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Italian foreign exchange student finds strength during pandemic in San Antonio

Rebecca Padellini, originally from Florence, chose to remain in the US to finish her school year despite the challenges posed by coronavirus.

SAN ANTONIO — Rebecca Padellini came to the US in August as a foreign exchange student. The 18 year old is from Florence, Italy, and she's attending Harlan High School during her stay in San Antonio. 

For her host family, this was their first time participating in a foreign exchange program. It's Rebecca's first time with the program as well. They have all made many great memories together.

For Rebecca, one cherished memory was her first Spurs game where she got on the jumbotron. 

Another fun experience was her first rodeo. She cheered for animals, not the cowboys. 

Her favorite part, however, has been her experience at Harlan High School. The school days are organized quite differently that she's used to in Italy. She loves her college algebra and dance classes the most.

Christine Garcia is hosting Rebecca along with her husband and 11-year-old son.

"I'm from a large Hispanic family, so that was pretty different for her, and we're loud too," said Christine, while talking about Rebecca's experience with the family during the holidays. 

"Thirty people in one room, I was like 'no!'" Rebecca chimed in, laughing. "My family, we're like ten, twelve... I mean, that's crazy."

Credit: Mat Gaskins
Rebecca and Christine laugh while discussing the holidays.

It hasn't all been fun times however. Spending the holidays and her 18th birthday away from her family was hard on Rebecca. Harder still is the situations she's in now: being on the other side of the world from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

She had the option to go home at the risk of losing the academic credit for her school year, but Rebecca was determined to stay and finish. Finishing hasn't always been something she's good at. In fact, she has a history of giving up on things once she gets bored with them. But she began this school year abroad determined to finish strong and see it through to the end. There was no way to predict just how difficult that would be.

So now, stuck in a house doing online schoolwork, homesick and worrying about her family's safety, Rebecca pushes on.

"I'm gonna be proud of me if I finish this experience," she said. "I don't think I'm the same person I was in August."

Rebecca says spending a school year abroad makes you grow up fast.

It seems doing that  during a global pandemic makes you grow up even faster.

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