Reflections on language learning and acculturation:
Upon my arrival in Italy in June, I was hesitant to speak with my first taxi driver. I was embarrassed about making mistakes and scared that I would get stuck halfway through a sentence searching for vocabulary. However, over the course of my time in Siena these inhibitions slowly diminished. I learned that Italian are, in general, happy to humor a language learner. Although sometimes restaurant workers or cashiers would address me using English, if I explained that I was in Italy to study Italian, they would happily switch back to Italian, and sometimes even give me mini grammar lessons. Once I got over my fear of speaking to locals, I also realized that I was much more easily able to correct grammatical mistakes or remember vocabulary when it was pointed out to me during a conversation than when I learned it in class. In terms my pre-departure goals, I wanted to be able to blend in well enough to not be pegged as an American immediately. I think I was successful here. By the end of 7 weeks in Italy, waiters often asked me what country I was from. A few times in Siena, visiting Italians even asked me for directions!
Reflections on my SLA experience overall:
SLA gave me my first opportunity to live/travel outside of the United States. I didn’t anticipate how difficult the first couple weeks in a new country would be. Going to the grocery store, eating at a restaurant, or even buying a slice of pizza all showed me how much the little differences matter. For example, trying to buy a 1 euro coffee with a 50 euro bill is a no-go. Over time, though, I learned to set aside my pride and be more open and comfortable with embarrassment. I realized that although locals might get frustrated with tourists, if they notice you sincerely striving to adapt to the culture, they are happy to help. I also learned to sit back and observe before jumping into an unfamiliar situation. By simply watching people in restaurants, train stations, or bars, I gained valuable insight into the little difficult-to-define cultural habits.
Plans for the future:
My time in Italy has given my language skills a huge boost that I will carry through my last year of Italian classes as I fulfill the requirements for the minor. I also feel that the insights I have gained from living in Italy will make my Italian cultural classes much more interesting and fulfilling. In a more general sense, I have developed a desire to live/work abroad after graduation. I know that many American engineering companies have offices in Europe, and my new goal is to get one of these jobs. The skills that I have gained through living abroad this summer will definitely help me whether I end up in Italy or any other country.