Cami Trucone isn’t the only new student this year at Cleveland High School. But she’s probably the only one who last year attended school in the southern hemisphere.
Trucone, looking to improve her English and learn more about life in the U.S., lives with Pete and Kelly Norman as a part of an exchange program through Rotary International. And thanks to her time here, she can answer that pivotal North Carolina question: Beach or Mountains?
“Beach,” Kelly Norman said. “It’s her favorite place.”
The native of Santa Fe, Argentina, (about a five-hour drive north of Buenos Aires) has been getting to know the community and the region through both day-do-day life and some excursions as well. The students hack away at a wish list of things to do.
Trucone recently hit up the state fair and last weekend she went to Charleston, S.C. The fair was a new experience for Trucone. “They don’t have anything like that,” Norman said.
The young Argentine notes that a lot of things are different, while at the same time a lot is the same. Dinner time is earlier. People are different. But making friends in a new school is still hard like anywhere else.
“Everything is so different,” she said. “I miss my friends a lot. Teenagers are hard to make friends with, especially in another language.”
Trucone is the second student hosted by the Normans, who hosted a 17-year-old from France last year through their Clayton Morning Rotary Club.
“The program itself is a form of U.S. diplomacy. I feel strongly about the program and the reason I got involved is the chance to show people the way Americans live, our values, our way of life,” Kelly Norman said.
Trucone said the culture of the U.S. – as depicted on television, for the most part – helped draw her to the opportunity to spend a year studying abroad. It was also a chance to master the language. Though fluent, she said English is her hardest class, and causes more difficulties than physics, U.S. history and computer classes.
As for North Carolina, she has been impressed. Downtown Raleigh she described as “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” And she said the culture, indeed, caught her attention.
“People are charming, say hello and open the door for you. You don’t see that in Argentina every day,” she said. “Everybody is so nice.”
As a middle child, Trucone has two sisters back home. She hopes to attend college in Argentina, but then to work abroad and see the world. The only other country she’s visited has been Brazil, where she went to a lake on vacation.
“My dream would be to work in another country,” she said.
For the Normans, they get an international experience without leaving home.
“You do learn just as much as you teach them,” she admitted. “They want to be active while they’re here. They’re well-rounded kids.”
She said the visitors bring food and gifts from home. Meanwhile, the family and other Rotarians take the visiting students to various parts of the state and beyond. For now, she’ll settle for making new friends and fitting in at school.
“You just have to be yourself. Just be kind to people; they want to learn about your story and country,” she said.
Part of the family
Much of the experience is about the mundane rather than the special occasion. As much as anything, they get to experience day-to-day family life…including a new family.
“They are part of the family. They go on vacations, they do chores, they do everything that we do,” Norman said. “This is not ‘Hey, I’m staying in your home. That French boy is family. We are going to his high school graduation next year. Same with Cami this year. She’s already family to my family.”
Norman said it is also a way to gain appreciation for living where she lives.
“Not every country have a sense of pride, but we as Americans absolutely do,” she said.
For her, part of the point was to show people that Americans were “hard working” and “didn’t always live in mansions.”
Not everything about the students’ exchanges was so high-minded, though.
Norman also noted that neither exchange student had ever had peanut butter, so she introduced them to that, too.