Giuliana Castillo is home from Italy – finally. Safe. Negative for COVID-19. But she’s still a little lost between two worlds, adjusting to home yet leaving behind the people and the places she came to love.
Giuliana, 18, arrived in Italy on Sept. 5, 2019, for a year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student after a May 2019 graduation from Farragut High School. She was to be there until her exchange year ended in July 2020. But COVID-19 ended her once-in-a-lifetime year after only six months. She returned home on Sunday, March 22. Her father, Derick, met her at McGhee Tyson with his mask in place.
Leaving was not easy – emotionally and physically. It took three weeks for her to get home. Several canceled flights. Full flights. Exhaustion caused her to sleep through a flight at a gate. Stops and starts that created almost a constant emotional rollercoaster for her and her parents, and then 14 days of isolation in the family basement.
Each month Rotary exchange students send reports to their host clubs, Rotary leaders in the exchange program and to their parents. The Rotary Club of Farragut was Giuliana’s sponsor for this exchange year.
The title of her March report speaks volumes: “Marzo: Escaping Northern Italy.” Her exchange was with the Belardi family in Manta, some 35 miles northwest of Turin in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The report is fascinating, and you can click Giuliana March 2020 Report to read it.
She was isolated in a small town. Public transportation was shut down. They were quarantined at home. “It all crumbled very quickly,” she said.
As the virus kept ravaging Italy, Giuliana knew she had to go home. On Monday, March 9, she wrote: “…I woke up feeling good, then everything took a nosedive. My host family asked me to stay at home (due to the virus); then they emailed my Dad suggesting I return to the U.S. My head wanted to go home, and so did my heart. I had become too big of a responsibility for my host family. The situation had deteriorated so much that for the remainder of my exchange it would not return to normal.”
International travel in calm times can often be frustrating, but in these times it’s almost non-existent. It was really falling apart as she was trying to get home.
Derick is an IT software programmer for Brunswick Boats and a native of Lima, Peru. Her mother, Theresa, is the assistant director of the Tennessee Consortium for International Studies at Pellissippi State Community College. Both are very familiar with international travel. They were working throughout the month with Rotary’s travel agents, the airlines and with Giuliana to get her home. Each flight missed added risk to the possibility of her contracting COVID-19.
She was tested for the virus by the Knox County Health Department soon after arriving home and she was negative.
Once home she continued writing her report. Here are a few timely quotes:
- “We landed (Sunday, March 22, at McGhee Tyson). Then, I walked outside. I hugged my mask-covered Dad. At home, I hugged my mask-covered mother and sister, then was put on ‘self-isolation’ downstairs for 14 days.”
- “I feel an inner anger because I know I should be in Italy. My head knows I should be at home, but my heart longs to be in Italy. I feel lost like I’m stranded between two worlds.”
She’s also hoping this virus ends soon for everyone – and for her younger sister, Alexa, 16. She will be leaving for her own Rotary Youth Exchange year in Spain, assuming the COVID-19 virus is not with us.
Giuliana plans to return to Italy at some point. There’s a lot she didn’t see or experience: Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples and Tuscany. And, her mother had planned a 10-day trip in late April to see Giuliana and travel with her. That didn’t happen.
Now home, what’s next? She will be going to the University of Tennessee in the fall and majoring in economics and global studies.
And, no doubt, Italy will still be on her mind and in her heart.
If you’re interested in exploring membership in the Rotary Club of Farragut, drop me an email at [email protected] We are not meeting now due to the COVID-19 virus. You also can call me at 865-659-3562.
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and has been the editor of two newspapers.