My last week began with a celebration, a fitting way to begin my goodbyes. Monday night was the conclusion of the festivities for the feast of Sant’Anna, the patron saint of Marina Grande and of my program in Sorrento. In addition to an hour-long fireworks show, there were many food vendors and games set up on the marina. It seemed as though everyone from Sorrento was down on the Marina, as the restaurants set up buffets so they could feed all of the visitors. It was fun to participate in such a light-hearted atmosphere.
However, my last week was not all fun and games. I also had to take finals and give a presentation so I spent a lot of time studying. One of my exams involved a listening comprehension exercise that I felt quite prepared for. My strong suit is being able to comprehend Italian; I find that forming sentences on the spot is what is difficult for me. Since I only had to summarize the key points from the audio recording, I assumed that would be the least challenging part of the test. To my surprise, I struggled to pull out the main ideas. Instead, I found the essay portion of the exam easiest, which usually would be most difficult for me. Reflecting back on it, I think being surrounded by the Italian language most of the time allowed me to pick up on phrases and syntax, which I was able to use in my own writing.
As I traveled home today, I was eager to use my Italian one last time before landing in the US. Luckily for me, the people next to me on the flight were Italian, meaning that in order to communicate we used only Italian. They were excited to hear about my adventures in Sorrento and were jealous because, to them, Sorrento is a vacation town and they could not fathom spending half of the summer there. They asked me about life in the US and things to do in Chicago, where they were visiting.
If I had this flight experience while coming to Italy, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to start a conversation with strangers in Italian. After using it for nearly 6 weeks, I felt like I didn’t have to put so much effort into holding the conversation. While my experience with my final exam proves that I still have work to do on my language skills, this conversation demonstrated to me that all of my hard work was not for nothing.
I find it hard to believe that my studies in Sorrento are over and that I start classes at Notre Dame in 2 weeks. I am excited to get back and continue improving my language skills. Thank you so much for following along on my journey.
Where did the time go? My last week in Sorrento has been a whirlwind because I didn’t want to waste a second. Any time that wasn’t spent studying for my final exams was spent seeking out my favorite food places in town, making sure to spend time with the students and faculty at my school, and overall just taking in the city and people of Sorrento.
I don’t have too much to say specifically about the last few days, to be honest, just because I was so busy trying to experience everything. That’s been one of my biggest goals for this trip as time has gone on – instead of trying to capture everything perfectly in pictures or in a journal, I’ve been simply trying to live life in Italy and embrace everything in the moment. That was definitely the theme of this past week, and I think I did well to do as much as I could in the little time that I had.
So instead of leaving you with any specific anecdotes of my cultural and language experiences that I have had in Italy this past week, here’s what I think I learned these last few days – that I’ve found a new home in Sorrento, and that life in Sorrento has found a home within me. I have grown so much during this experience, not only in my knowledge of Italian language and culture, but also in my knowledge of myself and what I am capable of. I pushed myself to explore new things and express myself the best that I could, and I’ve become a better person because of it. It wasn’t always perfect by any means, but that’s part of the growth, too. So, thank you Sorrento for helping me learn Italian, and in learning Italian also learn about myself – that’s the part of Sorrento that will always live in me.
Okay, well there’s of course all the other cool parts of Sorrento that I won’t forget – the food I have found, the friends I have made, the beautiful views, the peaceful streets, and did I mention the food? It was all a special experience, and it all contributed to helping me live my fullest life in Italy. How lucky am I?!
So one last time, I want to say thank you to all of you who have supported me in my journey to Sorrento – please know how much I have cherished this experience and how much I appreciate your support in getting me to Italy!
In the meantime, as I prepare to leave Italy this weekend, please enjoy this picture of me in a LeBron jersey and my professor – it’s a perfect representation of the life and learning that I have found while in Italy!
Between my residence hall and the city center, I pass many stray cats waiting on the side of the road where they are fed daily. As an animal lover, I always say “ciao” to the gatti as I walk by. One day, I met the man who feeds the cats and had a very interesting conversation about animal rights laws in Italy as compared to the US. He said he admires the American justice system as it is more efficient and has stronger laws than what he finds in Italy. However, the only area where he thinks Italy has the US beat is animal cruelty.
I learned that in Italy, the animal shelters do not euthanize cats or dogs even if they reach capacity because it is illegal. The man said it is important to him that he helps keep the number of homeless animals down in order to prevent that law from changing. He thinks that if the number of homeless animals were to grow, the Italian government would see no choice but to allow euthanasia. Thus, he does his part by bringing all of the homeless cats that he can find to a vet to get them spayed. He said he also wants to keep the number of homeless cats down so that the shelters are not overwhelmed to the point that they give up their animals for product testing.
I really enjoyed speaking to him because I think what he does for the cats is really admirable. He puts out food that he pays for out of pocket for the 120 stray cats in Sorrento. He is working for a cause that he believes in and proves that one person can make a difference.
Since I did not know the technical legal words in Italian and he did not know them in English to discuss animal laws, this conversation was good practice for rearranging thoughts in my head in order to utilize vocabulary that I do know. It was nice seeing my Italian getting put to good use so that I could have an intelligent conversation about a topic I find important.
It is hard to believe that my five weeks in Sorrento are wrapping up as I leave this weekend to go back to the States! As always, thanks for reading.
This past weekend, I decided to take a trip to southern Italy in search of two particular cities – Reggio Calabria, Calabria, and Messina, Sicily. I had these cities circled because they are two of the major cities in Italy that my family is originally from. I didn’t know much about the cities, and I don’t know any family there today, but I was excited for the chance to explore and connect with Italy in a new way. So began my 40-hour adventure in which I left from Sorrento at 5:00 am, and eventually made my way to both Calabria and Sicily before returning to Sorrento by 11:00 pm the next day.
It was a long way to travel by train, but that was okay by me – I actually enjoyed the challenge of hopping between trains, and it gave me a chance to catch my breath and take in Italy as I travelled from one place to the next. I began my train hopping by going from Sorrento to Naples, then Naples to Salerno, and finally Salerno to Reggio Calabria. This left me with a nice afternoon to spend in Reggio Calabria, a southern Italy city that sits right across the water from Sicily. Amongst many others, one of the things I discovered here was the “Lungomare Falcomatà” walkway that runs along the sea – a coastline view that has been described by Italian writer Gabrielle D’Annunzio (one of the writers that I have read in my literature class this summer!) as “the most beautiful kilometer in Italy”.
After exploring this city for the day, I caught an evening ferry ride to travel from Reggio Calabria to Messina, Sicily. It got a little interesting for me at this point in the day, because I was having trouble finding the location for the ferry stop – so I put my Italian to work, and asked a series of locals to help me find my way (it took the help of more than a few people because the ferry stop was not in a very obvious location). Once I found it, I had some questions about the ferry schedule and the ticket I wanted to buy, but I had to ask all of this in Italian as well because the person selling the tickets did not speak English. This was a common theme I found on my trip: the cities that I traveled to aren’t really the biggest go-to spots for tourists, so I found myself much more reliant on my Italian throughout the weekend simply because it was mostly my only choice. Over the whole weekend, I maybe had just a couple small conversations in English with the locals or store owners that I met, but otherwise it was all Italian, and I couldn’t really rely on my English to “bail me out”.
I was able to find my way to Messina in the end, and as the trip continued on, it was a really good feeling to know that I could rely on my Italian speaking skills enough to actually communicate with others, ask any questions I needed to, and ultimately be responsible for myself without using English. I found this to be true again as I settled into my lodging in Messina for the night – the person that let me into my room and checked me out in the morning did not speak any English either, but it wasn’t much of an issue at all (my biggest point of confusion was figuring out the right way to type the WiFi password that they told me, so I’ll take it).
After spending the night there, I got up early to explore Messina before catching a train back towards Sorrento later in the day. I enjoyed walking along the coast of Messina as well, and getting to compare the view of Calabria that I could see from Sicily, to my view of Sicily that I saw earlier when I was in Calabria. The Bell Tower and Duomo of Messina were sights to see for sure, and of course I couldn’t skip the Sicilian food – cannoli, arancini, and pizza that was definitely different from the Naples-style pizza I have been mostly eating while in Italy.
The most exciting part of the trip for me may have been the train back from Messina to Naples, because part of the ride involved the train being loaded onto a ferry so that it could cross from Sicily to Calabria before going back on land and up to Naples. I was pretty confused at how the process worked, but I asked enough people around me to make sure I was getting on the train/ferry correctly (sometimes I wasn’t exactly sure what to ask, so whenever we had to switch between train cars or switch onto the ferry, I would just keep asking in Italian to whomever was near me “this is how I get to Naples, right?”)
The train did get me to Naples eventually, and from there I took my final train back to Sorrento to cap off my trip. All in all, it was an experience I won’t ever forget. Not only did I see a part of Italy in which my family once lived, but I also had the ultimate chance to put my Italian skills to work, and to really connect with life in Italy in a unique way. I definitely pushed myself past my comfort zone a little bit, and it was worth it – at least because it helped me to realize that my Italian studies and practice up to this point might just be paying off a little bit after all.
This morning, I took my last exam. Classes are drawing to a close, and that means my time in Italy is almost over. I wanted to write to you all one last time before I leave, and so I now present the post you have all been waiting for: the one about Italian food. (If you are reading on an empty stomach, proceed at your own risk.)
First, the structure of meals in Italy is different from the United States. The main meal is traditionally lunch, and dinner is eaten late in the evening. Breakfast is small and sweet. A common breakfast item is the “cornetto”, which is a croissant-like pastry with jam or cream filling.
Then there is lunch. A full Italian-style lunch is five courses: “antipasto” (appetizer), “primo piatto” (usually pasta), “secondo piatto” (something more substantial like meat or fish), “contorno” (side dish, like soup or salad), “dolce” (dessert or fruit) with coffee and after-dinner alcohol. Of course, there is before-dinner alcohol and during-dinner alcohol as well, but in moderate amounts. Dinner is much later, and is supposed to be lighter, like vegetables or pizza. (Yes, pizza. Apparently it’s considered a light meal here.)
Now, before I proceed any further, I would like to say that I have not been eating a three-hour, five-course lunch every day here. In fact, I haven’t done it even once. That is because one essential ingredient to these long lunches is other Italians, one’s friends and family, with whom to eat. Since I’m living in the dorm, not a host family, I have not had the opportunity to have a big family dinner.
Furthermore, I have serious doubts that the Italians have elaborate meals like this every day. However, all my information about Italian meals is second-hand, and living in a tourist area probably changes the rhythm of Italian life anyway. I can only say that the above description is supposed to be the “traditional” way of doing it.
In reality, I have cooked most of my meals for myself. This was one of the most surprising, challenging, and rewarding parts of the trip for me. I had to learn how to meal plan, navigate a supermarket (in Italian), and cook something other than scrambled eggs. Furthermore, I thought that since I was in Italy, I might as well try to cook Italian. I tried emulating some of my favorite pasta dishes, and used the Internet to supplement my ignorance.
Sometimes, my dishes turned out really well. At other times, I thanked heaven that I was cooking only for myself, since it meant that I was the only one to suffer from the watery-cheese-sauce disaster. Still, increased confidence in the kitchen was not a benefit I was expecting from this trip. I am pleasantly surprised to find that I have learned a lot about how to shop and cook like an independent adult.
One challenge of cooking for myself was that the food in Italy, although it is not totally foreign, is still different from American food. While the food in Italy is generally fresher, there is less variety. There is a whole aisle in the supermarket just for pasta noodles, and another half-aisle just for bottled tomato sauce. There is salami, prosciutto, pancetta, and sausage, but no ground beef, and certainly no plain-old sandwich meat. The eggs are processed differently and so are not refrigerated (which hasn’t stopped me from keeping my eggs in the fridge out of sheer habit). Peanut butter is an expensive specialty item. These are little differences, but they were very surprising at first.
Then there are the specialty stores. The two most common kinds are fruit stands and “salumerias”.
A salumeria is basically a deli. They sell meat and cheese, but often have pasta and wine as well. To tell the truth, I did not use these stores very often. I learned first hand why supermarkets have a corner on the grocery market: they are cheap, and it is very convenient to buy all your groceries in one place.
From time to time, I would go out to a restaurant with my friends here. This would inevitably mean pizza or pasta. (I believe it is impossible to overstate the prevalence of pasta in Italy. It is not just a stereotype.)
Being next to the ocean means amazing seafood pastas. Being next to Naples, the birthplace of pizza, means amazing pizzas. Everything I ate at restaurants was very simple and very good.
Going out to restaurants, we also learned a few Italian customs. First, restaurants do not provide separate bills. This means that, when we go out to eat, one person will pay for the group and everyone else will pay them back. Second, sitting down to a meal is much more expensive than getting take-away. Space is valuable in Italy, so if you want a table, you have to pay for it. Furthermore, it is not customary to tip your waiter, so the service fee is also included in the “coperta”, or cover charge. Thirdly, the restaurant will not bring you your bill until you ask for it. After all, you paid for the table, and so you can linger for a long time if you want. This allows the Italians to enjoy long talks with friends over a meal.
Coffee is almost as much of a staple as pasta. On our tour of the Amalfi coast, the guide said that Italians will drink coffee four times a day. However, when an Italian thinks “coffee”, he or she does not think Starbucks. In fact, I don’t think there is a single Starbucks in Sorrento. “Coffee” means espresso, either a plain shot or mixed with milk. There are cafes everywhere, but I’ve gotten most of my coffee from a machine in the dorm that would make Willy Wonka proud. You insert a coin, select a drink, and wait. Meanwhile, the machine produces a cup, adds sugar, heats and froths milk, adds a shot of espresso, and gives you the finished product complete with a little stir stick. In America, I would be highly skeptical of any “machine coffee.” Not in Italy. Even their machine-made espresso is delicious.
Finally, there are the sweets. I believe that pictures will make the point more eloquently than words.
There is, of course, gelato as well. Sorrento knows its tourists, and so there is a gelateria about every block or so. The best gelato has only a few ingredients and is always made fresh every day. I made it a goal to find my favorite gelateria, and I narrowed it down to two. They are both small, local shops with unique flavors (such as honeycomb or fig).
As one last note, you may be surprised to hear that living in Italy has made me appreciate American cooking more. All the Italians to whom I have talked say that America does some food really well: steak, cheesecake, and bagels are good examples. Furthermore, the variety that we have in America is incredible. Although we Americanize every cuisine we touch, we still have everything from Greek to Mexican to Chinese.
So there you have it. This will be my last blog post from Italy; however, I will write one more once I get back to the States to review and sum up my experiences. As always, thank you for accompanying me.
After my last post, I began thinking more about the little time I have left in Italy, and I felt much more of a sense of urgency to do as much as I can and experience as much of Italian life as I can before I leave. So, I have been extra sure to keep myself busy recently – and that has meant a number of things.
For one, I have really been diving into my school work more deeply (this one might not have been so much by choice – I’ve had more than a few papers and presentations to work on!) Although my homework can keep me behind my computer screen a little more than I may like, this aspect of my trip has been one of the most valuable ways to continue my growth as a student of Italian language and life. Not only am I practicing my language skills on a daily basis in this way, but I have also gotten to know my professors better and have learned more about their life in Italy, too. As a side note, one thing that has helped me to connect more with my professors (and actually with everyone, such as the Italian kids I referenced in my last post) has been my interest in sports. It’s the easiest thing for me to talk about in English, and it turns out it is also the easiest thing for me to talk about in Italian. For instance, the central topic of my latest Italian presentation involved a comparison that I made between LeBron James and one of the poet’s that we have been reading about in class. My professor really appreciated that I was able to connect my personal life to the deep themes of Italian literature that we have learned in class – and now he references LeBron James in class almost every day just for me (I think he’s making fun of me honestly but I’m okay with it). I brought up LeBron James just for fun with my other professor outside of class, and that got us started on a long conversation about sports, too – so I guess LeBron James is helping me learn Italian, too (what can’t that guy do?).
I have also been more attentive to things like what foods I am buying at the grocery stores, or eating out at restaurants, in order to be sure to experience as much of the local and national cuisine as possible (i.e. trying not to rely on Pringles as my go-to snack anymore, and resisting the urge to seek out the local place for an American hamburger). I am not the biggest seafood person, but with Sorrento being right on the coast, I’ve been making an effort to try out some of their local fish dishes and I have definitely enjoyed that. I also visited Naples last week, and instead of stopping in the McDonald’s there (we walked right past it and it was tough I’m not going to lie), we found a place to eat some traditional Neapolitan pizza (which of course made McDonald’s seem pretty irrelevant). I tried the “four seasons” pizza so that I could taste as many different types as possible.
More than anything, I’ve been trying my best to spend any free time that I have to the fullest. I’ve been trying to go into town more often and experience new places and people. I had a fun experience last week when I went to buy some stamps. The place I usually go to was closed, so instead of just going to the next place I knew, I decided to use it as an opportunity to practice my Italian. Lucky for me, I had the chance to talk to several Italians, because no one was able to direct me to the right place for stamps for quite some time. Go to the post office, they said – so I went and it was closed just for that day. It’s impossible for it to be closed, another man said – so I went back and made sure that it was definitely still closed. Go that way for the nearest tabacchi shop, another woman said – but another man I met going that way told me the opposite direction was definitely the way to go. The last person I talked to at a tabacchi shop told me I was out of luck and to return for stamps tomorrow. (In the end, I just went back to the other place that I knew that had stamps, and I easily found stamps there – but I still had fun because I did not break from speaking Italian the whole time during my search for stamps.)
I’ve also put a lot of effort into seeing as many new places in Italy as I can. I have loved exploring the Sorrento area as much as possible, but I have also found that new places are not only exciting to see but also offer new chances for immersing myself into the language and culture of Italy. I went on a really cool hike along the Amalfi Coast recently (check the pictures!), but it was also an adventure in itself just doing the traveling by public transport just to get there. This past weekend, I went on my biggest adventure yet, but I am going to save that for my next post, because I have so much to say about what I experienced – tune in soon to find out what I did!
This past week I had a long weekend, so I took the opportunity to travel to Sicily with one of my friends from school. I was fortunate that I could stay with a local who is a friend of my family in the small fishing village of Aci Trezza so I could get a taste of life in an Italian town that has fewer tourists than Sorrento. Aci Trezza is located about 5 miles outside of Catania and has a population of 5,000. It is known for having the Rocks of the Cyclops right off its coastline. It was thought to be home to the Cyclops son of Poseidon, about whom Homer wrote in the Odyssey.
I was able to converse in Italian with some friends of my host Sylvia over a few meals. One couple spoke limited English so it was fun for me to get to know them only in Italian. Their son is studying biology in the US so we spent a lot of time discussing their impression of the United States.
First, they kept commenting on how they thought their son looked more American than Sicilian in the way he dressed. They seemed proud that he was able to assimilate to life in the States so well. It was a surprise to the couple when he told them that he wanted to go to college in America, but they decided paying for an American education is one of the best gifts they could give their son. Last year, their son graduated with a 2-year degree before continuing onto his Bachelor’s. I was told about Italian graduations at which men would wear only a jacket and tie instead of the classic American cap and gown. They thought the American garb for graduation was beautiful and they loved all of the festivities that surrounded his graduation.
Overall, this couple had a very positive idea of America as it was giving their son an education he would not have received in Italy. He plans on attending medical school and then practicing in America. According to the pair, they think the American medical system is better structured and more fair in the distribution of care than what they are offered in Italy. Doctors will offer same-day appointments and procedures to friends in Italy rather than to patients with the most time sensitive cases.
I learned a lot about Sicilians’ impressions of America from this couple and other people I conversed with over the weekend. Not everyone was as complimentary as they were, but it caused me to reflect on what life in the States offers and doesn’t offer as compared to what is available in Italy.
I am back in Sorrento just in time to wrap up my studies and spend one last week in Italy.
This Thursday, I was awakened by the sound of church bells. This, in and of itself, was not out of the ordinary. The Church of Sant’Anna (the small parish that serves the port neighborhood of Marina Grande) is practically a stone’s throw away from my bedroom window, and it rings bells during the day to mark the hour.
Two things, however, made Thursday’s bells unusual. First, the bells rang in a continuous peal, not in the measured chiming of a clock. Second, they rang at approximately 4:45 in the morning.
As I soon learned, July 26 is the feast day of Saint Anna, the patron saint of Marina Grande. To celebrate, they had Mass every hour from 5 am to 12 pm, and twice more in the evening. There was also a festival with food and games that night. The bells to invite the faithful to Mass rang out at a quarter-to-the-hour all morning. The car horns (or possibly boat horns–after all, it is a fishing neighborhood) started around 7 in the morning. The fireworks started at 8.
I now digress, very briefly, to tell you all about one unexpected aspect of a summer in Sorrento: the fireworks. I may have missed the 4th of July shows, but I have more than made up for it in my time here. The smallest festivity is not too small for fireworks in Sorrento.
Many of them are set off from the dock in Marina Grande, which is quite close to my dorm. The sound that they make at such close quarters is incredible. I can only do it justice by saying that it sounds like a bomb exploding in my immediate vicinity (which gives you an idea of how alarming they are when unexpected). Even with the noise, I love all the fireworks. There have been some truly spectacular shows.
The celebration of Saint Anna has been going on all week, and won’t be over until Monday. For me, it’s been a window into a very Italian tradition. After all, I’ve never seen an American neighborhood throw a week-long party to celebrate their patron saint. The Catholic faith has left deep imprints on Italian life, even though many modern Italians are not practicing Catholics.
According to the woman with whom I meet to practice Italian, these saints’ days are a lot like Christmas in America. Almost everybody celebrates Christmas, even though many Americans are not Christian. It’s not an exact comparison, however. For one thing, there’s only one Christmas, while there are saints’ days celebrations at least once a month. For another, the celebration of a patron saint is a highly local affair. For example, Marina Grande celebrates Saint Anna, but central Sorrento celebrates Saint Anthony. Therefore, if I walk five minutes from my dorm in one direction, I’m in the middle of a festival. Five minutes in the other direction, and it’s business as usual.
Tradition in Italy stretches back even farther than Christianity. For example, businesses in Sorrento tend to stay in one family. One of my peers who works in Sorrento even calls them “hereditary.” According to my professor, this can be traced to the fact that Sorrento was founded by the Romans, for whom family was very important. To support his claim, my professor said that a woman from Sorrento, if she marries into a prominent Sorrentine family, will introduce herself thus: “My name is —-, wife of—–.” Meanwhile, in Massa Lubrense, a town only 5 miles from Sorrento, a woman always simply states her own name. Massa Lubrense was founded by the Greeks, for whom family was not as important as it was for the Romans. My professor claims this is the reason for the small cultural differences that exist between the cities to this day.
I asked my Italian-speaking partner about other aspects of tradition in Italy. For example, wasn’t it true that Italians gathered as a family, Thanksgiving style, very frequently? Yes, she told me, but most do it out of “tradition.” For many Italians, the big family gatherings are a duty, not a joy. In fact, she says there is too much tradition in Italy. She envies America’s lack of tradition, because it leaves us free to focus on the future. In fact, one of the most common descriptions of America by Italian locals is “young.”
One reason I’m able to get locals’ views on all this is that the locals are finally starting to speak to me in Italian. Many speak to me in English at first, but once I respond in Italian, they will switch as well. It’s a little thing, but it is a tangible sign of progress, and therefore very encouraging. My greatest success happened yesterday, when an Italian woman not only responded to me in Italian, but actually had a long conversation with me. She described the language barrier she faces every day with tourists who don’t speak Italian, and she told me about her dreams to visit America. I only caught about 75% of what she said, but it was enough to keep the conversation going. I am thrilled.
Meanwhile, I have been studying for my final exams, a sure sign that the end is near. Four weeks down, one more to go. As always, thank you for accompanying me on my Italian adventure.
The two days between my last post and this one have been fairly uneventful. In the absence of any new stories to share with you, I want to share instead what I have learned about the Italians’ opinions on America. Through a series of unconnected conversations and various stray comments, I’ve actually learned quite a bit about what “the beautiful country” thinks of “the land of the free.”
First, on a bus from Positano (a town very similar to Amalfi) I sat next to an Italian woman who works as a housekeeper in one of Positano’s many hotels. I struck up a conversation to practice my Italian. In the course of our conversation, I said, “Yes, America is…” then paused to think of the right word in Italian. Without missing a beat she inserted her own adjective: “rich.”
My professor, as I said in my last post, likes the way the United States is organized, being many states united by one central government. However, he is frustrated by President Trump’s recent decisions to isolate America from the EU. He wants Europe and America to be close allies.
The woman with whom I meet to practice Italian has been to New York much more than I have. She sees New York as “her city.” I believe this is related to the fact that she herself wants to be a “global citizen.”
The guide who gave us a tour of Amalfi said, half-jokingly, that we American students are too accustomed to the luxury of our home country to survive in Italy, a place where no one uses air conditioning and where walking up 600 stairs in a day is a matter of course. (Incidentally, the griping of some of my peers when they learned these facts may have proved him right.)
During our orientation at Sant’Anna, we were shown this comparison about Italian drinking habits versus American drinking habits (Keep in mind that this was a presentation given to college-aged students):
AMERICA: Drinking age “21”. Preferred alcohol: beer. Limit: what limit? Ever been drunk? Ha!
Finally, on my flight from Denver to Germany, I happened to sit next to an Italian couple, and we had a lovely conversation. They were flying back to Italy after a vacation to the U.S., and had many interesting observations to share. First, they were astonished by the sheer size of America. (America, a single country, is almost as large as all of Europe.) They were appalled by what passes for “Italian” cuisine (our pizza and pasta, for example). However, the husband professed his love for American steak and beef jerky. They were confused by the American sense of individuality. They were also confused by a phenomenon which I would call “commercial extroversion.” The salesmen with big smiles and enthusiastic handshakes, the store clerks and waiters hovering to make sure you have a great experience, the companies sending you surveys to rate your quality of service: all this was strange to them. (It is interesting that I have definitely experienced some of this, especially the hovering store clerks, in the stores in Sorrento.) They said that the Americans are “a young people” and the Italians are “an old people,” perhaps even too stuck in the past.
These conversations were all disconnected from one another, but putting them together paints an interesting picture. If I were to attempt a summary of Italians’ views toward America (truly a bold attempt, since I have been here for less than a month) this is what I would say: Italians see America as a wealthy country, a powerful country, and a country focused on the future. They see it as very different from their own country, which is almost drowning (or, like Venice, quite literally drowning) in history and tradition. And yet, many of them don’t want to be American. Even though their own country drives them crazy sometimes, they love it, and they are proud of its quirks.
And now, pictures! These are some miscellaneous ones that haven’t quite fit in any other post but which I think are interesting.
When I was thinking of my goals for my language learning during this program, I think that I set my expectations too high. I thought that I could become fluent, or nearly fluent, during these five weeks, but in reality I’ve only become proficiently conversational. I still have a long way to go before I can consider myself fluent in Italian, but I also know that it is possible and I know how to do it. My obstacle during this experience was that I let myself speak English too much. All my friends spoke English, and it was much easier to get my point across in English, so that’s what I did. If I were to do this again, I would choose to live in a home without another American student (at least not in the same room) and I would try to take advantage of more of the lectures and activities offered by the school that were solely in Italian. That’s not to say that I didn’t feel engaged in the Italian culture. I felt very immersed and accepted into the Italian culture, which encourages me to continue working toward fluency.
2. Overall SLA experience
If I had to name the one thing that changed the most about me due to this experience, I would say that it was my confidence. If any of my friends and family are reading this, they’re probably laughing right now–I’ve always seemed like an extremely confident person, but in reality I am only confident in situations that I am familiar with. This summer, I was in a foreign country trying to speak a language that I knew only through grammar exercises and 3-minute oral exams. Going into this experience, I was terrified to be so out of my comfort zone, but I assumed that if SLA was willing to invest in me, I could do it. Writing the application was the first step in my growing confidence, and that is my advice to any prospective applicants. Be confident in yourself, and the rest will follow. The Italians would default to speaking English with me until I spoke Italian with enough confidence to convince them that I knew what I was doing.
3. Moving forward
This experience has only solidified my desire to live and work in Italy post-graduation. To do this, I need to improve my language skills even more. So, I am planning on meeting with my fellow Notre Dame students from this SLA program weekly to practice our Italian. Also, I am looking into internships in Italy for next summer in my desired career field. While I did not form any relationships in Siena that I believe will provide me a job, I now have a familiarity with the country and contacts that can help me do the work of finding the correct place for me in Italy. Additionally, I know now that I want to study in Italy for a semester, so during that time I can do research and make connections with potential employers and friends then. This summer has pushed me to continue my studies in Italian because I have fallen in love with the culture, the people, and the country.