YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Federica Delrio is now a part of two families: one in America and one in her native Italy.
Studying at Youngstown State University as a biology pre-med major, Delrio was part of the nonprofit organization AFS Intercultural Programs as an exchange student from Italy.
She stayed with the family of Terri Windsor in Poland during the 2018-19 school year and attended Struthers High School.
Delrio first heard about the program during middle school and when she reached high school, she decided to enter the program.
“I really liked it,” Delrio says.
To prepare, she met regularly for a year with other exchange students in her hometown.
“We all were going to different countries and we would meet once every two weeks,” she says. “We would spend an hour or two together and do games, which really helped us to understand what we were going to see. I made a lot of friends through those experiences.”
Although she says the experience was sometimes a little uncomfortable, all of the exchange students learned valuable lessons of what to expect in other countries with different cultures.
Even with the program’s help, Delrio says coming to America was still a big adjustment. For the first time, she felt like she was on her own.
“It’s a little hard,” Delrio says. “Especially because you are 16 [years old] and still feel young. That’s the first time you have to adapt to what [AFS] taught you. It’s a challenge for yourself because you are living with people you have never met in their house and you really don’t know how to act.”
One of the most difficult adjustments for Delrio to moving in with a host family was separating herself from feeling like a guest. She says she initially felt strange about getting simple things from the refrigerator or getting a glass of water without asking first.
“It’s hard at first. But then you get used to it and it gets better,” Delrio says. “You still have in the back of your mind all of the things [AFS] taught you.”
Something that amazed Delrio when she came to America was her experience in school. She didn’t expect to make friends on her first day of school and was surprised by how welcome she felt.
“I remember the first day I got there,” Delrio says. “Everyone was so interested in me. They would ask me all of these things.”
Delrio said she was extremely fortunate with her host family.
“The first day I stepped into their house, they treated me like I was family,” she says. “I have a family here and a family in Italy. It’s awesome.”
Delrio attends YSU during the spring and fall semesters, returning to Italy in the summer. She has a particular interest in cancer research and plans to attend medical school after she graduates.
She still keeps in contact with her host family. Her host mother, Terri Windsor, invites her to several events at her Poland house every year and keeps in close contact with Delrio’s mother in Italy.
That bond,” Delrio says, “I don’t think it’s ever going to break.”
Delrio says the foreign exchange program truly changed her life and gave her opportunities she could never imagine. The people she met along the way during her time in America became a part of her, she says.
Delrio’s host mother was no stranger to AFS. Windsor first learned about the exchange program when she was a student at Poland Seminary High School in the late 1970s.
Windsor says AFS was a popular foreign exchange program at the time.
“Back then, we had so many foreign exchange students here. It was nice because all of the area schools would have AFS groups and we’d get together once a month and maybe have a picnic or do something with the foreign exchange students while they were here,” she says. “You got to know everyone in your area that is involved with AFS.”
Windsor’s family became a host family; and she became an exchange student.
She was unable to afford a full year in the program, choosing a short-term program that allowed her to spend her summer in Norway.
“I was literally high in the mountains,” she says. “It was the best thing I ever did in my life.”
Windsor says exchange programs were “really big” when she was in high school. Over the years, she heard less and less about the program and decided she wanted to get involved again.
She is now the AFS chapter chairwoman for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s such a wonderful program to be involved in. You meet wonderful students from around the world and you also meet the host families. The host family actually becomes a close-knit family with all the families that are hosting kids.”
AFS offers a variety of short and long-term programs, ranging from a couple of weeks to a year. Each host family is required to provide a bed, three meals a day, a place for students to study and somewhere to keep his belongings.
For students who are unable to afford the expense of traveling abroad, AFS also offers scholarships and alternative ideas for raising money.
Tara Bishop has been a host parent to three students from Italy, Japan and Germany. She says she heard about the program from her sister who had hosted a student the previous year and told her how great her experience was.
“It’s been fantastic,” Bishop says. “The kids are amazing. You learn about their countries. You learn more about our country. It’s just been really great.”
Bishop’s first student came in 2017.
“[The transition to becoming a host parent] was surprisingly easy and amazing,” she says. “At the time, my husband and I didn’t have any kids yet. So he fit in really well with our family.”
By the time her second student arrived, she was completing the process of becoming a foster parent, in which her family got a 1-year-old and a newborn baby on the same day. Her exchange student began to take on the role of a big sister.
“It was amazing how everything flowed,” she says.
Windsor and Bishop keep in contact with the host students they have had over the years. They text, video chat and sometimes have them come back to visit.
“They’re our family now,” explained Bishop.
Bishop says she highly encourages those interested to become a host parent.
“Absolutely do it,” she says. “We did it before and after we had kids and no matter what part of your life you’re in, it’s well worth it.”
Those interested in becoming a host parent can view student biographies to make sure the student is the right fit. Eleven students from eight countries are available for northeastern Ohio.
For information and ways to get involved, go to AFS.org.
Pictured at top: Federica Delrio came here as an AFS student from Italy. She is a biology pre-med student at Youngstown State University.