Student Spotlight: Lavinia Petrella

Italian foreign exchange student fulfills life-long dream of studying in the states

By Lauren Cohen

When writing a letter to one of her closest friends in school, Oak Hall senior Lavinia Petrella from Milan, Italy shared her dreams of attending her fourth year of high school in America. Petrella learned of study abroad programs early in her life from her parents and their colleagues and knew from a young age that she would one day make it her reality.

With much research and consideration, Petrella knew she wanted to pursue her education at Oak Hall. “I thought it was the perfect place to have an experience like this,” she said. The senior was particularly excited about getting involved with the infamous Latin program at the school. This isn’t Petrella’s first time learning in America or even Gainesville. She and her family lived in Gator Nation years prior when she was about four years old. Twelve years later, while driving by museums and swimming pools she went to with her family, she is reminiscent of old memories. Petrella attended pre-kindergarten at Westminster Day School, not too far from where her parents were working at the University of Florida. As a student abroad this year, Petrella is living with fellow Oak Hall senior Reece Olinger. 

As the excitement for her senior year grows, Petrella noticed how different American high school was from what she expected. “In Milan, the academic system is very different; the schedules are not based on the students but [rather] on the teachers,” she shared. Petrella had class with the same 30 students year after year, and the primary changes revolved around the rotation of teachers. At the start of high school, students got to choose a classical, scientific, or more artistic academic route. Once chosen, students focused on the study of those particular disciplines. Petrella shared that she prefers that system but doesn’t necessarily miss it. “I’m experiencing something new that I’m finding out that I like.” She shared that she didn’t fully know what she was getting herself into by starting her last year of high school in a foreign country. “I did not expect it to be like this, but I really like it,” she mentioned. “I’ve been talking about this since I was in seventh grade.”

OHS senior, Italian foreign exchange student, Lavinia Petrella

Petrella will likely be back in Milan next year to finish her final credits for graduation. Many universities in Italy do not accept one year of study abroad despite receiving an American diploma. “I would just go back to Italy, finish my fifth year of high school, graduate, and then have two diplomas,” she shared. Petrella noted a significant difference between the European and American college systems; most European universities do not have undergraduate programs. “I would really like to study medicine but to enter the medicine course in Italy, you have to pass a test which has more or less a three percent acceptance rate so it’s really tough [and] competitive,” she said. Vita-Salute San Raffaele and Humanitas University are just two of the many schools that Petrella is interested in. With an interest in pursuing medicine, Petrella is attracted to universities that work in conjunction with hospitals, as those programs would provide remarkable work experience. When not studying, Petrella enjoys spending time with her friends and family, reading crime books, playing sports, and biking. “I just walk around Milan because it’s always beautiful and you can always find something new that you did not know of,” she added. 

One thing Petrella particularly misses about living in Milan was how accessible everything was by foot. “I live in the center so it takes me like five minutes to go to the park or 12 minutes of walking to go to school, it’s really cool,” she commented. “[In] some aspects, I prefer city life.” While she shared that she is excited to go back and see her family and friends next year, Petrella also hopes this year goes as slowly as possible. “I want to experience everything and I don’t want it to go fast.”