With experiences like going to Lightning games, the Penn Station and the Lincoln Monument, Italian Monika Marku (brown hair) and French Lola Nonnon (blonde hair) enjoyed their year as high school exchange students with Melissa and Joe Canfield, owners of Grease Monkey in Ruskin.

In August of 2023, Monika Marku from Milan, Italy, and Lola Nonnon from Montpellier, France, traveled to Lithia through the International Student Exchange program to live with Joe and Melissa Canfield. The girls enrolled at Bloomingdale High School and quickly began enjoying life in the Sunshine State.

From delighting in sunshine at the beach to exploring local places, the girls enjoyed Florida life to the fullest. A few local activities they especially liked include the Gasparilla Festival, Nativity Octoberfest, Ruskin Seafood Festival, Strawberry Festival, Busch Gardens and Lightning hockey games.

Seeing the sunset at the beach is Lola’s favorite Florida activity. Monika loved the Strawberry Festival.

“We think the best part of having the girls has been exploring local places that we enjoy going to regularly and showing them what America is like day-to-day, we have had the opportunity to go to lots of different places like New York; Washington, D.C.; and New Smyrna Beach; however, the girls really have enjoyed being a “typical” American teenager the most and having dinner together most nights and hanging out with friends,” Melissa said.

Lola and Monika both said American high schools differ from theirs with more social activities like clubs, sports and events. Both took advantage and were in numerous activities at Bloomingdale, including leadership roles. Lola joined the Junior Steering Club. Monika joined AFJROTC.

“I really enjoyed being a part of steering at Bloomingdale. At the first pep rally, we had to prepare a dance and perform in front of the school, and it is definitely something I will remember. I really liked being involved in a club that helped the school,” Lola said.

“My experience in the U.S. completely changed for the better since I joined the ROTC program. I’ve got to know a lot of new, nice people, feel like part of a group, grow as an individual, learn a lot about American culture and history,” Monika said.

Bloomingdale Air Force JROTC instructor Lt. Col. Bob Marasco and Junior Steering coordinator Elise Cruz Aragon said both girls were significant to the programs.

“Monika’s can-do attitude is infectious and always positive and upbeat. She will be leaving a lasting impression on AFJROTC,” Marasco said.

“Between bondings, events and volunteering, Lola really put her all into immersing herself in the community. She was never shy about growing and trying new things during her time at Bloomingdale, something I think we all can learn from,” Aragon said.

Lola and Monika said they are grateful for the hospitality of the Canfields and the numerous trips the Canfields took them on. When asked about their favorite Florida food, both girls answered individually without hesitation: Chick-fil-A.

To learn more about international student exchange, visit www.icesusa.org.

Previous articleLightning Radio Play-by-play Broadcaster Dave Mishkin Writes First Novel, ‘Blind Squirrel’
Next articleArrive Alive: Interactive Simulator Allows Students To Experience Unsafe Driving