Thirty students from North and South Medford high schools will spend their spring break in the land of wine, white truffles and Nutella: Alba, Italy.
It's part of a Sister City exchange between Medford and Alba that's nearing some 60 years.
"It feels like we have extended family in Italy," says Lisa Ross, whose daughter, Joanna, will be among the exchange students this year. "Joanna is extremely excited."
Chaperone Stacey Stover says preparation for the trip starts six months before, when students begin fundraising, meeting weekly and taking Italian language lessons.
Stover, an algebra teacher at South Medford, says her sons have made the trip, and the family has hosted Alba students.
"It changes the way you see the world," Stover says. "I wish every city had a sister city, and everyone could have this experience. You see that families are families everywhere."
Students already have sold flower bulbs and picked up Christmas trees to raise money for the trip, which costs $3,000 each.
Their biggest fundraiser, the Alba Dinner Auction, is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at Inn at the Commons in Medford. Festivities include an Italian dinner, silent auction and live auction. Tickets cost $50. Reservations are due Tuesday, Feb. 21, and can be made by calling 541-601-3483 or online at medfordalba.weebly.com.
Here are some fun facts about Medford's relationship with its European sibling:
1. Medford Mayor John Snider chose Alba as Medford's sister city in 1957 from a list of suggestions offered in President Dwight Eisenhower's "People to People" program launched the year before. Snider believed similarities in size, climate, topography and agricultural heritage could lead to lasting bonds between the communities and their residents. He was right.
2. Snider made a historic phone call to Alba Mayor Osvaldo Cagnasso just before 4 p.m. July 26, 1962, using the first telecommunications satellite in space. Called Telstar, it cost AT&T $1 million to build and NASA $3 million to launch and track.
While 60 people gathered in Snider's office to listen, more than 5,000 residents gathered 5,719 miles away in the town plaza (at midnight Italian time) to hear the mayors' conversation on loudspeakers. The two spoke for about 10 minutes before the connection became too poor.
"As the world becomes smaller, my dear friend Osvaldo, let us hope our friendship may become ever greater," Snider said.
3. Alba is located in the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy, reportedly the only place in the world that grows white truffles. The truffles, available only a couple months of the year, are foraged using pigs and are so celebrated they have their own festival. They're also quite expensive. TIME magazine reported in 2010 that they cost $2,000 a pound. In 2009, a 1.6-pound white truffle sold for $150,000, TIME said.
4. Alba and Medford have been exchanging students every two years since 1985. Medford students travel to Alba in March, and Alba students come to Medford in September. Before 1985, the student exchanges occurred only intermittently. This year’s students are the 19th group to travel abroad.
5. While in Alba, students are fully immersed in Italian culture. They stay with host families and attend Liceo Linguistico Leonardo da Vinci School Alba.
6. Alba is home to Ferrero, makers of the chocolate-hazelnut spread Nutella. Founder Michele Ferrero also invented Kinder Surprise, Ferrero Rocher and Tic Tacs, making him one of the richest men on Earth before his death at 89. Ferrero was so paranoid of spies stealing his secrets that he had a recipe translated into Arabic and hidden in Cairo, the Daily Mail reported in 2015.