Cultural exchange continues

Published 10:20 pm Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sister Cities: Susan Blair, a Suffolk Sister Cities board member, helps Italian exchange visitor Arianna Caroli play an icebreaker game at a welcome picnic on Friday. A group of five Italian visitors are in Suffolk for a month, and two Suffolk teenagers are visiting Italy beginning next week.

A group of young people from Suffolk and from Oderzo, Italy, is helping to continue an emerging tradition of cultural exchange between the two communities this summer.

The cities, paired as part of Sister Cities International, are trading visitors this year.

Two rising seniors from Lakeland High School, Chelsea Fay and Karley Barnes, are leaving this week to visit Oderzo for four weeks. And a group of five Italians, ages 14 to 27, arrived in Suffolk last week for a month-long visit.

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The two cities are paired because Amedeo Obici, the founder of Planters Peanuts and namesake of Obici Hospital, was born in Oderzo and spent the first decade of his life there.

“I was very curious to see the town where Mr. Obici [lived],” said Arianna Caroli, who at 27 is the oldest of the Italian visitors. “I’m very happy to be here.”

The visitors were welcomed at a picnic Friday evening at the home of Douglas and Mary Jane Naismith, where Suffolk’s emissaries to Italy also were honored.

The Italian visitors speak English with varying levels of proficiency, but Fay and Barnes do not speak Italian at all — and their host families do not speak English, they discovered on Friday.

Even so, they are excited to be going, they said.

“It sounded like a really good opportunity,” said Fay, who first heard about the trip and then convinced Barnes to go. “It’s still catching up to me. I’m not really believing I’m going.”

Neither Fay nor Barnes has flown or visited another country before.

“I’m so excited,” said Barnes.

Maryanne Persons, secretary of Suffolk Sister Cities, said the cultural exchange is important, especially for younger people.

“You need to learn different cultures,” she said. “You gain an appreciation for where you come from.”

Each traveler on both sides of the exchange will be staying with a host family in her host country. Some Italian parents who sent a child to Suffolk will be hosting an American visitor.

“Because you’re staying in homes, you see what the way of life is like,” Persons said. “They get a much deeper experience.”

The visitors here will be treated to a tour of Suffolk, a Norfolk Tides game, and trips to Nauticus, Virginia Beach, Washington, D.C., Jamestown and Busch Gardens while they’re in America.

Anna Sarri, one of the visitors from Italy, said she came to broaden her horizons. She also visited as part of the exchange two years ago.

“It’s a great experience for us and a great opportunity,” she said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to come and be so welcomed.”

For more information on Suffolk Sister Cities, visit