Two Flags One Youth: When an Italian ‘Scholarship Kid’ Joins an Exclusive U.S Private High School
- WTI Magazine #137 Mar 20, 2021
When I was 17 years old I got on a one-way flight out of Italy. The destination? Miami. I had just won a tennis scholarship to complete my final year of high school at a private school in Florida: Gulliver Preparatory Academy. The type of school where 16-year-olds pull up in their Ferrari’s or Maserati’s. Needless to say, the best I could afford as ‘the scholarship kid’ was a monthly Metrorail pass and a 35$ skateboard to cover the 2 miles separating the rail station from my school.
But let me rewind the clip for a moment. I was born in a small town in Italy and lived on a 2000-person village on a hill for most of my life. I went to kindergarten, elementary, and middle school with the same exact 25 kids. Everything was predictable, set in stone, a small yet joyous small-town way of living. Nothing changed once I entered high school: small town, small school, familiar faces… a sort of sheltered, beautiful, normality.
I had the same friends for 17 years, the same soccer fields, habits, points of reference throughout my whole life. High school in Italy is different. Firstly, you choose an area of specialization as early as the 9th grade. Every high school is specialized, and one must pick an area they believe suits them. There are the Lyceum schools, intensive and geared towards college preparation. There are the Vocational type schools, focusing on crafts such as mechanics, electronics, or even wood working. Finally, there Technical institutions, for specializations such as Accounting, Technology, and others.
I went to a Classical Lyceum, most of what I studied entailed things such as learning and translating Latin, Ancient Greek, memorizing parts of the Divine Comedy, Philosophy, History, and other humanistic subjects. I loved it. I always loved school, especially history and tales of ancient populations. Most of all I liked the comfort, everything ‘made sense’, it was my world.
Then, suddenly, and by my own choice, everything changed. I got on that flight to the United States because I firmly believed I deserved more. I wanted more, I had bigger plans. Do not get me wrong, I love my hometown. But I also love making an impact, expose myself to challenges: and moving to Miami, to that high-class snobby high school, was the biggest one yet.
High school in the United States is different. It was surprisingly similar to what I had seen in movies for years growing up. The cheerleaders, the popular sports kids, the parties, the whole ‘nine yards.’ From one day to another I had no friends, no more ‘classical studies’, no family next to me physically, although they strongly supported me from Italy.
I walked into Orientation Day on a warm morning in August. I soon discovered that what was Orientation for everyone else was going to be ‘Disorientation’ for me. People were talking about SATs, ACTs, college ‘applications’, boat parties, football games… I had no clue what they were talking about. We do not have standardized tests in Italy. We don’t have college ‘applications’, just entrance exams. We do not have boat parties for teenagers or sports teams in high school.
Long story short, I had no clue what was going on.
Even certainty about my English skills began to faulter. I soon realized studying in English was not the same as occasionally showcasing my conversational skills with the sporadic exchange students in my town. Also, there were drugs. Lots of them. Stuff I had just barely heard about in Italy.
I entered well defined private school dynamics. Students had their ‘cliches’, they made fun of others, and everyone seemed to be on an everlasting race to appear richer, better looking, and smarter than everyone else. Quite a change, frankly, from the laid back and down-to-earth high school experience I had in Italy.
As I joined Gulliver Prep as a Senior, I did not have much time to feel at home. My year there made me realize that, just because I had moved from one ‘developed’ country (Italy) to another (the U.S.A), it did not mean I would feel any different than if I had moved to Kiribati or Equatorial Guinea. Everything was newer, bigger, more lavish than ever before. Looking back, now that I am older, it would have been very easy to fall into that risky lifestyle.
I was the new Italian kid, people were curious, I got invited to every party and event (probably for the wrong reasons.) I am not going to lie, I had a blast at times. Other times I felt miserable, trapped in a materialist bubble with very little substance to it. Nevertheless, I’d do it all over again. That crazy year prepared me for college and the ‘real world’. I encountered friends, enemies, amazing teachers, poorly trained educators. I encountered poor kids, filthy rich teenagers, arrogant parents, humble workers. I took it all in, as an outsider, a learner, a student. And, putting humbleness aside for a second, it worked. I was the only person in my graduating class to achieve what I did. To really push the limits of what could be expected from ‘the scholarship kid.’ My career took off. The ones of those Ferrari and Maserati kids? Not so much.