Norah Hemsley’s time in Italy has greatly added to her life


Norah Hemsley fondly reminisces about her time spent in Italy.

Sophomore Norah Hemsley will forever appreciate the small-town feel where a sense of community is prominent. And, if there is a chance to dress up in medieval clothing, then all the better.

“There was such a community in my [old] town in Italy,” Norah said, “[and] we’d have so many more festivals and it was all very traditional. There’s one festival where you dress up in medieval clothes. The kids got to march around and there was a race; it was a cool thing.”

Norah lived in a small town in Italy for six years—from when she was five to eleven years old—and she felt a more extensive sense of community there. However, the differences between Grand Rapids and Italy don’t stop at the traditions.

In Italy, Norah attended a school run by nuns. She found that they were much sterner than the staff at FHC. 

“I went to a private school so that’s one of the biggest [differences I noticed],” Norah said. “[The rules] were very strict, and I definitely got a lot more homework than I would’ve here—especially for third graders. Here, I think it’s a lot more lenient with homework and schoolwork in general.”

Although the teachers were firm with the rules, Norah said that they also had a more personal style of teaching where they could be one-on-one with the students to better their learning experiences. 

As much as she appreciated the extra steps taken for her to academically succeed, Norah did not cherish the chores that were required of the students at her school.

“There was a rotation where every class would have to clean the lunchroom after lunch about every six days,” Norah said. “I would always get the worst job: I always had to dry the dishes. The other kids didn’t clean them very well, so there would be food stuck on there, and the water would burn my fingers. So, those are some ‘fun’ memories.”

As unfortunate as that is, Norah did like that the lunches in Italy were considerably longer than they are here; while FHC’s lunches are thirty minutes, lunches in her old school were an hour and a half.

Something that shocked Norah was the different ideals that were held in Italy concerning sports.

“It was interesting because they separated boys and girls at recess,” Norah said. “They would not allow mixing or talking. It was kind of old-fashioned. So the boys would get this massive soccer field to play in, and then the girls were stuck in this tiny courtyard to just chill or gossip. It was really uncommon for girls to do the sports that they do here. There weren’t sports teams in general and nothing like school pride or school events. It was kind of just work [at school].”

[I] probably miss my friends [the most]. They made my experience pretty fun and enjoyable.

— Norah Hemsley

As Norah now participates in swimming and water polo, she appreciates that FHC has sports teams for her to engage in.

Although she doesn’t miss the separated fields in Italy’s recess, there are a few things that she longingly remembers.

“[I] probably miss my friends [the most],” Norah said. “They made my experience pretty fun and enjoyable. I would do so many things with them. We were in a choir, and we would go to the ice cream shop down the street. The bonds were really fun.”

The friends and relationships that she created while in Italy are some of her most cherished memories. Norah has remained close with them in spirit despite the distance now separating them. 

“I did travel a lot, [and] I’ve seen [a] lot of parts of Italy,” Norah said. “My favorite is probably northern Italy or France; it depends, and it’s basically the same thing. [My family and I] went skiing in the Alps a lot and it was surreal. I was pretty young, and I still remember that I learned to ski on this super steep hill. We’d [also] go to a bunch of countries for summer vacation or winter vacation. We took massive road trips and I’d be stuck in the car with my siblings; we had this tiny, little car because the roads are so narrow that you can’t drive a minivan like you can here. That was enjoyable.”