Ciao from Sorrento!
I arrived safely in Naples last Friday, and slowly made my way to Sorrento, or rather Sant’Angello, where my host family lives. The arrival in Naples was daunting to say the least. Each person in the airport seemed to speak a different language, hold a different passport, and be in a massive hurry. After looking for a few minutes, I found the driver that the Sant’Anna Institute sent for me so that I could travel safely to Sorrento without anything being stolen from me, which is a danger I haven’t had to worry about much in the US. We drove through the slums of Naples onto the highway, and finally to my apartment where my host mother and sister were waiting for me.
My host mother, Teresa, doesn’t speak a word of English and I couldn’t be happier. It is fun to communicate with her in my broken Italian, and she helps me along the way. Teresa used to be a teacher before she retired, so she is very patient with me and corrects me along the way. She loves to talk for hours at the dinner table, so I am lucky enough to be exposed to her excellent cooking and her passion for walking me through Italian language, culture, and customs. She really loves Italy, and I love to learn, so having her as a host mother is mutually rewarding. I have a host sister, Viviana, who is 26 and interested in American culture, and a host brother, Michelangelo, who is on the older side and likes to joke with me in Italian. He says the best way to learn a language is through humor and I couldn’t agree more. I also have a roommate who also studies at the Sant’Anna institute who is two semesters ahead of me in Italian. She is able to help me with the words I don’t know at the dinner table, and helps me with the words I don’t understand while trying to define them in a simpler Italian. I really hit the jackpot with my host family, and I couldn’t be happier.
Italy, and the Naples area specifically, suffers a tremendous amount of stress and instability after the Eurozone crisis in 2009. The rising debt in Italy has led to a lack of jobs for young people, a lack of national industry, and a lack of hope. This is a constant topic at the dinner table and on the news, and one that I am looking forward to learning more about. As an international economics major with a specific interest in Italy, I have begun seeing firsthand the effects of the Eurozone crisis and the EU in a smaller Italian city and observed the many different reactions of Sorrento’s inhabitants. At some point this week I would like to talk to the different members of my host family to gather their thoughts on the topic, and see where they think the future of Italy is headed.
I only had two days of school this week in addition to a long orientation session on Monday. There are currently only 19 other students in the Summer 1 group, so we’ve become a very close knit group going on excursions and to restaurants as much as possible. Unfortunately, we don’t all speak Italian or take Italian classes, so I am not speaking Italian as much as I wished with the other students. On the bright side, I’ve found a way to incorporate Italian into that aspect of my time here by teaching them Italian words and phrases that they can use in Sorrento to feel more at home in Italian culture, and I think that my lessons are paying off. They have a stronger hunger to learn the Italian language that I am able to satiate.
My classes are spectacular. I am taking Intermediate Italian which would translate to Notre Dame’s Intermediate Italian I class, and a Contemporary Literature class, both taught completely in Italian. The class sizes are small, five and two students respectively, so I feel that I am getting a rather individual lesson each day that is tailored to my level of Italian and my ability and desire to learn. My Italian class is a full immersion class which means that we are only able to speak and listen in Italian. At first this was challenging because I have “stage fright” and really struggle participating in class, but after a short while and with such a small class, I was able to come out of my shell a bit and participate. I feel comfortable asking for clarification in Italian, and my listening comprehension has noticeably improved. This is also a result of my Contemporary Literature class which is taught exclusively in Italian with only one other student. In all honesty, I was really dreading this class and tried to switch it before the first day of classes, but I am incredibly glad I didn’t. The literature course is already one of the most formative and influential classes I’ve taken thus far in my short lifetime. It’s very informal which means that we dictate the direction of the class. The poems and literary works are chosen for us, but what we do with them is entirely up to us as students. We studied two poems by Alda Merini, a female poet from Milan, that completely took my breath away. I had never been interested in poetry, let alone poetry in another language, but I immediately went online after class and started scouring through her works. The next day we studied the Futurismo which is a little experimental for my taste, but my professor explained it in such a way that I was able to let my guard down and appreciate the poems for what they stood for rather than the strange structure and vague meaning. I’ve already learned so much in such a short period of time.
We visited the ruins of Pompeii on Saturday and the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) on Thursday. The hike was difficult and long, but offered by far the most intense and inimitable beauty I’ve experienced. We hiked a trail from a small town near Amalfi to Positano which took about 4 hours, and rested afterwords with some well-earned gelato. The ruins of Pompeii were magnificent. Italy is so rich with ancient history and culture around every corner and Pompeii is a true example of this. The city is much larger than I expected and marvelously well-preserved. I could’ve stayed in the ruins for days if the school would’ve let me. Just a few weeks ago, the Italian President unveiled an exhibit of Polish sculptures by the late Igor Mitoraj that are beautifully scattered around the ancient city. They seem to fit perfectly among the ruins and give a sense of the achievement of the city before the catastrophic eruption. The Polish President was touring the ruins on that same day, and I was lucky enough to briefly meet him as I walked through the thermal baths.
Being in Italy has already afforded me a lifetime of knowledge, growth, and culture. I have learned so much about the nuances of Italian conversation and speech while attempting to improve my comprehension and speaking abilities. I hope that in this coming week I am able meet some native speakers outside of the school and my host family with whom I can form friendships valuable in both their learning opportunities and their companionship.