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Sardinian student used to living by the sea

By Staff | Nov 30, 2009

More than 150 years ago, the city of Blue Earth was founded. But for Rita Chiara Mele, this is nothing compared to the history of her town, Santu Lussurgiu, which had its beginnings around the year 1000.

Mele, a foreign exchange student from the island of Sardinia, is very proud of her town’s heritage and beauty. Situated west of Italy in the Mediterranean, she says its historical center still features basaltic stone-paved narrow lanes, ancient arches and stone portals…all reflections of the medieval influences abundant on the island.

During the 19th century, her town was celebrated as a cultural center in the region and its population reached nearly 6,000. However, after the Second World War, the community lost half of its citizens because of emigrations towards the rest of Italy and abroad. She says only about 2,600 people live in her hometown today.

Located in a volcanic basin, Mele says Santu Lussurgiu is not only an agricultural area which raises a lot of cows, but the region is also an enchanting place for tourists to visit due to its abundance of beautiful waters.

Because there has always been a strong relationship between men and horses on her island, she says her town continues a lot of the ancient traditional events involving horses during their special festivals. These have also become popular with the many tourists who stop there.

In the short time she has lived in Blue Earth with the John and Patti Lindsey family, Mele notes there are so many differences between the two countries and their cultures, beginning with their histories.

Because of these differences, she has had to make quite a few adjustments since she arrived in land-locked Minnesota this past August. One of these was adapting to the weather.

“Forty degrees is as cold as it ever gets in Italy,” says Mele. “In May, it was 104 degrees there.”

Another difference between her homeland and America is the clothing people wear. She says people in Italy are always dressed-up. In fact, she says she loves to match things and even borrows clothing from her mother and grandmother to accomplish this.

“The girls wear a lot of minis and heels,” she admits, but adds this is not her fashion preference. She also has noted clothing here is much less expensive than in Sardinia.

Born on July 28, 1992, to Giampaolo and Giovanna Mele, she has one brother who is 16.

“We call him ‘Chicco’ because he has too long a name,” she says.

Her father is a professor who teaches the history of middle age music. Because he teaches at the various universities on the island of Sardinia, he generally is away from home three days a week.

Mele’s mother is an architect who has her office next door to their home.

“Our home is a four-level with the door on the street,” she says. “The houses are very close together and are similar to row houses. We don’t have the same type of air conditioning you have here, but our first floor is always cool.”

Since her parents both work, each has a car. Her father drives an “old Mercedes” and her mother drives a VW Fox hatchback.

“The streets are very windy by our home and the garage stalls are very tiny,” she adds.

Sardinians cannot obtain their driver’s license before age 18, but that is okay with Mele. She says she is used to taking the bus or train to get places. In fact, a bus takes her to her school, Liceo Classico S.A. De Castro, located in Oristano which is over 50 miles from her home.

When she was in seventh grade she had to decide what path in education she wanted to pursue. These paths, or tracks, are somewhat like the American vocational schools. Among the choices she had to select from were: classical; business; art; tourism; scientific (engineering/math); culinary arts; social services and drafting. What school they attend on the island of Sardinia is determined by the path of study a student selects.

“I am in the classical path, so I study Greek, Latin, philosophy, history, English, French, Italian, chemistry/biology, art history, physics, literature and math,” she says. “The history of religion is an elective for us. There is no music or sports offered at my school.”

Mele says one of the biggest challenges she had was selecting her classes at BEA. She says she settled on taking American history, Spanish, communications, government and world cultures.

“I love Spanish,” she says. “My father speaks it very well. Our language in Sardinia is more slang and Spanish-oriented. It is uncommon in Italy for people to speak much English, even though I have studied the language for eight years.”

Another difference she has noted is how everything is combined in American schools. Performing arts and sports are offered along with the academic classes.

“It was so confusing at first keeping track of homework,” says Mele. “In our school it is your business if you study or not. We do not have to prove we’ve done our studying through the homework. And our tests are all oral exams.”

A junior at BEA, Mele will return to Sardinia at the end of the first semester in January. She will then have approximately a year and a half left of high school before spending five years at a university as an undergrad student. Although undecided at this time, she is thinking of pursuing political science or literature at the university. She will then be able to advance to another academic level where she hopes to study journalism for another three years.

“I want to be a journalist,” she says. “I have always liked to write even when I was young. I want to discover, then tell about everything.”

Young Mele has already had some of her work published in the national newspaper in Sardinia.

When not writing or attending school, she says she enjoys hanging out with her friends who she says are her hobby. Not a sports-minded person, she does enjoy music, particularly by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Bob Marley.

“I love the music from the 1960s and 1970s,” she says. She also likes reggae a lot and the Beatles songs.

To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.