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Exchange student Alice Bracchi, left, and Kelsey Greenwood wait in the kitchen for an Italian cake to finish baking. The friends were following a recipe from Alice's grandmother. The cake is called Bisulan, and is unique to Lodi, Italy - Alice's hometown.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Exchange student Alice Bracchi, left, and Kelsey Greenwood wait in the kitchen for an Italian cake to finish baking. The friends were following a recipe from Alice's grandmother. The cake is called Bisulan, and is unique to Lodi, Italy - Alice's hometown.

From Italiano to Decaturiana
Exchange student enjoys life in Decatur, but still misses her
mother's pasta

By Danielle Komis 340-2447

Best friends Kelsey Greenwood and Alice Bracchi have a lot in common — a love of music, philosophy, reading and an ability to talk for hours.

So when Alice (pronounced uh-LEE-chay), an Italian exchange student at Decatur High since the beginning of the school year, decided she'd like to stay in Decatur for another semester, Kelsey begged her grandmother Susan Tom to let Alice stay with her for her last semester in the United States.

Before she even met Alice, Susan agreed.

"I never really had thought about doing it until Kelsey brought it up, but I'm glad I have," Susan said, who lived alone at her house in Decatur until Alice moved in. "They really have just kind of become like sisters."

Susan cooks dinner for the two girls and Kelsey's father every night. Kelsey and her father live only a few blocks away, so Susan said "it just made sense" to start making nightly family meals again.

Sometimes Alice — who comes from Lodi, Italy, a town about 30 minutes south of Milan — gives her host mother a break from the kitchen and cooks an Italian pasta dish or makes one of her favorite desserts called "snake cake," made of dense twisted cocoa and vanilla cake wrapped around each other.

After dinner, Kelsey and Alice do homework together or hang out and talk as long as they can.

They chat about everyday things like school, but often find themselves talking about religion or philosophy. One of the first times they hung out together, they stayed up talking until 3:30 in the morning.

"I've never had such a deep conversation with a person my age," Kelsey said.

Alice said Kelsey's depth is what she likes about her, too.

"I come from a different environment where I'm used to talking about religion and politics and philosophy with my friends," she said. "This is something I can't do here with other teenagers but Kelsey."

Recently, the two girls were out at a restaurant and their server asked if they were sisters, Kelsey said.

"I told him, 'I'll claim her.' " she said, laughing.

The two girls met in their chorus class at school, when Alice was living with her first host family. She asked Kelsey if she'd like to hear her play the piano. Kelsey said yes. "I was very, very glad I did that," she said. "It was beautiful."

Alice, who started playing classical piano at age 3, played a piano solo in the homecoming assembly at school in October.

She also played the marimbas last semester in the school's marching band and now is in the school's jazz band.

Her high school in Italy didn't have any extracurricular activities, and focused strictly on academics, she said. Classes are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and students attend for five years.

Alice dreams one day of writing for National Geographic or becoming a concert pianist.

When she returns to Italy, she still has two years of school to complete, then will decide if she wants to return to the United States for college or finish her schooling in Italy.

However, her "new" life in Decatur is so full, she isn't left with much time to think about her old life in Italy, though she misses the food there — especially margarita pizza and her mother's pasta.

"It's the best pasta in the world," she said. "She does something that gives it a particular flavor."

She also misses family get-togethers after Mass on Sundays, when she drank espresso and played with her cousins.

Before Alice moved to the United States, she was nervous about starting school here.

"What we know in Italy about American teenagers is what Hollywood shows," she said, citing movies such as 2004's "Mean Girls," which depicts high school girls as extremely cliquey and self-centered.

But when she got to Decatur High School, she quickly realized how inaccurate the movie was. "At Decatur High, every single person is nice and made me feel like a superstar or something," she said. Even before school started, she had made friends at marching band practice.

When she became fluent in English this semester, she started to feel like a full-fledged American teenager, she said. It's going to be "terrible" to leave it all behind when school ends this year, she said.

Kelsey and Susan are not looking forward to Alice's departure either, though they both plan to visit her in Italy. Still, the thought of visiting isn't enough to cheer up Kelsey completely.

"I try not to think about (her leaving)," Kelsey said.

In her own words

Excerpts from "Chronicles of an Italian in Decatur," a story written by Alice Bracchi.

"... Although the Lodigiano, the county of which my hometown Lodi is capital, is close to Milan, it's a totally different world. When I left it last July, its wheat fields were burning under an implacable summer sun. People were walking in Lodi's narrow streets eating gelatos and looking at the shop windows that overlooked Corso Roma, a name that means both fashion and history.

"In fact, Corso Roma is a long, narrow street of cobblestone in which cars cannot enter without special permission. This makes it the favorite place for us lodigiani to hang out with friends or family, especially after dinner when it gets dark and the streetlights give the old street a yellow, warm atmosphere. ...

"The move from this environment to Decatur has been quite shocking for me.

"Decatur doesn't seem to have a definite center. Everything is spread out, and huge, comfortable avenues lay neatly through green neighborhoods and shopping centers. From where I live with my host family, I have to drive to do everything, while in Italy I remember entire weeks without taking the car a single time.

"But my two cities have their similarities, too. They both count about 50,000 inhabitants, although Decatur is almost four times wider than Lodi and they both are crossed by a river ... Most importantly, the smile on people's faces is the same. What I really love about Decatur is the people; open, kind, warm, welcoming. They say 'hello' to me and call me 'sweetie' even if they have never seen me before. When I tell them that I come from Italy, the first thing they do is smile and tell me 'Welcome. We're so glad you're here.' This truly goes down deep into my heart and makes me feel a real decaturiana. ..."

Want to host an exchange student?

EF Foundation for Foreign Study, the international organization that placed Alice Bracchi with Susan Tom, is looking for host families for exchange students this fall. If you are interested in hosting an exchange student for a semester or a full year, contact regional coordinator Carol England at 462-3559 or 221-0446. Visit for more information.

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