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Italian exchange students learn Seminole culture at Billie Swamp Safari

Archbishop McCarthy High School and Italian students pose for a photo with McCarthy senior John Osceola, far right, who helped organize the cultural exchange outing to Billie Swamp Safari on Feb. 21. (Beverly Bidney photo)

BIG CYPRESS — A group of Italian high school exchange students received a taste of authentic Florida during a visit to Billie Swamp Safari on Feb. 21. Archbishop McCarthy High School senior John Osceola joined the group, which spent two weeks at the school and other South Florida attractions.

“I enjoyed showing them our culture,” said Osceola, 18. “I wanted them to see the culture of the true Americans, the true people of this land.”

The exchange program, in its third year at the Southwest Ranches school, lasts just a few weeks and is mostly a cultural exchange, but the exchange students attend classes with their peers at McCarthy.

“We want to increase understanding between the cultures and build bridges instead of walls,” said English teacher Ryan Parrish. “We come from different countries, but we are just the same.”

The day’s itinerary for the 12 Italian and 10 McCarthy students included a snake show, critter show, airboat and swamp buggy rides. During lunch, the students shared their impressions of Florida. They were impressed with the landscape and said there are no swamps in Italy.

Perhaps the most important lesson the students learned was the difference between the American and Italian high schools. The Italians noticed how frequently the McCarthy students are quizzed and tested on the material and that they change classes all day long.

“We are always with the same class; the teachers move around,” said Irene Vitabila, 16, of Italy. “We are close because we stay together and are with the same kids all through high school.”

Another student mentioned that it might be nice to change classes so they can make new friends. Unlike their American counterparts, the Italian students don’t have the same classes daily. Their work load consists of 12 subjects per term, so they don’t have each one every day.

The Italian students attend a science magnet high school in Palermo, Sicily. They pointed out that they use books instead of iPads in class and seem to study more than the McCarthy students.

After a box lunch on the porch at the Swamp Water Café, John’s father Gem Osceola welcomed the students and treated them to a cake with the Seminole Tribe of Florida logo.

Archbishop McCarthy High School students and exchange students from Italy enjoy an airboat ride at Billie Swamp Safari on Feb. 21. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Archbishop McCarthy senior John Osceola and his father Gem Osceola treated the group at Billie Swamp Safari to a Seminole themed cake. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at