Nicholas Bilotti ’18 memorized every country, capital and flag of the world by fifth grade using a light-up toy globe. Now, at 17 years old, his fascination with foreign countries and language persists, though his cultured identity has been sculpted by other means besides the glowing toy. His face however, lights up into a grin when explaining how he has gained his modern insight into foreign lands.
“The majority of my friends are not American,” Bilotti said. “I’ve always been able to connect with foreign kids easily because I’m interested and able to understand their culture.”
In fact, Bilotti is so interested in foreign culture and language that he is participating in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program next year, where he will live with three different host families and take classes in either Poland or Italy (his assignment will come out in the spring). Bilotti has been involved with the Rotary Youth Exchange Program for the past three years, helping to assimilate exchange students who come to Connecticut. The program has been a gateway for Bilotti’s abundance of foreign friends.
“I’ve become best friends with these kids,” Bilotti said. “They’re so amazing. I could talk to them for years about where they come from.”
Bilotti greets Rotary exchange students during an orientation in East Hampton Connecticut
Bilotti hopes to mimic his positive experience with exchange students in Connecticut to his time abroad next year.
“What I love about the Rotary Program is that I’ll meet so many exchange students from all around the world,” Bilotti said. “I hope to further my connections all across the globe.”
Bilotti at Rotary United Nations Day (2016) a conference dedicated to Rotary International in New York
Because he will already have graduated from high school by the time he attends the program, getting credit for the classes he will be taking abroad is not a major concern for Bilotti. However, he could potentially graduate from the one year program with a second diploma since it will be supplemented with his Staples credits.
“I’m going mostly to become part of a new culture,” Bilotti said. “I hope to completely immerse myself in a different country. I want to always have a second home in Europe.”
Bilotti at Rotary United Nations Day with Connecticut exchange students
Bilotti will likely be going to a high school that specializes in one of his main interests: language. At the language school in Italy which Bilotti is hoping will be his assigned location, the students have the opportunity to learn English, German and French. Bilotti studies German and French already at Staples. He also understands (though is not conversational or fluent in) Italian, a feat achieved through self-education and the help of Italian friends.
“It’s very easy to teach myself languages because the structures are similar. For example, the structure of French is very similar to the structure of Italian,” Bilotti said.
Bilotti at Rotary United Nations Day (2016) with Bosnian friend
Polish is another language in Bilotti’s repertoire. In fact, it is his first language, spoken to him by his European parents. However, through books and a Polish speaking cousin, Bilotti taught himself the grammar aspect of the language, which he explained as “very, very difficult.”
“I grew up with Polish traditions instead of ultra-American ones. That part made it easier for me to connect with foreign students,” Bilotti said.
Because of his parents European roots, Bilotti has had the opportunity to visit Poland, Italy, Slovakia and the Vatican. He has also been to Canada and Mexico.
“I love to travel. I can’t wait to travel the entire world," he said.
Rotary United Nations Day, 2016
Bilotti hopes his enthusiasm and willingness to experience different countries and cultures will inspire other students to do the same.
“I encourage the kids of Staples to become an exchange student or study abroad. There is so much you can learn from other countries and other cultures.”