LIVINGSTON, NJ - Fifty years ago, Sergio Burani, an Italian 17 year old, speaking poor English, left his small Italian town of Reggio Nell'Emilia to come to the USA for a year on an AFS Exchange Program. 

This week, he told the story of his adventures to a group of international AFS students currently studying in New Jersey high schools. The students hung onto every word. Their journeying to the US could not have been more different.

Sergio traveled by train from his home in Reggio Emilia, Italy to Rotterdam where he boarded an ocean liner, 'The Seven Seas,' with 2,000 other AFS students. It took ten days to cross the Atlantic and reach New York harbor. After a series of adventures, including lost luggage, Sergio arrived for his year in the small Ohio town of Monroe. In contrast, his audience of current students jetted to New York from the four corners of the earth. As they landed at JFK, welcoming AFS volunteers helped disperse them to their assigned New Jersey suburbs.

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But the emotions Burani felt 50 years ago totally resonated with the students. He described his first semester, which included rough times.

“I felt pretty miserable in those first few months, but I was maturing rapidly and learning to cope.”

As his English became increasingly more understandable, he gained confidence and his grades moved from C’s to A’s.

In fact, I am still gaining from the experience now after 50 years,” he added.

Currently Burani spends part of his year in Morristown and part in Italy.

The New Jersey students had recently completed their first half-year and had gathered to assess their progress and set goals for the rest of the year.

“I am getting my hands around the experience," said Marta Vainovska from Latvia, who is living with a host family in Chatham, NJ. "Rather than spending half my time just absorbing my surroundings, I am now proactively planning the rest of the year. Sergio said it all."

AFS Intercultural Programs is a leading exchange organization and welcomes over 2,300 international high school students from more than 90 countries to the US each year. This year, AFS in New Jersey is hosting 34 exchange students from 19 countries and several have been sponsored by US Government scholarships. Host families provide a bed and meals, share their daily lives with students, and help guide and support students as they would their own children. Families and their hosted students receive ongoing support from AFS staff and experienced, local volunteers.

For more information about how to host a student, study abroad, or volunteer with AFS, contact Sue Fershing, Area Team Chair for AFS in New Jersey, at 973-533-1341 or or visit