I’ve always been an ambitious child. I’ve always loved learning new things, giving more than 100% of myself, and trying to be the best version of me every day. America has been on my bucket list since I started watching TV and Hollywood movies. It sounds cliché I know, but that’s what America is for most of Europeans: celebrities, beaches, opportunities, skyscrapers and juicy donuts.

I’ve decided to do the exchange program here because I wanted to see if the stereotypes were true or not, to see with my own eyes what this over discussed, magic, loved and criticized land was like.

My main concern now, as a 17-year-old girl, is my future and my dreams. I really love my country, I think Italy is an amazing place: great people, music and food. I miss every single corner of it, but it has some weaknesses: politics and economy. Italy doesn’t know how to value its youth, and invest on its resources. Meritocracy is an underrated topic, which influences the new generations' future and should be more considered.

Don’t get me wrong, the Italian school system is excellent; bright and laborious students come out of universities, ready to work meticulously. Finding a career represents a political and social problem in the peninsula, the lack of jobs make young people move abroad. Lawyers, doctors, scientists, holding specializations, degrees and many other pieces of paper in their hands, standing and hoping to find a job different from the cashier in a fast-food.

Not that there’s anything wrong with working in fast-food, but after studying 10 years to follow a dream, those pieces of paper should be at least used for a purpose, and not just hanging in your bedroom’s wall. The state doesn’t provide any opportunity for those young men and women, because recommendations and bureaucracy have made the system stuck and dysfunctional. Brilliant brains are moving away from the peninsula, because their talents and skills are not valued enough, they don’t have a way of being used and appreciated.

In other countries, like America for example, if you can’t afford a new experimental trial, but there are high possibilities of success, somebody will believe in you and the money will come along. In Italy, on the contrary, you would be just forced to give up or struggling to pay taxes, building your career with your own financial resources.

During the fourth year of my Italian high school, students are required to have a job experience, assisting a mentor. Since I was here in the US, I thought it would have been very complicated to find someone available to help me in the journalism field.

Surprisingly, I just had to make some phone calls and show my work and abilities, to have a meeting in less than a week, and the possibility to ask for a collaboration. In Italy, some of my friends interested in the same kind of activity have been rejected, and even if they got the chance of working in a newspaper, they didn’t really have any active role in it: just allowed to observe or assist someone.

Here, even if English is not my mother-language, even if I’m just a teenager, and so my profile wasn’t the most inspiring for an editor to offer a column on his newspaper, I still had a chance to show what I was able to do. I had the possibility to be judged on what I could do and not by my background.

After some months, I have also been assigned an actual report, with interviews and pictures to take, that I didn’t feel ready to do, but the fact that I was put in charge, motivated me to work hard on it to not disappoint anyone, and when I surprisingly saw it on the front page, even if maybe it’s not a big deal for many people, it was rewarding and satisfying to me.

Now I know why America is called “the land of opportunities.” America showed me a new way of thinking, made me feel a grown-up, and treated as one for the first time in my whole life.

Employers don’t look at your titles, but at your skills, at what goals you’ve reached: if you know what you’re doing and you’re brilliant at it, you can be the number one. America is a country that learned how to identify long-term resources and to value them. That’s one of the reasons behind a country’s wealth.

Valuing what you have is the secret of a victory, and us, young people, are the fuel that will make this world keep running in the upcoming ages, that will make changes, innovations. Investing on us means investing on the future, and the sooner that happens, the sooner evolution, or better, revolution will take place. Progress is what humans are born for, what we have done for years, and what we have to do to improve and make this world a better place.

• Giulia Ciarlantini is an exchange student at Mount Shasta High School from a little town called Porto Recanati on the coast, in the center of Italy. She wrote the piece above as part of her senior project.