By David Fleet
Alessandro Pagiluso had a dream of coming to America.
In September he made it.
Pagiluso is a 17-year-old native of Curtatone Italy, a commune in the northern Province of Mantua in the region of Lombardy, about 80 miles southeast of Milan. He arrived at Flint Bishop airport about three weeks ago as an exchange student with the American Scandinavian Student Exchange (ASSE)—a quest he set out to accomplish years earlier.
“In December 2019, I was all set to come to American,” said Pagiluso. “The coronavirus had not yet impacted anyone at that time. We did not know it was coming.”
By March the government of Italy under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine, restricting the movement of the population. The coronavirus spread and the Lombardy area where Pagiluso lived was hit very hard.
He is currently with host family Samantha and Alex Woychowski of Millington and is a senior at Millington High School. Due to the coronavirus many exchange students like Pagiluso have opted out of relocation.
“My family has stayed healthy,” he said. “We were lucky—still I wanted to come to the United States. It’s an extreme experience where I gain person growth and you’re a lot stronger when you go home. I also wanted to learn English—I love the American version better. There are many countries that speak English but I wanted to come here. The English that is taught (in Italy) is way different then here.”
Pagiluso’s family was concerned that he was still considering his trek to America during the pandemic.
“My parents still worry about me here,” he said. “It’s not easy for a parent to let their son go on the other side of the world during a pandemic. But I went and just love it here. I look forward to the winter months and the snow.”
The Woychowski’s made the decision to host an exchange student before the pandemic hit.
“Why not turn the pandemic into something positive?” said Samantha, a first generation American whose mother is from Italy. “Make a learning situation out of the pandemic. I felt this was a better time especially for the exchange students, since it’s an election year. Exchange students will get to see the election process, and step out of their own country to see how other countries would process this information.”
The Woychowski’s welcome visitors in their home.
“Given the current COVID situation there’s always a little bit of hesitation and concern,” she said. “In reality I already have two children in the schools, an eighth grade student and in preschool. For our family it’s not much different. These exchange students have done so much already to get approve for the program and they are losing so much due to the pandemic, I think this is an opportunity for learning and growth. What a better way to immerse ourselves.”
Terri Shall is the ASSE area representative, which includes the Goodrich and Brandon school districts, say the pandemic has ground the exchange program to a halt.
“I normally place ten to 15 students each year in area schools,” said Shall. “This year I placed only three and those fell through for various reasons.”
The reasons range from the natural parents and America families not comfortable to schools not accepting exchange students, she said.
“I am very passionate about this program and feel bad for all concerned,” she said. “Everyone benefits from getting to know these wonderful students from around the world. We do have students available for the second semester who will arrive in January of 2021 and leave in June 2021, I am hoping that schools and families will be open to the exchange program again by then.”
By David Fleet