It's been 21 years as I look back to my senior year at Guilderland High School. I remember having the time of my life. I had finished taking all math classes (which I hated) junior year, and I could finally focus on classes like English, Art, and Music that I really loved and made me happy. I filled all of my free periods with sculpture time and art projects. I went on field trips to museums and talked and wrote about great books in Arts English. I solidified bonds with friends who have become my family, and have provided opportunities for me to extend my network into lasting relationships in my adult life.
Senior year was the first time that I actively took risks. I worked up the courage to ask out a classmate crush, thinking "to hell with the consequences". I sang in public for the first time when I auditioned for the high school musical, Singing in the Rain. I submitted designs chosen for the program covers of the musical and graduation. I attended Senior Prom with a date by my side for the first time.
Then it emotionally hit me. I can't imagine myself at 17, with the uncertain and exciting future approaching, being stunted by a pandemic at the peek of my life's journey. I wouldn't have asked out my crush, I wouldn't have sang for the first time in public, I wouldn't have submitted my art work to be printed on hundreds of copies, and I wouldn't have attended senior prom with a date who danced with me. Who knows what my life would have been like or how I would have turned out 21 years later.
I was curious to get a glimpse of how a pivotal the 2021 senior year is from a guest blog post by Ilaria, who is a foreign exchange student from Italy attending senior year at Guilderland Central High School. Ilaria is staying with my friends the Clemente's, her host family. I was given the opportunity to photograph Ilaria while she got her hair and makeup done for senior prom. Guilderland High School Senior Prom was held at the Hall of Springs, in Saratoga where they provided photographs and a boxed meal.
Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Ilaria and I’m from Italy.
What brought you to this country?
I came here to study in the high school for a year.
How did you choose your host family?
My host family chose me by reading a letter I wrote.
How long have you been here in the US?
What has this experience been like (with Covid and new country and school)?
Covid was certainly not a help with making friends because of the weird schedule and the 2 separate groups. But it was special, I still had the possibility to do a lot of things and I even got the shot.
What does prom mean to you?
I’ve always seen people during the years doing it on social media and it’s like a dream.
What was the prom like?
It was not really a typical prom with music and dancing, there was only the possibility to take pictures but it was still an unforgettable moment for sure. I had fun.
Do you have anything like this in Italy? Some sort of right of passage?
We do but it’s usually for the whole school and it’s to celebrate the end of the school year. It’s not as a big deal as it is here. Here I felt like I was getting married.
How does school differ here in the US than Italy?
School is much harder in Italy, at least mine. I study from 2 to 3 hours a day. Here I only do homework, I’ve probably studied 3 hours in total since September. :)
What places did you visit while you were here?
I went to New York City, New Jersey, Corning and Saratoga.
What will you do first when you get back home?
Eat a big plate of pasta :)
What do you want to pursue as a career?
I honestly have no idea. I’d like something that has to do with traveling but I also wouldn’t mind nursing or med school. I change my mind every day so we’ll see what life brings.
What life lessons have you learned?
Mistakes are good to learn. Laugh at them. Don’t judge too quickly and work hard for what you want.
How did this exchange program change you or the way you view your life?
I’m a different person now. I matured, I saw different perspectives of life. This experience changes your mind completely in so many ways. It’s hard to explain.
Do you want to come back to the US? If you came back, where would you most like to visit?
Yes, definitely. I’ll come back to visit my host family next summer. I would like to go the west coast and in Texas.
Do you recommend doing this program to other exchange students?
Yes absolutely. I’d do it again 1000%.
If you could change one thing about your experience here, what would it be?
Nothing. I’m happy with how things went and are going. Wouldn’t change a thing.
Last question, please write one phrase in Italian that you believe describes your experience here:
“Solo uscendo dalla comfort zone, troverai te stesso.”
Special thanks to:
- Owner and Hair Stylist, Suzanne Boudreau at Boudreau Salon and Boutique
- Dress purchased at Macy's
- Jennifer Clemente for being such an amazing mom and host parent
- Ilaria @_ilariamanarin_ for being who you are, and for going through this not so normal circumstance on top of being so far away from home.
See more of Ilaria with her host family in our Family Album section of our site