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Italian student finds new rhythm at Wahkiakum High School

Maddalena Fontana, 17, who came to Cathlamet all the way from one of the biggest and oldest cities in the world, is one of four exchange students studying at Wahkiakum High School this year.

Fontana is from a northern suburb of Rome. It takes about an hour by public transport to arrive in the city center, she said, but only a minute and a half to walk to her neighborhood school.

An adventurous spirit and an interest in English led to her participation in the exchange program. She was able to select a state to visit for the year, and when she picked Washington, she was sure she would end up in or near Seattle. As it turns out, the host family chooses the student, and that is how she ended up with Korrin and Josh Stephans in a little southwest Washington town.

The good news is, she couldn't be more pleased with her current location. It's taken most of the last month to adjust to this whole new world, but she says she's doing well.

"It's a really nice place, I love it," she said. "I wanted to explore outside of Italy. I've been outside of Italy before, but on my own without my family is a nice experience. I think I will grow a lot."

Her host family has taken her to Whidbey Island, and a trip to California is on the calendar.

Fontana loves team sports, and has played a lot of basketball. She is looking forward to the winter season. In the meantime, she turned out for volleyball, and has come to love that sport as well, though she is a beginner.

She likes the teachers at Wahkiakum and is grateful for their kindness and help, but admits school is a little different here. At home, she and her classmates spend the entire day in one classroom while the teachers revolve in and out.

"At the start I was a bit lost, because I didn't know who to talk to and just, who to have lunch with, but I am adjusting well," she said. "Having so many different people around is a new thing, but I like that. I've met some people and I know who to talk with and I made some friends. I'm happy. Volleyball helped me a lot with that."

When this year is over, she will return home to finish her fifth and final year of high school. Italian high school, the "scuola superiore," lasts five years.

"I want to go to university, but I still don't know what I want to do or where I want to go," she said. "The last few days I really thought about going to university here in Washington. I really like it, but it's really expensive."

She may not be certain what she wants to do, but teaching is high on the list, thanks to her Italian and Latin teacher back home.

"She's a really good teacher and really nice," Fontana said. "I kind of want to be like her."

Fontana studies drama in Italy and loves to hang out with her friends in her spare time, but she doesn't have as much of that these days.

"I go to school in the morning and then sports right after school every day and you have dinner so early," she said, referring to the American custom. "Then I shower and do my homework and the day is done. I don't feel like I have time to have hobbies, but I like to read and I like to watch TV and play with my siblings."

She also loves to write poetry and listen to music, especially Taylor Swift.

Oh, and dinner time in Italy? It is usually served at 8:30 p.m. or later.

Maddalena is the daughter of Alberto Fontana and Serena Sporzini. Her mother is a physical therapist, and her dad works on the computer.


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