NOTE:  Travis has now returned, and has given us a personal account of his year in Italy.  However, his written account from earlier in the year is being left accessible as if you have a young family member or friend thinking about an exchange programme, Travis's description may be all the inspiration they need!   (It's lengthy, but too good to edit!) For some excellent pictures, click HERE

From deep in the Italian Po river valley:

Buongiorno a tutti,

January 27th... it’s January 27th! Where has the time gone? So much has changed in my 5 months here that I can hardly imagine my life before exchange. Italy is no longer a series of facts and numbers crammed into my head with jumbled notes about the renaissance and a picture of Venice and the Coliseum. No, Italy has come to be a series of beautiful people and amazing memories irreversibly intertwined with my own life. No longer does thinking about this place make me nervous about the future and doubt my abilities. Today I am fully confident I will be fluent in Italian by the time of my return. Moreover, I feel like I could go anywhere in the world and find some niche in which I could successfully apply myself. Months of relative isolation and hardship from a lack of language skills and homesickness have given way to a liberating sense of individuality and freedom of petty worries. My high school years, with all their drama and anxieties, seem nearly insignificant. These five months have been the beginning of a new life in which I am simultaneously the most individual I have ever been and the most dependent on good character of those I meet in my travels.

My current host family, the Albertonis have done so much for me since I arrived. My host father Franco truly treats me like a son. As a high level local government official he can answer all my endless questions with ease. Sometimes we end up taking endless detours through the Cremonese countryside to thoroughly explain the system of dikes that prevents the river from sprawling hundreds of kilometers wide across the floodplains. Other nights we’ll discuss Italian immigration policy over a game of chess -  or three. My host mother Laura is equally brilliant and best of all, makes huge breakfasts everyday to satisfy my enormous morning appetite. Moreover, they provide such freedom that I never miss out on spending time with friends and making the experiences that define exchange all the while actively seeking to include me in family trips around Italy.

In just 5 months I’ve seen perhaps more than in my entire life prior. I’ve climbed the great torrazzo of Cremona enough times to start keeping a PB time for climbing the 257 steps to the top. I’ve hiked up the pre-Alps into the clouds above Brescia. I’ve danced like no one was watching with complete strangers at the disco. I’ve wandered Milan by streetcar with my gut feeling as guide. I’ve prayed in Cathedrals nearly a thousand years old. Best of all, I’ve met and shared time with people whose lives so foreign to me have improbably crossed into my own for the time being.

            The Po valley of Italy or Padana,  far from the freshly paved subdivisions of Mississauga, is a nation with deep roots. Everywhere you go it seems people are dying to give you their little piece of wisdom, whether it be the “correct” way of producing parmigiana cheese - a dead serious rivalry in these parts - or a dialectic proverb. Strangely, inspired by the passion of the Italians, I find myself feeling greater connection to Canada than ever before.

To both the Rotary Clubs of Mississauga-Dixie and Mississauga West along with everyone else back in 7080 who make youth exchange possible I am forever grateful! Grazie mille!

Ciao signori, ci vediamo.