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Alma’s foreign exchange system suits Italy native Ada Marcuccio 11/28/22

Alma’s foreign exchange system suits Italy native Ada Marcuccio 

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools


Ada Marcuccio leaned heavily on her older sister Giulia right before boarding a plane for America. 


The Milan, Italy, native is among 14 foreign exchange students who settled in the area back in early August just as school was starting at Alma High School. On top of moving 5,100 miles and changing time zones, Marcuccio was greeted with a September heatwave. 


“At the beginning it was hard,” she said. “Plus, it was so hot and humid. It’s humid in Milano, but here, you can feel that.”


Alma’s current group of foreign exchange students includes those from France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Vietnam, and Germany. 


“I was so excited about coming here,” Marcuccio said. “It’s really different from Europe - everything is bigger. I remember when I first got here everything was really clean and really organized. People are so nice and helpful.”


Marcuccio is part of Alma’s 10th year of hosting kids with specific F1 visa programs from across the world.


Veteran Alma French teacher Eileen Parham is Alma’s foreign student coordinator. She expects two more foreign exchange students to join the school this January. 


“There are two more applying for next semester, a girl from Switzerland and a boy from Italy,” Parham said. “If we can find families for them, we will have 16.”


Parham said she became interested in studying abroad while in high school (Penn High School in northern Indiana). Her parents served as hosts back in the 1990s. 


She, too, studied abroad in France while in high school. 


“My parents hosted several times as I was growing up,” Parham said. “I was an exchange student in France in the summers while I was in high school and studying there in college. I have also sent my own daughter (Elizabeth) to study in Germany for a year, and my husband (Rick) and I have hosted ever since the program started. I enjoy the experience and getting to know the different countries through hosting. 


“We have hosted students from Vietnam, China, Thailand, France, Germany, Spain, Azerbaijan, and Taiwan.”


Despite the hustle and bustle of life while successfully raising three daughters, Parham said she’s been able to stay connected with quite a few former exchange students. 


“They are still in contact with us on occasion,” she said. “It’s amazing to me how many of the students from the program take the time to keep in touch.”


At least one former AHS student married a foreign exchange student several years ago. Other Alma students have traveled abroad to visit former exchange students. 


“We have former exchange students who have attended the University of Arkansas; one German girl married a boy a few years ago that she had met while she attended Alma High. They had both finished college before they married, but they had first started dating in high school. 


“I know we have also had several Alma students who have traveled to visit their friends in foreign countries and made connections that will last a lifetime.”


Marcuccio settles in


With the click of a button, Marcuccio could text her parents if she chose. Instead, the Alma junior prefers to keep her distance.


“I try not to talk to them a lot because I don’t want to get homesick,” Marcuccio said. “If you talk a lot to your real family, from your country, it’s like you’re leading two different lives. I try to just focus on my American one.”


Marcuccio had an inkling of what to expect before boarding a plane for America. Sister Giulia spent a year (2017-18) with a host family in Michigan. 


“Sometimes I compare my experience to my sister's experience,” she said. “I can tell that here it’s absolutely better. It’s like a family. I feel part of the group, plus Ms. Parham works a lot for us. She is very good at that.”


Marcuccio said one of her goals in coming to America was to work on her sometimes awkward social skills. 


“I feel like I’m improving my social skills,” Marcuccio said. “I’m trying to be less shy because I need to meet new people, make friends, and socialize, which is not as easy as we think it is.”


Marcuccio said she’s looking forward to the Christmas holidays in that, in her native Italy, family celebrations are much more subdued. 


“I’m already envisioning a lot of family and staying close together,” Marcuccio said. “In Europe, it’s really not like that. Some of my family live in another region, so it’s harder to see each other.”


This one figures to be really special, too. Her host family, Josh and Savannah Parker of Fort Smith are expecting their first child on Jan. 4. 


The Alma way


Parham dug in early to make exchange students feel comfortable. Now, it’s paying off. 


“We have had so many students continue to reach out, but what I feel is so special is when they have made such a deep connection that they send their siblings or best friends to stay in Alma,” Parham said. “We have had several siblings over the years. We have two this year as well. Juan from Spain has had both his sister and older brother stay in Alma before him, and Sofia from Spain is here because her sister spent a year in Alma.


“When I interviewed them over the summer, the parents of these students were so quick to say how much they appreciate how the whole community embraces these students and the warmth of the area. The students always tell me that they did not even know about Arkansas before this program, but all of them feel fortunate to be here.”


Parham said she’s hopeful her exchange students see a different side of America than what’s often glamorized in books and movies. 


“ It has always been my mission to show students a different view of America than perhaps one they have seen in a movie or studied in a book,” she said. “Arkansas is so beautiful and has some of the kindest people. I love showing off our area and introducing the kids to everyone.”