Ginestri, a senior hailing from Cremona, Italy, a town near Milan, is just about seven months into her 12-month study abroad program which is put on by the Rotary club.
“It’s really different from my home country, the school, the lifestyles, but I really like it,” Ginestri said.
Prior to arriving in the United States, Ginestri had some rather colorful ideas about how life would be in Cleveland.
“My first impression of Cleveland was completely different from what I was expecting. Before I came here the only image that I could picture in my mind about the U.S. was of wild, big cities with high buildings, crazy taxi drivers running everywhere, and a never-stopping life, kind of New York style. When my airplane arrived in Atlanta I thought that I was pretty right thinking all that, but once in Cleveland a small, modest town was expecting me,” Ginestri explained.
The smaller town atmosphere was a welcome surprise to Ginestri, the area feeling slightly reminiscent of home.
“My first thought was ‘Well, that’s not exactly what I was thinking, but at least it will be a little bit like home.’ Now I can say that I couldn’t have ever asked for something better.”
During her year long stay, Ginestri will have lived with three different host families.
“Not only is she in a new country, but she experiences three different families,” Lady Raider head coach Mindy Kiser explained.
Ginestri is currently with her second of three families, and thus far has really enjoyed the host families.
“I’ve met a lot of good people and my families take really good care of me. They love me like I’m a real daughter for them,” Ginestri said.
Strong connections have been made, and Ginestri feels those she has met in Cleveland will always hold a special place in her life.
“I just fell in love with this place. Yes, there's not always something different to do and discover, but in this little town I had the opportunity to meet some people that will always have a special place in my heart for the rest of my life — my host families and friends. This is what I will miss the most when I go back to Italy.”
The young Italian, who comes from a family with a history involved with the sport, has always had a love of basketball.
“I’ve played basketball since I was 9. It’s always been my passion; my mom used to play when she was a teenager,” explained Ginestri.
It was her first host family who contacted coach Kiser about Ginestri’s interest in basketball.
“Anna has been a joy to have and to be around. School had started and I got an email that said ‘Hey we’re hosting a young lady that’s interested in basketball’ and I told them to send her by,” Kiser stated. “She’s been a great addition to our program. It’s forced some of our players to get outside of their comfort zone and get to know not only somebody new, but somebody from a totally different country…it really broadened our horizons a little bit.”
Despite her previous experience playing basketball, Ginestri had to learn and adapt to the North American style of play during her time with the Lady Raiders (18-10).
“Every single time, I tell coach Kiser that a lot of things are different. Also some rules are different, they are used to playing a certain way altogether, and I’m used to playing another way,” admits Ginestri. “During the free throws you can have four offensive people waiting for the rebound. In Italy you can have only three. Our quarters are 10 minutes and we have only 24 seconds to shoot.”
There wasn’t just a differences in rules Ginestri had to learn, but also a major difference in mindset and attitude on the court.
“A big difference is that here the girls are really competitive and they really fight for what they want. They want to be there and always want to be in the game. That’s a really good thing,” Ginestri said of her team’s competitive mentality. “In Italy, we don’t have so much competitive things. The passion here is a really good thing. I’m not saying that my teammates in Italy don’t have passion for what they do, but here basketball can really be your life.”
Ginestri was a quick learner, and according to Kiser did a great job and really stepped in and competed for playing time.
“As far as basketball goes, she is an extremely hard worker and a talented player. She’s very quick and defensive-minded … I can always count on Anna being on the defensive end,” Kiser said.
Being a young girl in a foreign country and speaking a foreign language can be challenging, but by being on the basketball team Ginestri is at least able to participate in something familiar.
“It’s like you start, really, a new life. You meet people that you don’t know and they have their own life, their own friends, and their own real family. …In Italy I was kind of a shy person, but I knew that coming here I had to be more outspoken,” explained the soft-spoken senior. “Having the opportunity to be on the basketball team is a really a good thing for me while I’m here because they accepted me really openly. So it’s a really wonderful thing and I’m really happy that I still have basketball.”
In Italy they begin learning English in elementary school, but according to Ginestri, the focus is mainly on vocabulary and not on conversation. Once arriving in the United States she virtually had to start from the beginning with the language, but feels that her English has greatly improved since being here.
“We know that English is the most important language in the world, so I said if I want to learn English well the only thing I have to do is go away and live somewhere. I’ve improved a lot since I’ve been here.”
Coach Kiser has had previous experience coaching international players, thanks to her time at Lee University and, besides having to slow down a bit when coaching, has rarely had any problems getting the point across to Ginestri.
“I feel like basketball is kind of like the international love language here. Defend and put the basketball in the hole — I think that’s two pretty good things to do,” Kiser said of coaching her Italian exchange student.
Ginestri’s future plans involve a bit more travel to both the East and West coasts of the U.S. prior to her return to Italy. Once she is back home, her focus will be on finishing her fifth year of high school and going on to a college or university to further pursue language studies.
“I already know French and English and a bit of Spanish. I know that they can be really important for work, or maybe if that doesn’t work I can try to be a doctor,” Ginestri stated.
Once her year abroad has come to a close, Ginestri admits that she will miss Cleveland life and will look forward to returning in the future.
“It will be like leaving a part of my life here. My host parents already made me promise that I will come back, sooner or later, and that's for sure.”