Italian Exchange Visit

March 2, 2016

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Over the Christmas /New Year break Interchange Outer East played host to a group of 18 Italian young adults with disabilities, volunteers and students through an ongoing  exchange program. The exchange is now in its 6th year and consists of reciprocal visits between the disability organisation, Athla Onlus, in Milan and Interchange Outer East.

This exchange was planned to coincide with Australia’s summer holiday period so the Italians could get a good understanding of what it is like to be on IOE run activities and camps.

The first leg of the stay was based in the city during which time they attended the cricket, India vs Australia, and tried to understand the complexities of the game – a bit of a mystery and a good chance for a snooze! A trip to the Zoo where they met up with one of our school holiday program groups followed by an afternoon at the Ian Potter Gallery proved an enjoyable day despite the heat.

The group, plus others from the IOE community, enjoyed the hospitality of the Glenn and the Lazzari families for 2 evening meals – great food and companionship and a glimpse of Australian home life.

The next few days were spent at The Summit campsite in Trafalgar to coincide with a Family Camp at the same venue. It was a great chance for everyone to mix, have fun together and share that unique ‘Family Camp feeling’. It was ‘Australia All Over’ on New Year’s Eve with an Aussie bush dance featuring a genuine bush band. Amid the confusion of language translation and the swirling of dust, everyone got into the swing of the dances, with the Italians being the most enthusiastic. A particular highlight was when the Italians took to the stage, where they banged and slapped thongs, lagerphones, and a range of strange shakers, slappers and ringers. A memorable night indeed.

The final leg of the trip was spent in Waratah Bay on Wilsons Prom together with one of IOE’s young adult rec groups. After the stifling heat of the past weeks the weather turned but this did not stop them taking full advantage of all the activities and sightseeing on offer. Coming from inland Italy, the vast oceans and wonderful prom scenery made a big impression. They were particularly taken with Phillip Island and had Fred, IOE’s CEO who accompanied the group for the entire exchange, drive them there twice. The final night prior to flying home was spent enjoying the considerable hospitality of Fred and his family, the night sounds of the country and reliving the memories of the past weeks.

This exchange is not just about seeing the sights of another country. It is learning about and appreciating each other’s cultures, and similarities and individual differences. It is about inclusion and equality. It’s about acceptance and tolerance. It’s about making travel and all the experiences and opportunities that go with it, accessible for all.

Over the years, the Italian contingent has always been impressed by the camaraderie at IOE – the care and respect families, staff and volunteers have for each other, the acceptance and support, and the way they warmly welcome everyone to their IOE family.

This year in particular, The MelMi group expressed that one of the highlights of the trip was going home with a feeling that they had become part of that one big Interchange family.

We are looking forward to renewing friendships soon, with an Interchange group heading the Milan in September later this year.

by Sandra Leehy

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