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!
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.
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!
I’m about half way through my time in Sorrento as of today, and I’ll jump right into the cool stuff this time – this past week, I had the chance to visit the triple combo of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Mount Vesuvius – check out some pics:
It was very interesting to compare the huge city of Pompeii to the smaller city of Herculaneum, and then to visit the volcano that preserved both of these cities in history. One thing I found interesting in Pompeii was the Amphitheater that still remains there – one of the oldest Roman arenas that predates the Coliseum in Rome by 140 years (although it’s much smaller of course, but it was very interesting to put it in perspective like this, since I have seen the Coliseum in person as well.) The ruins in Herculaneum, on the other hand, are actually even better preserved than those of Pompeii, and it was also really interesting to see the ruins of Herculaneum sitting alongside the modern city of Herculaneum today. The most fun for me ended up being the journey up to the top of Mount Vesuvius. A bus took us almost all the way to the top, and then we hiked the rest of the way to get a great view overlooking the city of Naples, as well as getting to see the crater of Mount Vesuvius itself.
To make this site seeing possible, I’ve had to find my way along the train system in the Sorrento area as well, and I’m definitely getting more comfortable with the public transport. The trip to Pompeii was interesting because there was a train strike that day (a common occurrence apparently), so we had to fit our trip in about a 4-hour time slot while the trains were still running. I’m also still enjoying my “quick Italian-speaking moments” throughout my travel experiences, like ordering my train tickets, or asking some questions to the bus driver for my Mount Vesuvius trip – it always depends who I’m talking to, but whenever I leave those short conversations without either sides having to say anything in English, I get pretty excited.
Also this week, I watched the World Cup final with some friends from school in town on Sunday. I’m a big sports fan and of course I have been watching many of the games up to this point, but I have also been enjoying listening to the Italian commentary of each match and picking up on whatever I can understand – for instance, “un gioco pericoloso” when a player makes a dangerous play, which is often followed by “gialla per lui” as the referee shows the yellow card. Back in week 1 when I spent the day in Rome with Francesca’s family, I also realized that the word for a “soccer goal” in Italian – “porta” – is also the same word to mean a “door”. We were talking about soccer, and they kept referring to “the door” as they explained something in English, as if I would know exactly what they meant, but it took me a minute to realize they were just describing the goal. It is always interesting to find fun little differences between our languages like that!
Lastly, one example of a local experience I am trying to do regularly now is visiting with the local summer camp for kids that I was introduced to last week. I got to visit again just briefly this week, and I’m slowly getting better at jumping into conversation when I can. It was a little easier at least when I got to talk with some of the younger kids, maybe 11 or 12 years old, at the camp this past visit. And it’s funny to hear how they are interested in things just like any American kid would be – they asked me things like who my favorite soccer team is (they were disappointed I am not a Napoli fan), and or if I like to play the video game Fortnite (according to one of the girls I met, there isn’t a single boy she knows that doesn’t play Fortnite, which sounds a lot like America to me). I’ve also picked up a few tips about the local dialect – one thing one of the camp counselors shared with me was that a common way to say the word “now” (which I learned as “ora” or “adesso” in Italian) is to say “mo” instead; then, if you want to say “right now”, you just repeat it and say “mo mo”. There’s even a restaurant in Sorrento with that name, and now I know what it means!
Hopefully the second half of my stay in Sorrento will be even better, (and maybe I will improve on my picture taking quality too), but until next time, ciao!
It’s hard to believe my second week in Sorrento is already coming to a close, but things have been good so far! I know haven’t said much about Sorrento yet, so I’ll try to give a good recap here.
First off, taking two classes over the course of just five weeks is proving to be a busy task, but I have been enjoying them both and learning a lot about Italian language and life in the process. The small class size has been very helpful as well, especially in my literature class, in which there are just four of us. My lit professor has been great in really making sure we understand the Italian with which he speaks, plus his name is Domenico, so I knew we’d get along right from the start.
Aside from classes, it’s been a process settling myself into the daily life of Sorrento for sure, but definitely a good and exciting process. Part of it is just the typical things like getting food and groceries, and finding my way around the local streets, but the other part is, of course, doing it all in Italy and really trying to stay immersed in the culture. Both parts have their own challenges, and they often come hand-in-hand. For instance, shopping at the grocery store is not only trying to provide for myself for the week, but also trying to figure it all out in Italian. I may or may not have accidentally bought about three weeks worth of mozzarella, but hey, I ordered it in Italian, and now I can put as much cheese on my daily salami sandwiches as I want, so I’ll call it a win.
By the way, I have been doing my best to only speak Italian when purchasing anything around town or when eating out, which has been a solid way to keep my practice going. (I am pretty much an expert at explaining that I’m allergic to nuts at restaurants, no big deal). It has definitely been challenging pushing myself to keep trying to speak in Italian as often as I can, but I’m slowly improving, and continuing to explore more opportunities to immerse myself in the language. For instance, with some help from a contact at my school, I had the chance to hang out at a summer camp for local Italian kids today, and it was a really good experience. It was fun to be around other young Italians, watching them interact and learning about local experiences like this, while also meeting some really nice people who helped me practice my Italian even more – hopefully I will have more to share in the future about experiences like this!
Overall, there has been a lot to balance these past few weeks between classes, daily life, keeping up with my Italian, and of course finding time to relax and do cool things in Italy, too. This morning I finally took the time to wake up early and go for a run through the streets of Sorrento. Before that, I have only seen the streets filled with people, so it was really awesome having the streets almost to myself while doing a little deeper exploring of the city as well. I also got to take a quick visit to Capri last weekend – a small island to which we travelled from Sorrento by ferry – and you can check out some of my pictures from that trip here too!
Thanks for tuning in to my blog from Sorrento as I begin this journey here in Italy! If you’re reading this, you probably helped me make it to this point in one way or another, so I hope you all know how much I have appreciated your support and encouragement, and I hope I can share at least a piece of my life here with you.
Before I get into my experience so far in Sorrento, my time in Italy began with a flight into Rome last Saturday morning, and while I was there I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the day with a family friend who lives in Rome. Our friend, Francesca, as well as her husband and her two high school daughters, kindly offered to pick me up from the airport and show me around the city for the day before I went on my way to Sorrento. It was really great knowing that I would have this connection right from the start, but to be honest, I wasn’t really sure how the day would go – their family actually does not speak too much English at all, so I had to jump right into trying out my Italian speaking skills. I guess I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity though, right?
Of course, I was practicing in my head and reviewing old notes from class as much as I could on the plane ride to Rome, but it’s hard to really study for a conversation. I have had more than a few instances so far in Italy where I’ve carefully prepared a thought or two in Italian, thinking that I’m all set to have at least a working conversation with someone, but then they start throwing back words at me that I’ve never heard, not to mention at what sounds like 10 times speed to me, and then it usually ends with them resigning to just speaking in English to me if they can, after they see the confusion on my face.
But anyways, the day with Francesca and family went very well. They were very patient with me as I tried my best to speak Italian, and Francesca was able to talk at least a little bit in English whenever we really struggled to go back and forth. It was fun being around her daughters, as well, who at times I could tell were better at understanding me than their parents. It also sometimes seemed like they were solving a puzzle together when I spoke; it felt like every other thing I said in Italian, they would have a 5-second family meeting/chat (in more Italian that I couldn’t really understand of course) before they made a decision on what I actually meant to say. I think I ended up saying everything I meant to, but I may never know.
On the other hand, I tried to help them with their English a little bit too, which made me feel at least a little bit smarter than a 4-year-old trying to speak Italian. They were very excited to talk about all things America with me, as they are preparing to take their first family trip to New York this fall. It was fun to hear their opinions on America, too – they were excited about a new place like America just as I was excited about a new place like Italy, and we had a good time going back and forth about differences between the two.
In the end, it all worked out, and I said “grazie” as many times as I could so they knew how much I appreciated their kindness that day! It was a great little intro into living in Italy for me, and I’m looking forward to building on that experience while I’m studying in Sorrento.