LIVINGSTON COUNTY – A troop of high school exchange students from around the world turned out to the County courthouse on Monday to see for themselves the ins and outs of the American Justice system, and how it compares to justice and law enforcement in their home countries, as part of a 10-month American Field Service (AFS) student exchange program. Sheriff Deputy Tim Sweeting led the procession of ten kids and their two adult chaperones to the courthouse, and stayed with them as they watched some court proceedings and later toured the county jail.
The students are from a diverse list of countries, including Germany, Tunisia, Italy, Jordan, Finland, and Ukraine. The goal here, according to volunteer chaperones Joanna Collins and Midge Englund, is to break cultural biases against America and other countries by showing young people firsthand the American legal and law enforcement process, a goal that many of their students appreciate.
“This exchange year is the best decision I have ever made in my short life,” said Giuseppe Taddeo, 17, a student from Italy. “By experiencing a different culture I am changing my perspective; for example, things that I once thought were odd seem normal now. When I go home and talk about these differences with my Italian family and friends, my ‘amori,’ they will learn what I know and this spreads peace and understanding.”
The students bore witness to Adam Bucci, 28, who repeatedly harassed and stalked his girlfriend while she had an order of protection against him, backing down from trial and taking a plea deal that will likely land him in state prison for 1 to 3 years, though he can reduce his time served by successfully completing Shock camp, a military-style boot camp, in prison. The students, who are old enough to be aware of typical law enforcement and correctional practices in their home countries, were able to see the differences in how Bucci’s case was handled here as opposed to how he would be treated overseas.
The chaperones added that their students always at least come away with a new experience, and maybe a whole new way of seeing America and the world. Many kids have maintained strong ties with their chaperones, host families and teachers, so that the bonds and lessons they gain here can last a lifetime.
“This is a nip it in the butt approach,” said Collins. “Get the young ones. We are a 501C3 nonprofit run by volunteers, so we don’t get a dime for doing this. I just love teens. They are wonderful, and complicated. Sometimes getting a new adult in their lives can really change perception.”
Collins added that they begin looking for host families from potential host families in January. Any family can apply to host exchange students on the AFS website.
“When you meet an exchange student you might hear a funny accent and they will ask a lot of questions,” added Taddeo. “They are curious about their new life, ready to explore and have fun with their new friends and family. I would say thank you to all the liaisons in Italy and the USA, but especially my family that gave me this opportunity and to my host family. They’re beautiful, we share everything and they’re always ready to help me.”
PHOTO CAPTION: The students on the steps of the courthouse. Photo courtesy of Joanna Collins.