similar yet very different celebrations.

My first host family originates from the south of Italy, and my current host family is from the town I live in (Montichiari), so I’ve been able to see the cultural differences between the north and the south of Italy. The south of Italy has a more laid back culture: plans are spontaneous, the meals are longer, and the conversations are generally louder. Up north, the culture is similar to the US. Plans are made a few days or even weeks in advance, the meals are shorter than those in the south but longer than in the US, and the conversations are at a normal level. It has been really neat to experience the best of both worlds! My new host family is great, and I love living in town with them. Living here I can walk to school and to the center where I help kids with their english. And now, my best italian friend lives near me, so we go out for coffee and gelato and take walks all around the city every week.

My italian has improved dramatically over the past five months. I can now understand everything and 95% of the time everyone understands me. In the next few months, I will be focusing on more grammar and expanding more of my vocabulary. Thank you for giving me the experience of a lifetime! I can’t wait to experience the next half of my exchange!











March 1, 2018

And just like that! Another month gone. This past month was amazing, and I made some memories that I know will last a lifetime. I had the opportunity to got to France, Germany, and Switzerland with my class. My friends and I had a fabulous time. We got to visit a nuclear power plant in Switzerland, the European parliament in France, and many art museums in Germany. I’ve made it a goal to eat a traditional food from every country I go to, so in Switzerland I had chocolate (obviously). In France I bought a baguette (the best 66 cents I will ever spend), and in Germany I ate a Bavarian pretzel. I also shared some american culture with my friends and took them to Subway. They were skeptical at first, but ended up really liking it! In June I will take a tour of europe (otherwise known as the Eurotour) and visit 11 european countries! I am really looking forward to trying more traditional european food and spending 2 weeks with other exchange students from around the world!
During the month February, there carnivals in every city all month long! I got to participate in my city’s float. The theme was “Il bene sempre vincere” or “the good always win.” The women dressed up as angels and the children and men as devils, and we danced in a parade and performed for the judges. At one city we won first place! We won 1,000 euros and the money was donated to a local charity. It was so much fun to participate in a local holiday and help a worthy cause.
It is crazy to believe I have more of my exchange behind me rather than in front of me. I can’t thank you all enough for this experience. You have made the world so much smaller not only for me, but for all of the other individuals I have met in Italy and will meet in the future. I can’t wait to see what the next four and a half months have in store for me!
Ciao for now


















April 1, 2018

I cant believe it has already been a month since I last wrote you all. March really flew by, but I made the most of my time! At the beginning of the month I walked 7k with thousands of other woman in honor of international womens day. The purpose of the campaign was to raise funds and awareness against domestic abuse. It was incredible to see that kind of sisterly support in a different environment. I attended with my host mom and all of her friends, and we had a great time. Later in the month, we all got together again but this time to make pasta from scratch! It was so much fun to learn how to make traditional italian pasta. We made 586 pieces of pasta, and it was well worth the effort because they were delicious. I also made some classic american waffles and pancakes for my friends. They really enjoyed them, so Im excited to show them how to make smores when school is out! Now that warm weather is rolling in, Ive been going to the lake, taking walks, and making a lot of gelateria stops with my friends. They are helping me search for the perfect combination of gelato. We always go to the best gelateria in town Zero30. Its the best because they put warm nutella in the bottom of the cone before they put in the gelato and the gelato is homemade. They even have a little window where you can watch them make it! Right now, Id have to say kinder and cookies is the best combination, but I am still going to continue my search.

Ive had a wonderful time exploring my city and the italian culture in a new light. Now that I can speak and understand italian, I can really appreciate the differences and similarities between my culture and theirs. Some days I forget that Im a stranger to this country because it really feels like my home now. Ive been using be in the moment a lot this month because I know my time is running out, so I am trying to soak everything in before I step on that plane. Ive been planning events and trips for my last four months, and Im really excited for the rest of this journey. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
I am extremely grateful and cant wait to share my experiences with you when I return.







May 1, 2018


I have just completed my 8th month in Italy! Summer has finally arrived and it seems as if the entire country is waking up from hibernation. The people are louder, the food is better, the piazzas are always buzzing with activity. This season also attracts a lot of tourists to Italy, but fortunately I got to visit Le Cinque Terre and Venice before they all arrived! Le Cinque Terre are beautiful coastal towns along the Ligurian Sea. My host family and I spent our easter exploring the colorful streets and relaxing by the beach. In Italy, the day after easter is celebrated with your friends and is called “pasquetta.” My host mom took me and my friends to Venice for the day, and we got to ride in a gondola! It was a beautiful day, and we had so much fun together. Now that warm weather has finally hit, I am spending as much time as possible at Lake Garda.

I switched host families again this month. It was sad to leave my host family and move away from Montichiari, but I got to move back in with my first host family! We will be taking a trip to Sicily together at the beginning of May, and I’m really excited to try the sicilian food they’ve been raving about for five months!

Grazie mille (thanks a million) for this experience!


June 1, 2018

This month absolutely flew by. I spent the first two weeks of summer in Sicily with Rotary and my host family. It was amazing! I got to see ancient greek temples, beautiful beaches, arabic buildings, and charming coastal towns. Our hotel with Rotary was on the beach and one evening we all went out under the night sky and sang songs together and talked about our futures and the way the world works. It was an amazing night with incredible people that I am very sad to be leaving in a few short weeks. School is coming to a close and then I will have a full month of summer here before I return home. I am excited to spend long days at the lake with my italian friends and to explore the capitals of Europe with my exchange friends.

I cannot believe how quickly my time here has come and gone. This experience has been an incredible way for me to grow as a person, a leader, and a world citizen. I am so excited to return and share my experiences with you.