Three countries; three vastly different experiences


We come from three different countries and three different ways of life. We’ve experienced and seen things that the others haven’t. Now we’re all together in the same journalism class comparing how different life is for Clara, who is from Italy; Taina, who is from Puerto Rico; Addison who is from America. 

Home Life


Addison: The Distance Between Family

The idea of the American family is an idyllic picture but not every family looks like that. Americans all live very different lives when it comes to families. 

   I am very close to my mom and I tell her just about anything and she’s always there for me. She works from home but she works very long hours; if the internet is down she ends up behind. In my house, she does the laundry and dishes because she is home for the day.

   My dad on the other hand works for the school transportation department, so he is up early in the morning, before I even wake up from school. He comes home between four or five on a normal work day. In my family, he’s the one who cooks dinner, and he cooks very well. 

   Cooking has always been very important in my family; we look forward to the holidays because of the food, not necessarily the company. I’ve loved growing up around the cooks in my family and I hope one day I can be just as good as they are.

   Finally, I have a little brother, he’s a fairly average brother, annoying, loud, and very outspoken. While we used to fight a lot when we were younger we’ve definitely learned to avoid each other or put up with each other at least. I’m sure one day when we’re old we’ll get along but for now, he just seems to annoy me.

   That’s the dynamic of my family which I know can be quite different amongst other families. Like I said, I’m very close to my mom. I have many friends who have also become super close to my mom because she’s fun and understanding and my friends are creating a relationship with her that they can’t necessarily have with their own moms.

   My dad is the cook, this isn’t normally seen in an American household. There’s always been an image of a woman in the kitchen since before the 50’s. It’s a stereotype that luckily has been long dealt with, it really doesn’t matter who’s doing the cooking. Plus when you have a dad like mine in the kitchen I’d much rather have him cooking than my mom.


Taina: Life in Puerto Rico 

Home life back in Puerto Rico was pretty good. I really liked living there but the only struggle was living with two boys. They would always leave a mess everywhere and having to share a bathroom was the worst.

   Me being a girl, I would take forever in the bathroom, and having to get out of the bathroom every five minutes was annoying, and having my brother’s clothes everywhere and having to pick it up would make me mad. But I enjoyed having my brothers around: every time I would go out with them they would always say “hi” to people, because they had a lot of friends, and I got to get to know them. It was a good thing because, by the time I got to high school, my brother’s friends would help me around the school so I wasn’t so nervous about starting high school.  

   Where I used to live was on top of a bar, so every morning there were older people drinking and listening to music. They were talking very loud so we would not be able to sleep well sometimes. At least, at night there was not as much noise then there would be in the morning.

   I would wake up and I wouldn’t eat breakfast right away because I would feel sick after and I wouldn’t eat until night time.

   I would stay in my room with my pet cat and would just watch movies, and if I was tired of watching movies I would go outside and walk my dog to the park.

   It would always be so hot so there was always a good time to go to the beach and hang out with friends or just go to the park. The only problem was that it would be too hot, so you would get all sweaty and all you wanted to do was take a cold shower and just stay at home. 

   There are a lot of nice beaches there, people from different parts of the world would go to Puerto Rico because of the beaches and to try out the food.  

   Every Saturday my mom, brothers, and I would go to my grandparents’ house to talk, watch movies and eat. They didn’t live so far away, we were almost neighbors. I really like hanging out with my grandparents. The only thing I didn’t really like was that my mom liked to go early and, since it was on Saturdays, I wanted to sleep in and not have to go anywhere early. 


Clara: Family means taking care of each other

Family is very important to Italian people, especially in the south, where people still follow strict traditions.

   Living outside the center of the town, it was very hard for me growing up hanging out with friends, so I spent most of my time with my siblings and cousins. We’ve been raised all together and this taught us to share everything.

The worst things to share were food and the bathroom. 

   The food was always a problem because, after playing all day outside in the sun, running on a field, all exhausted and dirty, we had to wait in line for our grandma to give us food.

   My grandma was good at dealing with all of us, but, at the beginning, it was very hard to get used to her rules. The youngest always had to be the first, without exception. That’s because we were the “older kids”.

   In fact, “the older kids” was (and still is) one of my grandma’s favorite speeches. We had a lot of additional duties being “the older ones”, and sacrificing our pear juice to make the younger ones shut their mouths after playing outside was one of those. 

   The bathroom, instead, was a real tragedy: before every meal we had to wash our hands, but we all were hungry. We all had to pile up in this tiny bathroom and fought to wash our hands first and be able to sit at the table. 

   Unfortunately, being among the older kids, I had an additional rule: waiting for everyone to sit to start eating, so rushing to the bathroom was not as effective as it was chaotic (but it was fun).

   Another problem that doesn’t apply to everyone, but does to me (because I’m a girl and one of the oldest) was taking care of the young ones when they had to use the bathroom. That was not fun at all, but I liked those mom-like responsibilities at that time.

   That’s what I learned from my family: the others always come first. 

If there’s time left, you can think about yourself. 

   And if at that time there’s something left, share it with everyone. Especially the younger kids.


School Life


Addison: The Pressure that comes with Finding Balance

School in America can differ from school to school but for the majority of the time, every school shares similarities. Our school schedule is set up for six classes a day, each approximately an hour long. Our school days run from 7:45-2:43. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have a seminar in the middle of the day for getting work done, this is often referred to as a study hall. 

   After speaking with my partner, Clara, she mentioned the amount of pressure that’s put on students here in America. With 6 classes a day that can be 6 homework assignments a night and not to mention any long-term work to get done or missing assignments. 

   The simple solution would be to stay caught up on work but that’s not always an option for everyone. Many students participate in sports or clubs which can last till five o’clock or longer. Students are also expected to have jobs at a young age, the minimum working age in Michigan is 14. 

   This isn’t common in other countries, while they do have longer school days they aren’t expected to hold down a job and it’s not common for there to be after-school activities. With that said, we do have those opportunities to do sports and clubs which can be super fun.

   This creates a need for balance if you want to be involved in many activities whereas a balance might not be as needed elsewhere because they don’t have much to balance.

   After high school most students are expected to go to college or join the military, West Ottawa High School does a good job of showing students that sometimes those aren’t the only options. After high school, you can join a trade or become an apprentice but the majority of students do end up going to college.

   I believe that while school is tough and most people don’t necessarily enjoy it, it gives us a lot of very cool opportunities to discover what we want to do in the future and who we are as people.


Taina: The good and bad about school in Puerto Rico 

In Puerto Rico, in elementary school, all the girls had to wear a dress with a certain pattern. There was only one day we could wear regular clothes, but we had to give 50 cents to the teacher. That didn’t go on for long, because nobody wanted to pay 50 cents just to wear regular clothes to school.

   In third grade, we would stay in the same class for the whole day and we would always get to eat a snack after the second class. For 4th and 5th we had to go to other classes, but we would be with the same people. 

   When I started middle school it was something really new to me. The eighth-graders didn’t really look their age, they looked like high schoolers.

   The first year was pretty fun but then seventh and eighth grade were really boring. There was never anything going on in the school, and when there was some kind of activity I would get really excited and expect the best but it would end up being really boring. 

   In high school, we would change classes but still be with the same people for all classes. For our second semester, we didn’t have to change classes it would all be the same. 

  Class would start at 8:00 am and we would get out at 3:00 pm; lunch would start at 12:00 am and finish at 1:00 pm. We didn’t need an ID number to get lunch at school and people would serve our food. If you wanted to get more you would just have to wait until there was no line in the cafeteria. Right next to the high school there was a Burger King so some kids would go there to eat lunch. There was also a little bus that would sell food. 

    At my school, there were no activities like there are here in West Ottawa. There was no spirit week and they didn’t do assemblies for the seniors. The only exception was a little activity in the last days of school. 

   We did have to change classes every hour and there was just one building, and we did have to wear uniforms. In the school, there was no AC so it was really hot in the classes.

    We had gates and fences around the school; there was only one guard – often none. Behind the back gate there was the basketball court and the bathrooms. A guard was supposed to be there as well, but it wasn’t sometimes. This meant that, if we had to use the bathroom and the gate was closed, we had to wait for the guard to come back or go find one. Going around searching for one wasn’t the best idea though, because if the teachers would see you wandering around could get you in trouble.

    In Puerto Rico we didn’t have chemistry or labs, we just had regular science and we didn’t get to do any projects. We did not have journalistic writing, yearbook class, or cooking class. It was just math, science, English – but it wasn’t really good, in fact, I didn’t learn it at school, but with my family and watching movies and shows in that language -, history, social studies, and Spanish. Every year we’d take the same classes. That’s why I think that high school in the United States gives more opportunities to get into a good college. 

   I didn’t enjoy it much because everywhere I’d go there would always be somebody to judge you, either it’s because of how you are dressed, how your hair is done or any other little thing. In West Ottawa, instead, you can come in pajamas and nobody would even care. 


Clara: A hard, stressful, college-like school

High school in Italy is closer to American college than high school. Classes are longer, we self teach a lot, we study for many hours every afternoon.

   The classes are based on the year of birth: the first class right now has kids from 2007 and the fifth one kids from 2003. I would have been in the fourth year in Italy, so I still have a year left. In fact, high school lasts five years instead of the typical four in America. 

   The teachers go around the different classes based on their schedule. We can’t decide the order of the subject we have or how long each class will last; we can have classes that last up to three hours. 

   We have from 11 to 13 subjects every week and they don’t change. Actually, they are the same throughout all the five years, except that in the third year some new subjects are added. Because we have so many classes, we cannot have them all every day. 

   To give an example, my classmates in Italy on Saturday (yes, we have school on Saturdays) have two hours of Ancient Greek, an hour of Physics, an hour of Latin, and two hours of Philosophy.

   In Italy there are different kinds of high schools: we can not choose the subjects within the school, but we can choose the school with the subjects we like the most. In my high school, we study boring stuff such as the subjects I listed before (Ancient Greek, Latin, Philosophy, Italian, Latin, English and Greek Literature…). 

   There’s the school where there is more math and science, a school for music, another one where the focus is on art, and one that focuses on the study of multiple languages. 

   We have a lot of homework and we have to study at least three or four hours every day. When we have a test, more time is needed. 

   We have an extra kind of test as well, which consists in speaking in front of the class about all the arguments studied and explaining them. The teacher can ask questions of any kind and it’s necessary to be prepared on everything that has been taught to you throughout the school year. If speaking in front of the class it’s embarrassing, being quiet after a question it’s even worse: it’s impossible to just guess an answer like in a multiple-choice test.

   This type of test can last from an hour to ten minutes. The shortest they are, the harder it is. 

   One of the hardest tests of this kind that I had was in the second year of high school: I studied ten hours in a single day over 200 pages about Roman Empire’s history, to expose the stuff I knew for just nine minutes.

   We have a ten-minute break at 10:30 am and we don’t have lunch at school. We eat at home when we come back, but, living an hour from school, I end up having lunch at three pm every school day.

We don’t have AC at school so it freezes during winter and it’s very hot during spring and at the beginning of the school year. 

The grades go from zero to ten, where ten is the highest and six the average. Rarely teachers give ten’s to students, even if you do everything perfectly. They say that if they would give us the true grades, we would think we are good and not work hard anymore. They want to make sure we think we are not doing enough so we can put more and more effort into studying. 

   It’s easy to understand that this method it’s not effective: it only mines your self-esteem and people don’t feel pushed to work more if they get a lower grade that they don’t deserve, but they are just disappointed and mad, even though they cannot ask the teachers to change it.

We are, in fact, required to be very respectful towards our teachers; for example, we have to stand every time that a teacher enters the class.


Social Life


Addison: The Harm of Labeling and Reputation

I have lived in the same town my entire life. I’ve grown up with the same people and I’ve watched friend groups grow and shrink and completely separate over time. 

   In elementary school, I was always friends with the girls in my class, but not the boys because if you were friends with a boy it probably meant you guys liked each other. That’s just the normal around here. 

   Once you reach middle school everyone seems to have figured out who the popular kids are… I was not one of them. I had friends of course, in fact, I had quite a few friends but when January would swing around in middle school I never knew who to invite to my birthday. Yes I eat lunch with these girls and yes we share homework answers but I never was able to create deep bonds with many except for my one friend that I’ve known since kindergarten. 

   As high school came around I was told that I wouldn’t have the same friends forever but I was convinced that me and my friends would never stop being besties. I was wrong, friend groups change a lot and the friends you have in class you can become more than just study buddies.

   Driving also influences one’s social life a lot. When you’re young you have playdates and your mom drops you off but once your friends or you start driving you find yourself hanging out a lot more than usual and going to places like Grand Rapids all by yourself.

   I found myself hanging out with people who I’d never thought I’d hang out with. I think the stereotype of popular kids and unpopular kids is really negative and influences everyone’s thinking.

   Specifically, I knew of this guy who was known for being what we would call a player, throughout school he had this infamous reputation but that’s all anyone knew about him. We were thrown together in an odd situation where I saw him outside of school quite often and I got to see the guy behind this so-called player. He loved dogs and breaking bad and music, he was a really cool guy to get to know and I consider ourselves friends.

   Once again this was weird for me because he was this cool upperclassman who got any girl he wanted but he was so nice and funny and kind overall.

   This is the type of pressure we see when it comes to social life, friends groups can’t mingle, you have to stick to what everyone else thinks about you and you’re always held up to these expectations, it seems that everyone around you knows exactly who you are but that’s not true.

   Once you break from these expectations you realize how many people can be part of your life and good for your life.


Taina: The struggles of teenage life 

Life here is still hard for me sometimes: having to communicate with people in English it’s challenging, not being able to drive annoys me because people have to pick me up every time, and balancing school and work doesn’t give me any free time. 

   I don’t have time to hang out with friends, and I miss this a lot. In Puerto Rico, our relationship with friends is very close and if you’d see them in the streets or at school you would give them a kiss on the cheek. People here just wave; rarely they hug. In general, there are many things about Puerto Rico that would be considered weird here. 

   In Puerto Rico during lunch I would sit next to my friends and after we were done eating we would find a spot to sit at and we would just talk, walk around, buy candy and snacks or just be on our phones for an hour until the bell rang for us to go to class. 

   School would finish by 3:00 pm so, after school, I’d go on the bus and then walk home. It would take me almost an hour because it was up hills and it was always so hot. The uniforms did not help at all because they were dark colors. When I got home I’d always be all sweaty and my face would be red, so I would just sit down in front of the fan for a little bit and then eat something and shower. 

   Since I never had anything to do after school I would just go and lay down and watch videos and eat snacks. 

   Living my whole life in Puerto Rico and then suddenly having to move to the USA was really hard for me. I had to leave all my friends, my dog, the school – that now I miss it a lot. 

   Even though I miss Puerto Rico, my friends and my dog, I don’t regret moving here to Michigan at all. The only bad thing is the weather, but everything else is fine. 

   I got a job, which in Puerto Rico I couldn’t have until I was 18 years old – and it was very hard to find jobs there. 

   I like this school and there are a lot of things here that I didn’t have in Puerto Rico. Here there are more activities, way more students and I have more opportunities to get into a good college for my future. 


Clara: Friends like a family, always having fun, a lot of freedom, but happy only on the surface

Because in Italy we don’t leave the classroom for every hour, we stay with the same people for 5 or 6 hours straight every day for all 5 years of high school. Thanks to this, it’s easy to get close with them and they easily become like a second family. 

   Some people also have friends outside school, but, whether they are from school or not, they are a group

   Here it’s hard to have a friend group because, even if you have friends in every class or in the activities you attend to, they mostly don’t know each other and you hardly experience that feeling of being surrounded by all your friends at the same time. 

  The kind of things we do together and our kind of fun is very different from here. We are more free and society pays less attention to young people. Breaking rules is not a big deal. 

   I live in a small town, so we all know each other since we were born and we share every aspect of our lives. All of my friends are like my brothers and sisters.

   People from southern Europe are very passionate and they express with a lot of emphasis on their feelings, as do I and my friends. We hug a lot, we always say that we love each other, we joke a lot, we kiss each other when we meet (on the cheeks!); we live a sort of “shared” life. Here is such a big deal if a girl hugs a boy or vice versa, it means that they have a relationship most of the time; for us it’s not like that. 

   I really miss the feeling of being loved and being free to show my feelings with everyone.

   The price for the freedom to express your feelings and emotions is a very judgmental society: all this freedom is just on the surface. It seems so because basically society doesn’t take care of us. Old people and adults think that our generation is terrible, because of our new, liberal ideas.

   Discriminations, at least in small towns like mine, is unfortunately still a thing, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to escape so badly as soon as possible. 

   Compared to when my parents were my age, now less people are religious. Still, Italy is a country mostly catholic and this often means conservative. This makes things hard for the values that are spreading in the last years and in which us young people believe.