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Program brings Italian youth to area

Clockwise from left, Jenna Savoie, Michael Savoie, Jana Savoie, Brian Lavoie, Francesca Devecchi, Letizia Gulli, Eleonora Oldani, David Savoie, Christine Savoie, Cindy Lavoie, Chris Savoie, Andrew Lavoie and Casey Savoie. Three different households from one family all came to St. Joseph’s Church on Monday to meet three visiting students from Italy. The Students will stay with host families for three weeks over the summer. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
July 20, 2009
CHARLTON — There is no better educator than experience.

On Monday, 28 high school students from Italy met their host families for the summer at St. Joseph's Church in Charlton. The group arrived in Massachusetts Sunday evening for a three-week cultural exchange that will take them all over the Northeast.

The exchange is sponsored by Education First (EF) of Boston, a facilitator of international study programs.

David Savoie and his wife Christine of Charlton, have been participating in the EF program for four years.

"We've formed some really meaningful bonds with the children we've had over the four years," said Christine Savoie, an assistant kindergarten teacher for the Dudley/Charlton School District.

"They become one of your kids," she added, "They really do."

Over the years, the Savoies and their 14-year-old daughter Casey have hosted students from China and twice from Spain. This year, the family will be sharing their home with 16-year-old Letizia Gulli of Novara, Italy.

For Gulli this is her third visit to the United States before, spending time last year in Florida. This however, is her first trip to New England.

Over the next three weeks, Gulli said she is most looking forward to, "speaking better English and getting to know new people."

Besides honing her linguistics, Gulli said she is looking forward to building lasting relationships with the members of her host family.

"Staying in contact, for me, is really important," she said, explaining that she still regularly communicates with the hosts from her previous visits.

Staying in contact is a very important aspect of the program to David's brother, Michael Savoie, and his family too.

Michael and his wife Jana have been host parents for two years, and just recently said goodbye to a former student who stopped by to pay the family a visit.

Michael and Jana's daughter, 9-year-old Jenna, still talks with one of their former students — a 20-year-old — on a regular basis.

Michael Savoie explained that his family, which also includes 17-year-old Chris, first got involved with the EF program after seeing how much fun his brother's family was having with their students.

This year, their house will be the temporary home of Eleonora Oldani of Magenta, Italy, who is on her first visit to the United States.

Over the three-week visit, during which the students will attend classroom sessions five days a week for language and history, Oldani said she is hoping to, "improve my English and to know something about the culture of Americans."

At Cindy Lavoie's house — relatives of Christine and David Savoie — Cindy, her husband Brian and their two kids Brian Jr. and Andrew, are hosting Francesca Devecchi of Trecate, Italy on her second trip to the United States Devecchi spent time with Gulli in Florida last year.

Although she has visited the country before, Devecchi said she is anxious to learn about, "different kinds of traditions."

Outside of what they will study in school and learn with their host families, all three girls are looking forward to the numerous excursions that are planned for them, including trips to Old Sturbridge Village, a Pawtucket Red Sox game, outlet shopping and a weekend in New York City.

In return for their roles as caregivers to their international guests, the host families — 22 in all — are not compensated with money, but rather with savings.

Diane Sullivan, coordinator of the EF program in Charlton explained that for every student a family hosts, a sticker is awarded for an EF passport. Completed passports can then be used by the children of the host families for savings on international trips of their own. Local students can us EF passports, for example, on Shepard Hill High School's international trips.

Sullivan said that kind of incentive, rather than just paying the families outright, helps to attract families that are truly interested in enriching the lives of the exchange students.

"We prefer to have families that want to do it because they're excited," Sullivan said.

Usually hosting two or three students herself, Sullivan said she received such a positive response from area families, that this year, her only guests are the two adult chaperones that are accompanying the nearly 30 Italian kids.

While the Savoies and Lavoies all reside in Charlton, host families are from all over south central Worcester County, including North Brookfield, Spencer, Dudley and other communities.

Sullivan said the blending of ethnicities through the EF program is just as educational for the host families as it is for their guests.

Michael Sullivan agreed, saying, "I think the major reason we all did it was for our children, to see other cultures."

"I think it's good for everybody, all the way around," Sullivan said of the program. "I love it," she continued, "I love doing this, I love meeting these kids."

A grandmother of 19, Sullivan said her extended family gets just as excited with the visitors come as she does, looking forward to making new friends for the summer. That Sullivan said, is what the program is all about.

"The most important thing," she said, "I think, is friendship, lasting friendship."

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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