New Italian exchange students arrive in St. Louis

Aug 04, 2019 1895

BY: Michael Cross

The first batch of Italian exchange students arrived on Friday, August 1st at St Louis Lambert International Airport. Bianca, Chiara, Samantha, and Luna were all smiles as they met their host families for the very first time. The Italian Community of St Louis (Comunitá degli Italiani - St Louis), along with the St Louis-Bologna Sister Cities Organization, operate an Italian exchange student program.

Families around the St Louis metro area volunteer to host these highschool students for one school year, i.e., 10 months. Celia Balint, the director of the program and a former teacher, is enthusiastic about her work. "I love these kids as if they were my very own," she told me when I first met her two years ago at our very first Ferragosto event. 

Last year, the initial year of the program, we brought 6 Italian students to St Louis. For the 2019-2020 school year, our program is up to 10 Italian students. One of our ads in the St Ambrose bulletin got the attention of some families who live on The Hill, an Italian-American neighborhood in St Louis. Sharon Gambaro and her husband Jeff were thrilled at the possibility of hosting an Italian exchange student. Sharon, the office secretary at St Ambrose Parish, said she didn't know St Louis had an Italian exchange program and was excited to host this year as well as promote the program among her friends. 

Residents of The Hill, Riccardo and Jessica Hayes, will be hosting their second exchange student, Samantha, who comes from Gagliano del Capo in Puglia. Jessica, the event coordinator for the Italian Community has been dynamic to the success of our events which bring people together of all ages. She has hosted pasta making parties, a lasagna contest, and many fun events for the Italian students this past year. She and Riccardo go out of their way to make a "home away from home" for them as well as for the rest of our community. 

Another couple who live on The Hill, Christi and Jason VanBlarcum, are excited to host Chiara, a native of Pistoia in Tuscany. Jason, a language arts teacher at Lafayette Preparatory Academy in the City, is a self proclaimed progressive and amateur rugby player. Last year the couple hosted two Muslim girls, a beautiful experience which changed their lives. The VanBlarcum's learned about our program through their neighborhood friends, the Hayes family, and were inspired to host again this year. 

All the Italian exchange students will be present at the Italian Community's annual Ferragosto at Shaw Park in Clayton on Saturday, August 17th from 4pm to 10pm. For more details on the Italian exchange program, please email [email protected] or visit our website

You may be interested