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The good, the bad and the beautiful

The roads are wide. The cars are slow. The coffee is terrible. The people are fat. The area is spacious. In-N-Out is good. Strangers are friendly. Crater Lake is beautiful.

These are just a few of the observations made by exchange students from Alba in northwestern Italy after spending the last two weeks in the Rogue Valley.

A group of 30 Italian students and two chaperones arrived in Medford Aug. 31 after spending three days in San Francisco. During their stay in Medford, the students were able to attend “Much Ado about Nothing” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, visit local schools, see two “American football” games (South Medford High School versus Sunset High School and North Medford High School versus Canby High School), go rafting, hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail at Crater Lake, tour downtown Jacksonville and Medford, get dressed up for “prom” and take trips with their host families to places such as Harris Beach, Lake of the Woods and Portland.

“You have really more space,” said Lorenzo Napoli, 18. 

“In the same number of meters, there are a lot fewer persons here,” added Chiara Mellano, 17. "In Italy, there is many floors, but here people live on one floor.”

Medford and Alba have been sister cities since 1960 and began hosting a formal student exchange program in 1985.

Every other year, a group of juniors and seniors from Medford travels to Alba in March, and a group of 17- and 18-year-olds from Alba travels to Southern Oregon in September.

The exchange program honors the relationship between the two cities, facilitates international friendships and gives youth from both countries the opportunity to see and experience a different culture, explained Brent Barry, principal of Orchard Hill Elementary and president of the Medford Alba Sister City Association.

The Alba students left Medford Tuesday for New York City, where they will spend two days before heading home.

On Monday, their last full day in Oregon, the exchange students visited Orchard Hill Elementary.

For about 30 minutes, teacher Kyle Carson’s fifth-grade students asked the exchange students about life in Italy, their time in Medford and an assortment of other insightful questions.

“Do you have McDonald's in Italy?”

“How do you say ‘spaghetti’ in Italy?”

“Can you say my name in Italian?”

“How many selfies do you take each day?”

Alba, Barry informed the students, is the birthplace of Nutella and the Tic Tac.

“The whole city smells like mint when they are making the mint Tic Tacs,” said Bruna Galeasso, one of the chaperones.

When Barry asked the students, “Who wants to go to Italy?” every student’s hand shot up.

Later, the exchange students enjoyed cupcakes and Pepsi in the school office and talked about their experiences in America.

In Italy, the drinking age is 16, and the driving age is 18. Eugenio Codazzi, 18, said he was disappointed he couldn’t drink beer with his pizza during their stay, especially after hearing great things about the local beers.

Chiara said she was allowed to drive a car for a few kilometers around a local neighborhood. In Italy, the roads are narrow, and the cars are driven fast.

“Here it’s very safe,” she said. “It’s like driving a golf cart — gas, brake, gas, brake.”

Americans, Lorenzo pointed out, put ice in everything, especially compared to Italians who put only one or two ice cubes in their beverages during the summer. 

Chiara and Lorenzo both attend classical schools in Alba, where they go to school six days a week and study English, French, Latin and Greek.

“I really like the schools here because it’s really different from school in Italy,” Chiara said. “School in Italy is boring.”

“In Italy, it is so important to study, but teachers don’t appreciate so much activities,” she said, adding that her school doesn’t offer subjects like cooking and art.

The exchange students also commented on how much Mexican food Southern Oregonians eat, how many sauces and dressings are available (not just salt and vinaigrette), how the trees in Redwood National Park are so “amazing and strange,” how beautiful the countryside is, and how happy everyone is.

Lorenzo and Chiara said their only disappointment was the coffee.

“To us, coffee is espresso,” Lorenzo explained. “It’s small and beautiful. Here it’s sweet with milk and comes in big cups.”

For more information on the Alba exchange program, see www.medfordalba.com.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Alba high school students, from left, Matilde Cielo, Eugenio Codazzi, Chiara Mellano, Martina Bedino and Lorenzo Napoli answer questions from Kyle Carson's fifth-grade class at Orchard Hill Elementary School. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Alba student Lorenzo Napoli takes a selfie with fifth-graders at Orchard Hill Elementary School. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell