Foreign Exchange Student Finds Home in Army JROTC
December 4, 2013
Fort Knox, Ky--Moving to a new place isn't always easy. There's locating a place to live, packing and unpacking, and getting established in a new job or a new school. But what if you aren't even out of high school yet and you move half way around the world to live for a year with people you don't know?
Welcome to the life of the foreign exchange student--particularly the life of Francesco Rossi.
"I came to the United States on an exchange program because I wanted to learn English and learn a new culture and new customs," said Rossi, who is from Italy and is in his senior year at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, Ga.
While Rossi was still in Italy and researching his new school, he said he ran across a subject called Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and, "…wanted to try it because I thought it would be a fun subject--interesting."
Retired Lt. Col. Eric Cleveland, the JROTC senior instructor for Cedar Shoals, said Rossi has been with the program since the beginning of the academic year.
"He came in a week or two after school started--counselors put him in the senior JROTC class because he is a senior and he was interested in the military," Cleveland said.
"I brought him in as a participating student rather than a Cadet at first. Then he was interested in Raider and some of the other teams. So now he wears a uniform, says the Pledge of Allegiance and works with us on a lot of events. We had to convince him to cut his hair though," Cleveland added.
Retired 1st Sgt. Antione Clark, an instructor with the unit, said Rossi is mature and stepped in to the role that most seniors have, even though he is new to JROTC. He added that the program supports at least one foreign exchange student a semester.
Clark explained that while Cedar Shoals is surrounded by a diverse community and has a diverse student population, previous exchange students from Germany, France, and now Italy provide opportunities educating their Cadets on cultural diversity and awareness.
But it's not just the cadre who has words of praise for Rossi.
Amber Turner, a parent and JROTC booster said Rossi is not only respectful but inquisitive which in turn has made his fellow Cadets want to learn more about other cultures.
"He is so involved in everything and wants to know 'how' or 'why,'" Turner said. "And he has explained to our students that in his country they go to school for 13 years where here we only go for 12 years. Our kids are very interested in all of his ways and cultures and traditions. And he LOVES grits! Who would have thought an Italian would love grits."
Kelsey Davis, also a parent and booster, said having Rossi in the unit was a good learning experience for the other Cadets.
"The kids know the world is a big place but the fact that we have someone here that spends so much time with them, they realize that going other places and seeing other things is something they might want to do rather than staying in the local area," Davis said. "They may want to go on to bigger things, which is what we hope for. It is about letting them know that other places are accessible to them--all they have to do is branch off and get outside of their comfort zone."
When Rossi asked what Cadets do after high school, Davis explained that some go to college while others may serve in the armed forces. Those that go to college may choose to participate in Senior ROTC. From this feedback, Rossi now wants to go to an American college so he can go to ROTC because he said he likes it that much.
The young Italian has wowed his peers, and the Cadets parents, with his ability to cook, but he has also picked up a love for certain American foods while he has been here.
"I cook a pasta dish, carbonara. It is a pasta with onions, bacon and a cream sauce. I make it in Italy and I made it over here for my friends," he explained. "My favorite food in the U.S. is a cheeseburger with some fries. And a Chicago hot dog, and this dish from Georgia (grits)," he explained.
Rossi said two of the things he likes most about the JROTC program are the friends he makes and learning about teamwork. One of those friends is Antorian Lattimore, who said there were several things he likes about Rossi as a friend.
"I like it that he can cook, he is cool, he's not stubborn and really nice," said Lattimore. "He's not flashy about the fact that he is cool and Italian. And he has taught me to speak some Italian. He's new but I like it that he came up to me and asked for help."
But Lattimore said he had learned something aside from Italian phrases from Rossi--things reinforced from what he has learned in JROTC.
"I look at myself---I am from the same place as everyone else around here," he explained."But I have to think about how other people react to things and how something I might say would be taken. How I would treat people and how would I want to be treated. With respect and dignity---that is how you treat people."
And those are just the lessons that Cleveland and Clark are hoping the students learn.
"Everything we do with all the classes, like the conflict resolution we teach, the culture we talk about and the subject of food when we are teaching the nutrition and fitness classes, we can tie it to the culture of the different backgrounds the families have," Cleveland explained. "Bringing it all together helps kids step out of their little box and helps them learn there is more to the world than where they grew up."
For Rossi's part he said he has learned a lot about the U.S., our military and JROTC, in addition to lessons in making friends and teamwork.
"I have learned how to wear a uniform, and I've learn to be straight with your mind (focus) and things like this," Rossi explained. "I learn some things they do for the competitions, such as Raider. Like how to make the rope bridge and do the (cross country rescue) and how to do things like setting up the field where we compete. I have also learned more English words, and learned that Americans are religious and so very patriotic."
Rossi will leave the U.S. sometime in May, after school has finished. But he said he will be taking something very important with him.
"When I leave I will take my friends in my heart, the language and the knowledge that I can always come back."