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Sofia Bertei is spending the 2021-22 school year in Cut Bank, far from her home in Genoa, Italy. But it hasn’t taken her long to adjust to living in rural Montana thanks to friends like Paayton Branch, her teammates of the Lady Wolves volleyball team and her host family, Darin and Laurie Wynn and their son, Nate.

For Sofia Bertei, the only home she has known until just a few months ago, was in Genoa, Italy. But Sofia wanted to be a foreign exchange student and that meant leaving home in Italy for a year. “I decided to be a foreign exchange student because I’ve always been curious about other cultures and also because I think the experience is going to make me more mature and independent,” she offered. “It helps you go outside your comfort zone.”

And then she added, “Also, coming to the U.S. has been one of my biggest dreams since when I was a child and getting to live here and experience the American lifestyle is literally a dream coming true.”

In August of this year, Sofia arrived in Cut Bank ready to be a junior at Cut Bank High School and ready to move in with her host family, Darin and Laurie Wynn. She had never been to the United States before stepping off the plane in Montana.

While the only home Sofia has ever known is over 5,000 miles away, she is settling in nicely at her new, temporary home with her host family who live a short distance from the school she is so happy to be a part of and from all the friends she has made.

Sofia, the daughter of Giovanni Bertei and Laura Ricci, is not only loving Cut Bank High School, but loves being part of the Cut Bank High School volleyball team, too.

“I have to say that I love school here. It is so different from the Italian school system, and I honestly like it better here. Being a student here is fun, there is a lot of hands-on work and interesting activities during classes and not too much homework. All of my teachers are great. They are all very kind and available to help me at all times, especially with my language problems. I’ve made friends, of course it took time, but since the very beginning everyone has been very nice to me.”

She continued, “I play volleyball on the varsity team, and I enjoy it. Volleyball is a big part of my life because I have been playing for 12 years, so I’m extremely glad that I have the opportunity to play here as well. My teammates and coaches are great, and they welcomed me immediately to the team very warmly.”

At school, Sofia is taking classes that most every junior in high school might see as part of their curriculum. “I like my school schedule a lot,” she insisted. “I really enjoy all my classes because they’re different from the ones I took in Italy. My two history classes are both very interesting because they’re about America and I always learn new things there. Even if English, pre-calculus and biology classes are similar to the ones back at home, I find them the hardest ones because they are challenging, with lots of words I don’t know.”

Here in America, Sofia is a junior in high school. Back home in Genoa, they have a five-year high school program. She has already spent three years in high school there, now one here in America and she will finish her high school with her fifth and final year when she returns to Italy.

Her home in Genoa is a city in northern Italy, close to Milan. Along with her parents, Sofia has an older sister, Giulia and a “kitty” whose name is Iside.

Genoa is located near the Ligurian Sea and that is something Sofia admitted she misses. She also said there is a lot to do in Genoa.

“I come from a pretty big city so when you want to hang out, there are a lot of opportunities and choices. The things I miss the most about it is going to the beach and the food,” she shared. “I grew up there and as I was growing up, I would always go to the beach, both in winter and summer. I really love even just looking at the sea, I find it fascinating. The food is definitely a thing that I’m missing a lot. I try to cook Italian every Sunday evening here for my host family, but some dishes are hard to replicate. Don’t get me wrong, I like American food, but there are some Italian dishes that it’s hard not to miss.”

She added, “And, of course, sometimes I really miss my family, especially my sister. But I usually call them once every two weeks because it’s hard to find a time that works for all of us, due to the eight-hour time difference.”

The Wynns have not been a foreign exchange student host family before and Laurie admitted, they did not know what to expect. “We really enjoy Sofia. I’ve heard some horror stories about hosting, but I can say it has been nothing but a great experience.”

They are enjoying the amazing Italian dishes Sofia cooks for them on Sunday evenings, and they love watching her “experience her ‘firsts.’ There are so many things she hasn’t tried or seen. And we have enjoyed watching her play volleyball,” Laurie said.

Sofia said her host parents, Darin and Laurie, are “amazing.” Their son, Nate, is Sofia’s host brother and there are two dogs and one cat that make up the rest of the host family.

“Laurie and Darin are amazing. They made me feel like part of the family from the very beginning and they are always there to help me if I need it. They try to make me experience many new things, like food and events or they try to make me see many places. I’m so lucky that they chose to host me because it is really the perfect match. They are all lovely people and always support and encourage me in everything that I do. I also get along with my host brother. He’s a super fun guy and we spend quite a lot of time together.”

When Sofia arrived in America, “I had a pretty good level of English, but it was still a little hard to communicate because everything was so new. It was a lot for my brain to process. I remember being nervous about making mistakes while talking and sometimes I had to ask people to say something again because I could not understand them. I truly feel like my English has been improving and I am very happy about that. Now it is easier to understand and talking comes more naturally.”

Living in a small community is quite a change for Sofia. Genoa is a city of just under 600,000 people, so being in a town of around 3,000 was a culture shock for her for sure.

“At first, I found it weird living in a small town, especially since it seemed that almost everyone knew who I was, but I didn’t know anyone yet. But now I am getting used to it. And I feel like people here are unbelievably kind and everybody knows everybody. The community seems to be very close and there are many community events or activities a lot of people seem to participate in.”

Speaking of activities, Sofia has made her presence known at the school in more ways than classroom time and volleyball. She is involved in many things offered at the school and found herself enjoying homecoming, yet another experience that was new for her.

“There are so many activities a student can be involved in, and the school spirit is strong,” she said. “I loved homecoming week! I had a lot of fun and it was amazing to experience it, especially because it does not exist in Italy.”

Sofia has only been here three months and yet she is feeling very much at home. With approximately nine months left in year-term as an exchange student, Sofia knows her time in Cut Bank will come to an end. But, if she has her way, it will not be the last time she travels to the United States.

“I would absolutely love to come back! I think it would be awesome to go to college here in America and it is definitely something that I’m considering.”

To read more local news, pick up a copy of this week’s issue or subscribe to the Cut Bank Pioneer Press,  Shelby Promoter, Browning Glacier Reporter and The Valierian newspapers at http://www.cutbankpioneerpress.com/site/services/

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