Looking back at my time in Italy, and particularly at my time in Siena, I can say that I definitely got the full-immersion experience. Second language acquisition is much more than classroom learning. Even in Italy, where I was at a school solely dedicated to Italian language learning at the hands of Italian instructors, I experienced the most growth when I was out and about interacting with locals and other university students. I also realized just how helpful it is to know Spanish, especially for the comprehension aspect of learning Italian. I was pleasantly surprised to find that many Italian idiomatic expressions exist in Spanish as well. These similarities made it easier for me to pick up on the nuances of Italian.
My favorite part and the thing that most helped me grow was developing friendships with Italian university students.
One of my Italian professors at Notre Dame once told the class that she wished everyone could experience an Italian friendship. At the time I wasn’t really sure why she said that. I wondered how an Italian friendship could be so different from an American friendship. Now I know exactly what she meant. I don’t mean to say that Italians are superior to others, nor that the friendships I’ve developed in Italy are objectively better than all those I’ve developed at Notre Dame, but I can’t deny that there is something beautifully different about them. Two of the people who made this clear for me were Betta from Bolzano and Giacomo from La Spezia.
It was a shared love for languages that allowed my friendship with Giacomo to grow. He helped me with Italian, and I helped him with English and Spanish.
Betta is one of the most energetic, life-loving people I have ever met, and also one of the most genuinely caring people I know. She was always very patient with me, explaining words or expressions I didn’t understand, and her sense of humor is “top.”
I feel that I did meet my goals for the summer, which included being able to hold a fluent conversation on simple topics and improving my overall understanding of the language.
My worldview has definitely been broadened by my experiences in Italy. I have a better idea of the way people in other parts of the world perceive the US and other countries.
The only piece of advice I would give to anyone preparing to start a summer language program is to not be afraid to take some risks and make friends, because the people one shares these experiences with make all the difference. Without the friends that I met, Italy would have been just another place, devoid of meaning beyond academic endeavors; instead, it has become a place I am eager to come back to, a place of beauty and friendship.
I will continue my study of Italian at Notre Dame, pursuing a double major in political science and Italian, and I am looking forward to studying at the University of Bologna during the upcoming spring semester.