OXFORD, Ohio – During their time at Miami University, many students choose to study abroad for a semester, learning about different cultures and broadening their horizons. Due to the time commitment that it involves, it is often difficult for RedHawk football players to take advantage of the opportunity. However, junior offensive lineman Zach Lewis came into Oxford having already seen both sides of the experience, hosting an exchange student from Italy and then spending a few weeks in Verona as an exchange student himself during his junior year at Prospect High School in Mt. Prospect, Ill.

The program was open to students who were in either their third or fourth year of taking Italian and had a high GPA. Lewis was one of 20 students to be selected and was paired with a young Italian student named Giovanni, who came to live with the Lewis family during the fall of 2009.

“Giovanni lived with me for two weeks at my house in Mt. Prospect,” said Lewis. “We took him around the city and did some fun activities on the weekends. Then when I would go to school, he would come with me sometimes to attend some of the English and math classes I was taking. The (Italian students) also did some activities on their own.”

As could be expected with most Europeans, Giovanni was a big soccer fan and had limited knowledge of American football. However, Lewis introduced him to the sport, bringing him to one of his games before Giovanni had to head back to Italy.

Come springtime, it was time for Lewis to head overseas as he got to spend two weeks in Verona, Italy, staying with Giovanni and his family. While there he attended Giovanni’s high school, where he was in for a culture shock as he was introduced to the Italian education system.

“It was totally different in that they had school Monday through Saturday, and it was only in the morning from 7 to noon. Then they were done,” said Lewis. “They only have two classes a day and each day was a different pair of classes, which was unusual.

“They also didn’t have any sports teams after high school they only have club teams, if you wanted to play something like baseball or soccer, you had to play them at a club team somewhere else.”

After introducing Giovanni to American football back in the states, Lewis’ Italian friend introduced the American to rugby, which Lewis took to quickly. After some instruction, Lewis was given the opportunity to play on Giovanni’s older brother’s team, an experience he found fun.

One of the main reasons for the exchange program was for each teen to test how well they had learned the other language. When Giovanni was in the United States, Lewis and his family were encouraged to speak only English with him. Likewise, Lewis was expected to communicate in Italian while staying with Giovanni’s family.

“(The Italians) had been taking English since they were really little, so they had been practicing for many years,” commented Lewis. “We had only been practicing Italian for three years, so they were a lot better at speaking our language then we were at speaking theirs. The biggest issue for me and Giovanni was that his parents didn’t speak very much English and my parents didn’t speak very much Italian, so it was definitely a barrier there, but we worked very well together to help each other out and communicate.”

Lewis found the overall experience eye-opening and felt that it helped prepare him for his time at Miami, where he has interacted with many different cultures and personalities on the football team and in the classroom. While the time commitment would make it difficult, he would be open to participating in the University’s Study Abroad program at some point.

“I haven’t really thought about it that much, but I’d really like to try it again,” said Lewis. “Hopefully down the road before I graduate, like the last semester of senior or even in the summer I could do a short, quick study abroad experience.”

Right now Lewis’ focus is on helping the 2013 RedHawk team, where he is one of the returning starters on the offensive line. He has 17 career starts, having seen time both at right and left tackle. Given all his past experiences, the sky is the limit for Miami’s world traveler.   

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Come see Zach Lewis and the rest of the RedHawks football team this season as Miami competes for a MAC championship. Be sure to purchase your season tickets today, which are available online here or by calling 513-529-HAWK (4295). The RedHawks open the season at Marshall Aug. 31 and host rival Cincinnati in their home opener in the “Battle for the Bell” Sept. 21.