Yes, 21 Italian students found themselves with a new “mamma mia” when they were here visiting as part of the Italian exchange run by WHRHS. Indeed, the students lived for 12 days as part of a Watchung Hills family, hosted by students who had gone to stay with them in Italy back in late March. Sixteen American students were taken to the town of Borgo San Lorenzo for 10 days, a half hour north of Florence by Patti Grunther, Italian teacher and Norma Scott, Spanish teacher who is also fluent in Italian. While in Italy, the students visited Rome, Venice, Pisa and, naturally, Florence, more than once. They learned how to bake bread in a wood-burning oven, biked 18 kilometers through the Tuscan countryside and met with Eleonora of Toledo, a renaissance princess, in Florence’s City Hall (an actress impersonating Eleonora held court to the students in a specially arranged visit in the actual chambers where she once loved atop the “Palazzo Vecchio”). Whether climbing to the top of the Tower of Pisa or visiting Michelangelo’s statue of David in the Accademia dell’Arte or shopping at outdoor street markets (where students bargained in Italian with local vendors), the WHRHS students enjoyed every minute, all the while bonding with their Italian host students and families.

So it was all smiles when the Americans welcomed the Italians to their homes only three weeks after returning from Italy themselves. The Italians arrived on April 19 and stayed until April 30, when they departed amid tearful hugs (see pictures) and promises to re-unite this summer. At least five WHRHS students plan on going back to visit their host students this summer where they hope to improve their language skills even more than they already have. While here, the Italians, accompanied by their two English teachers from Italy, went to New York City three times as well as touring the Princeton University campus and visiting Philadelphia. They searched for emigrating relatives at the Ellis Island Museum, visited Ground Zero, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, spent time admiring art in the Metropolitan Museum and took a walking tour of Harlem, just to name a few of the activities they engaged in while visiting the Big Apple. On a local note, they were given a warm welcome and private tour of BJ’s Wholesale Club in Watchung arranged by an American student’s father, Frank Buonvicino, who handles marketing for the chain (see picture). The Italians were also wined and dined with a Thanksgiving-menu dinner and a farewell All-American barbeque at various students’ homes in the Watchung Hills community. Describing the farewell scene as the Italians boarded the WHRHS school bus that would bring them to Newark airport for departure, the exchange coordinator, Patti Grunther said, “It was a very Italian scene: lots of laughing and lots of crying.”