Exchange student Jaqueline Rinaldi (right) and host parent Barb Smith.

Exchange student Jaqueline Rinaldi (right) and host parent Barb Smith.

From Sicily to the Rocky Mountains

Invermere's latest exchange student arrived a month ago from Italy and says she's enjoying the Columbia Valley

Invermere’s latest exchange student arrived a month ago from Italy and says she’s enjoying the Columbia Valley so far.

Jaqueline Rinaldi came from Cartanissetta (on the island of Sicily) to the valley on August 30th and has been struck by the natural surroundings since setting foot in the valley.

“Invermere is a little city, but it’s so pretty. There’s green everywhere,” said Ms. Rinaldi. “In Italy it’s different. In central Sicily, it’s highlands, and it’s one or two hours to get to the sea. In Invermere, the lake is right here and so are the mountains.”

In Italy, people have to drive out of town to get to large-scale natural green space, here you simply look out, since it’s all around you, she said.

“Canada has many people, but it’s a big country; Italy also has many people, but it’s a small country,” said Ms. Rinaldi, adding she does find the temperature here a bit colder than at home.

In Sicily, October temperatures are normally around 20 degrees Celsius. Temperatures in the valley last week hovered around 10 to 12 degrees Celsius.

The Rotary Club has been hosting the exchange students in Invermere for 35 years, and it’s proven to be valuable both for visitors and their hosts.

“Most of the families get as much out of it as the students do,” said Rotary Club exchange program co-ordinator Ken Fisher, adding he and his wife have hosted several

exchange students in the past and still keep in regular contact with many of them.

But lately the Rotary Club has had trouble finding enough host families.

“Largely because of the challenge of finding host families, the club has opted not to continue the exchange program for the next few years,” said Mr. Fisher. The break in the program will start next year.

The first family typically hosts the exchange student from late August until mid-December, the second family from December until spring break and the third family from spring break until late June or early July.

Ms. Rinaldi said she really likes to travel and that when choosing an exchange destination, North American locations were her first choice because the culture here is completely different than it is in her hometown.

Attending David Thompson Secondary School has also highlighted key differences in the Italian and Canadian school systems, she said. Ms. Rinaldi’s high school in her hometown, like many in Sicily, tends to focus on specific subjects. In her case, her school focuses on science, she said.

“David Thompson is a little school, but it’s nice,” she said, adding she likes the freedom students here have to choose a variety of subjects in both arts and sciences as well as athletics.

The general pace of life in the valley seems easier and more relaxed than back home, according to Ms. Rinaldi.

“It’s difficult to live and find work in Italy these days,” she said.

Ms. Rinaldi and her first host parents — Barb and Darryl Smith — have been to Calgary once and have plans to hit the ski slopes this winter, something the Italian exchange student is eagerly anticipating.

“I really want to ski; I’m so excited,” she said. “I’ve never really seen a lot of snow before.”

Ms. Rinaldi will be in Invermere until June.

The Rotary Club is still looking for two host families for Ms. Rinaldi for the remainder of the school year.