First Impressions: Sorrento

After a week of Italian courses, I feel like I’m cheating by writing this in English…at the same time a small relief. The travel day went surprisingly well–I was excited that my flight from Chicago to Rome offered Italian newspapers (and that the predominant language spoken was Italian). After reading every article maybe four or five times on that nine-hour flight, I was ecstatic to step foot in the bel paese. A couple train rides and one wavy ferry ride later, I had made it to the imposing outer walls of Sorrento. Following a brief pause to catch my breath, I trudged up the scenic ramp to the upper city just to learn that my apartment for the first week was down in the lower city, but that walk was a nice orientation to the city of Sorrento before I had even unpacked.
I spent the opening weekend before classes walking through the entire city so many times that I knew it like the back of my hand (or so I thought–there is a plethora of hidden gems here). I was eager to start speaking to some locals, and the friendliest ones were usually old men killing time playing cards or watching the city go by. Most of these elders with whom I spoke would speak predominantly Napoletano (the Neapolitan language) and had to struggle to think of Italian “standard” to get me to understand. Despite this, I managed to have some good conversations with them. I met a 93-year-old and an 87-year-old who gave me the classic spiel that starts with, “You know, when I was a kid we didn’t have all these gadgets that you youngsters have nowadays…” I look forward to seeing these guys out and about, playing cards at the local spots or posted up on the benches in the main square.
The school day on Monday started at 08:30 with a brief orientation and final judgement on placement–I was happy to hear that I was placed in the highest level…until class started. Of course the class is completely in Italian which is great and was expected, but the other four students this week all seem to be right on the precipice of fluency. I find myself oftentimes clinging to words I recognize in the teacher’s sentence and then miss the rest of the thought. Each of the other students has been studying Italian for at least 20 years, about 19 more than me. Nevertheless, there are a couple things I cling on to for hope: I rarely err when speaking, although I go at s very slow pace right now, and I sound at least somewhat Italian with my cadence and pronunciation (as opposed to the other students while speaking Italian still sound French or British or Spanish). Now that it is Friday, there is a noticeable improvement in my comprehension and a bit of improvement in speaking. Three of the students are leaving this weekend while one remains for another week–it will be great to see the diversity of students who come and go over these six weeks. The teachers have been great so far and have been very accommodating to my small vocabulary and so-so comprehension skills at the moment. I can’t wait to see my improvements over these next five weeks.
As far as excursions go, I have not done much aside from becoming familiar with Sorrento and taking in the culture around me. In two days I move from my apartment into an apartment in the upper town with a family–slightly daunting but mostly exciting. I look forward to continuing the challenging lessons next week and to exploring some of the surrounding areas such as Capri, Napoli, and Pompeii, to name a few.
A presto, tutti!

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