Michaelann Stanley usually teaches French at Herrin High School. But after building a relationship with several people in Cuggiono, she added Italian to her repertoire and began working on student-to-student interaction.
“We realized that the family links between Herrin and Cuggiono were getting thinner as the generations continued, so we decided that it would be a great idea to just do cultural exchanges. So last year, I took a group to Cuggiono and we did presentations about our town and its history. Then this year, their basketball team wanted to come and have a game, and we thought that was a great opportunity.”
Stanley calls Cuggiono Herrin’s “Mother City.” There are still residents in the Williamson County community who can trace their heritage back there. But time has loosened the connections, and she hopes to help rebuild them.
Cuggiono’s team will play Herrin’s, and players from both sides of the Atlantic say they’re each learning from this experience.
“The first day, I couldn’t understand nothing. But now, I can understand something, and I hope when I get back to Italy, I can speak English very well.”
Sixteen year old Camillo Colly says he’s excited to visit the United States, and can’t wait to play basketball with his new friends, as well as his team. He says his English is getting better every day. Camillo and his teammate Geanluca Gearda – who is 18 – say they learned the written language at home, but had no conversation experience. Geanluca he says basketball helps bridge the gaps.
“Basketball is the best sport in the world. So it’s the same language – Italy basketball, American basketball – talk the same language.”
And it’s not just Italians learning English. Kaleb Reveal just graduatede from Herrin High School. He was taking Italian when he learned about the exchange program – and immediately volunteered to be a host. He says conversation has been both a barrier and a learning experience for him.
“I learned a lot more about how fast they talk and how much harder it actually is. It helps me - you learn a lot faster when you’re actually with these people that speak these languages than just being in the classroom.”
Reveal says he hopes to travel to Italy soon to visit his new friends, and to learn more about the culture and history there. Some of the Italian students say they’d love to come back to Herrin, as well.
And Stanley says that’s what she likes to hear.
“It’s been a hundred years since their great-grandparents came here, and so when the great-grandparents and grandparents were alive there was a lot of letter writing. But then with the parents, they didn’t ever meet a lot of the great grandparents overseas, a lot of them didn’t go. So those links were let go, and we’re missing one link in the chain and we’re trying to grab that before it’s gone.”
Herrin city leaders are working on a stronger Sister City relationship with Cuggiono, as well.