The McCadden sisters indulge in a new cultural experience for the 2020 school year

Kylie Horstmeyer

To some, attending in-person school feels like ages ago. However, junior Alyssa McCadden and sophomore Lily McCadden have been able to return to school by moving abroad for the year with their family, continuing their studies at St. Stephen’s International School, an American international school located in Rome, Italy. 

Even before COVID-19 hit, the McCadden sisters knew they wanted to study abroad for the 2020-2021 school year. However, traveling to Italy during the pandemic was not as easy as they had hoped. With Europe’s travel ban preventing the entrance of visitors from the U.S. still in place, the family had to get student visas in order to be allowed into the country.   

Complying with COVID-19 restrictions, Alyssa and Lily are attending in-person school at St. Stephen’s International School. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa McCadden)

In Rome, the McCadden family has followed COVID-19 guidelines similar to those in California. After the McCaddens arrived in Italy on Aug. 16, they had to quarantine for two weeks before they were allowed to leave their house and attend classes. During their first week outside after their quarantine, the McCaddens were required to stay six feet apart from others and now continue to wear masks at all times in accordance with Rome’s guidelines. Despite this, their experience in Italy is no longer significantly affected by the virus.

“At home in California, things are much more shut down and the virus is more of an issue. But here, I think that the Italian government was able to control COVID-19 so much better. Even though we want to stay safe and healthy, things are very open [in Rome],” Alyssa said.

Now that the sisters are able to attend in-person classes, they have enjoyed the diversity the school has to offer. One of Lily’s favorite parts of attending classes at St. Stephen’s International School has been her exposure to a range of cultures, as the students at St. Stephen’s come from all over the world. 

“[I’ve enjoyed] how everyone is from a different place [and] has a different background and different ethnicities. [I’ve also enjoyed] learning in-person because back in California, everybody is still learning online. It’s just been really nice to be back at school again,” Lily said. 

In comparison to her time at Redwood, Alyssa has also enjoyed the new perspectives she has been introduced to at St. Stephen’s. 

“In California, [school] is from the American point of view. [In Italy], I have to look at things from the world’s point of view. I was writing an essay and realized that I said ‘our country,’ talking about the United States. [However], the United States isn’t the country everyone is from in my class,” Alyssa said. 

Anne McCadden, Alyssa and Lily’s mother, believes taking this year to live abroad will help her children better understand the day-to-day lives of different cultures they would not have otherwise come in contact with.

“[Living abroad] helps you gain respect for people with different backgrounds and traditions. I felt like it would be a humbling experience [for my daughters] to live abroad and to reflect on [their] own culture and outlook and to realize that the United States really isn’t the center of everyone’s world,” Anne said. “I always wanted to give our kids the opportunity to have exposure to a new country with different outlooks, customs and education.” 

Inside St. Stephen’s International School, arrows are placed on the walkways to maintain social distancing restrictions. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa McCadden)

The McCadden family is making the most of their year abroad, despite the hardship of traveling during a pandemic. In fact, the lack of visitors has made their experience all the more authentic, allowing themselves to immerse themselves in the Italian culture.

“There are few tourists, so we’ve been able to get a real sense of the local flavor. It’s been easier to access museums and get on buses and go out to dinner without having to compete with so many tourists,” Anne said. 

Similar to her mom, Alyssa feels that being surrounded by Italian culture and hearing about others’ lives has been her favorite part about studying abroad. 

“So many people [at St. Stephen’s] have been moving around their entire lives because of their parent’s work. I’ve met people that have lived in multiple countries. I love hearing [my peers’] perspectives and experiences,” Alyssa said. “So far, that has been my favorite part.”