An ocean and a continent couldn't keep Paola Mainnetti, a 17-year-old Italian student, from 15-year-old Beth Carter.
The two became instant friends in February while Beth, a sophomore from Severn High School, toured the schools and museums of Brescia, Italy, with her classmates as part of the Severn High Italian Exchange Program.
Now Paola is touring the coffee shops and malls of Annapolis with Beth, the friend she calls "my sister."
The exchange program is a "home-to-home, school-to-school partnership," said Doug Sassi, who coordinates the program with the Instituto Tecnico Commerciale Lunardi in Brescia.
Severn has been swapping students with Lunardi since 1986. The partnership was created to give American and Italian students an inside look at each other's cultures, Mr. Sassi said.
"Our whole American culture is based on Rome and the Renaissance," he said. "Most of our culture has been filtered down to us from the Romans."
With Italian teachers Claudio Loda and Pasquale Curcio as chaperons, 24 girls from Lunardi Class 4M arrived in New York Sept. 26 and began their three-week adventure with host students and families from Severn.
Aimee Nepomuceno, 16, who has not visited Italy, was apprehensive about meeting her exchange student, 17-year-old Francesca Tira. But after a trip to McDonald's and a soccer game, she and Francesca were fast friends.
"She's so easy to get along with," said Aimee, who lives in Severna Park. "No matter where we go we have fun."
While Aimee and Francesca toured local Mexican restaurants, Beth and Paola were talking about boys and finding out they had similar tastes.
The Italians, who go to classes with their host students every day, have quickly noticed the differences between their schools and Severn High, said Claudio Loda, one of the chaperons.
"We study 14 subjects a year, all academic," he said. "There are no art, music or drama classes like here. This the students found very interesting."
Francesca said the relationship between the student and teacher is much different at American schools. "The relationships are better here," she said. "Students are more relaxed with their teachers."
Janet Owens, whose 16-year old son, Christopher, is spending a year at Lundardi, prepared dinner Saturday for the students and their host families "to honor the Italian girls for bringing joy to Severn students."
"After seven weeks in Italy, my son Christopher has learned so much," said Mrs. Owens, who lives in Millersville. "He's learned how similar people are, despite cultural differences."
The girls from Lundardi are scheduled to go home Sunday, but not before going to Severn's homecoming dance. Mr. Sassi said he wants to find dates for the girls, but Paola said he doesn't have to worry about her.
"I'm going with the guy from the coffee shop," she said.