La fine: grazie, Sorrento

My last week began with a celebration, a fitting way to begin my goodbyes. Monday night was the conclusion of the festivities for the feast of Sant’Anna, the patron saint of Marina Grande and of my program in Sorrento. In addition to an hour-long fireworks show, there were many food vendors and games set up on the marina. It seemed as though everyone from Sorrento was down on the Marina, as the restaurants set up buffets so they could feed all of the visitors. It was fun to participate in such a light-hearted atmosphere.

Our farewell dinner on Marina Grande

However, my last week was not all fun and games. I also had to take finals and give a presentation so I spent a lot of time studying. One of my exams involved a listening comprehension exercise that I felt quite prepared for. My strong suit is being able to comprehend Italian; I find that forming sentences on the spot is what is difficult for me. Since I only had to summarize the key points from the audio recording, I assumed that would be the least challenging part of the test. To my surprise, I struggled to pull out the main ideas. Instead, I found the essay portion of the exam easiest, which usually would be most difficult for me. Reflecting back on it, I think being surrounded by the Italian language most of the time allowed me to pick up on phrases and syntax, which I was able to use in my own writing.

As I traveled home today, I was eager to use my Italian one last time before landing in the US. Luckily for me, the people next to me on the flight were Italian, meaning that in order to communicate we used only Italian. They were excited to hear about my adventures in Sorrento and were jealous because, to them, Sorrento is a vacation town and they could not fathom spending half of the summer there. They asked me about life in the US and things to do in Chicago, where they were visiting.

If I had this flight experience while coming to Italy, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to start a conversation with strangers in Italian. After using it for nearly 6 weeks, I felt like I didn’t have to put so much effort into holding the conversation. While my experience with my final exam proves that I still have work to do on my language skills, this conversation demonstrated to me that all of my hard work was not for nothing.

It was hard saying goodbye to this view!

I find it hard to believe that my studies in Sorrento are over and that I start classes at Notre Dame in 2 weeks. I am excited to get back and continue improving my language skills. Thank you so much for following along on my journey.




Between my residence hall and the city center, I pass many stray cats waiting on the side of the road where they are fed daily. As an animal lover, I always say “ciao” to the gatti as I walk by. One day, I met the man who feeds the cats and had a very interesting conversation about animal rights laws in Italy as compared to the US. He said he admires the American justice system as it is more efficient and has stronger laws than what he finds in Italy. However, the only area where he thinks Italy has the US beat is animal cruelty.

I learned that in Italy, the animal shelters do not euthanize cats or dogs even if they reach capacity because it is illegal. The man said it is important to him that he helps keep the number of homeless animals down in order to prevent that law from changing. He thinks that if the number of homeless animals were to grow, the Italian government would see no choice but to allow euthanasia. Thus, he does his part by bringing all of the homeless cats that he can find to a vet to get them spayed. He said he also wants to keep the number of homeless cats down so that the shelters are not overwhelmed to the point that they give up their animals for product testing.

I really enjoyed speaking to him because I think what he does for the cats is really admirable. He puts out food that he pays for out of pocket for the 120 stray cats in Sorrento. He is working for a cause that he believes in and proves that one person can make a difference.

One of my favorite feline friends

Since I did not know the technical legal words in Italian and he did not know them in English to discuss animal laws, this conversation was good practice for rearranging thoughts in my head in order to utilize vocabulary that I do know. It was nice seeing my Italian getting put to good use so that I could have an intelligent conversation about a topic I find important.

It is hard to believe that my five weeks in Sorrento are wrapping up as I leave this weekend to go back to the States! As always, thanks for reading.

Until next time,


This past week I had a long weekend, so I took the opportunity to travel to Sicily with one of my friends from school. I was fortunate that I could stay with a local who is a friend of my family in the small fishing village of Aci Trezza so I could get a taste of life in an Italian town that has fewer tourists than Sorrento. Aci Trezza is located about 5 miles outside of Catania and has a population of 5,000. It is known for having the Rocks of the Cyclops right off its coastline. It was thought to be home to the Cyclops son of Poseidon, about whom Homer wrote in the Odyssey.

The view from Sylvia’s of the Rocks of the Cyclops

I was able to converse in Italian with some friends of my host Sylvia over a few meals. One couple spoke limited English so it was fun for me to get to know them only in Italian. Their son is studying biology in the US so we spent a lot of time discussing their impression of the United States.

First, they kept commenting on how they thought their son looked more American than Sicilian in the way he dressed. They seemed proud that he was able to assimilate to life in the States so well. It was a surprise to the couple when he told them that he wanted to go to college in America, but they decided paying for an American education is one of the best gifts they could give their son. Last year, their son graduated with a 2-year degree before continuing onto his Bachelor’s. I was told about Italian graduations at which men would wear only a jacket and tie instead of the classic American cap and gown. They thought the American garb for graduation was beautiful and they loved all of the festivities that surrounded his graduation.

Overall, this couple had a very positive idea of America as it was giving their son an education he would not have received in Italy. He plans on attending medical school and then practicing in America. According to the pair, they think the American medical system is better structured and more fair in the distribution of care than what they are offered in Italy. Doctors will offer same-day appointments and procedures to friends in Italy rather than to patients with the most time sensitive cases.

I learned a lot about Sicilians’ impressions of America from this couple and other people I conversed with over the weekend. Not everyone was as complimentary as they were, but it caused me to reflect on what life in the States offers and doesn’t offer as compared to what is available in Italy.

I am back in Sorrento just in time to wrap up my studies and spend one last week in Italy.

Until next time,


Italian or Neapolitan?

I have now completed three weeks in Sorrento and have noticed a great improvement in my language comprehension. Whenever I am around Italians, whether that’s walking down the street, in a restaurant, or on the train, I will people watch and catch bits of their conversations. I learn a lot about the town and life here that way. For example, I hear people complaining that it is too cold if the weather drops below 27 degrees Celsius (which is 80 degrees Fahrenheit). I also hear about events I otherwise would not have known about, such as an eclipse that is happening on July 27 and a jazz festival in the Piazza at the end of July.

However, there have been a few times when I felt as though I have not been studying Italian for 3 years because I could not comprehend a single word in an entire conversation. It turns out that many casual conversations that locals have with each other are done in a dialect that sounds like Italian, but is totally different. Curious to learn more, I asked (in standard Italian) a few locals about it. In general, I was told that they consider the Neapolitan dialect a separate language and the variations of it that are spoken in different towns of the Campania region its dialects. Some general characteristics of Neapolitan are cutting off the ends of verbs and pronouncing “e” and “o” at the ends of words the same.

A younger man told me about the slang word “fra,” which is short for “fratello” (meaning brother).   It is equivalent to saying “bro” in English. “Fra” in Italian means “between,” so I learned that the meaning of some words differ in Neapolitan.  Neapolitan is like English in the way that teenagers use slang words that adults don’t understand or utilize.  “Fra” is an example of this. Another common phrase that is used by adults is “a salut vost,” which translates to “to your health.”  This phrase is said when giving a toast with drinks.  It demonstrates the guillotining of the final vowel of words.

One of the locals I asked about the local dialect was my guide Anna for the Path of the Gods hike. The hike goes along the Amalfi Coast, so it has some amazing views.

One of the views from the hike!

There is a shepherd named Antonio who lives off the land near the Path of the Gods, so we stopped at his house to try his produce, olive oil, goat cheese and juice. It was all delicious and so fresh.

Antonio’s “dining room”

At the end of the hike, Anna and I stopped in a bar before going our separate ways.  The owner served us “granita al limone” (a lemon slushee drink) and thanks to all that I had learned, I was able to toast to his good health in Neapolitan.

Thanks for reading!


Capri, Pompei, and Vesuvius

As I finish my second week in Sorrento, I am starting to feel at home. By wandering through the streets and asking around, I have found some places where I intend on being a regular, two of which are a pizzeria and gelateria. While this means I have gotten pizza and gelato nearly every day this week, it also allows me to converse more in Italian (it’s a win-win)!

This week I tried to cook a meal that would yield enough leftovers so I could eat lunch quickly between classes, which I have 5 days a week. I thought chicken would be easy, so I went to the supermarket for 4 chicken breasts—what I thought would be the right amount for the week. I was very proud of the fact that I ordered in Italian until I was handed the package and saw that it was way more than I had intended on buying. It turns out that chicken breasts in the United States are sold in halves, while they are sold whole here! I discover little differences in day-to-day life like this one nearly every time I venture into town, but they keep teaching me about a way of life that is different than mine in America.

Since I am more settled here, I have been able to take a few trips to the surrounding area. On Sunday, other Sant’Anna students and I went to the island of Capri, where we went to the top of Monte Solaro, got lunch in town, and were able to swim in the sea.

The view on Capri

Yesterday, I went to Pompei where I took a tour to learn about life there during the first century AD. Visiting a site that I have studied since grade school made for an exciting day. The town is larger than I imagined and also better preserved. I found it fascinating how archaeologists can know what types of food were sold in each store, to whom some of the houses belonged, and what the news was in Pompei before it was destroyed by the Mount Vesuvius. At the end of the tour, I saw where archaeologists are currently excavating, and probably will be for the next 50 years.

The view of Mt. Vesuvius from Pompei

It was interesting to be in Pompei this week as it has been in the news here recently. On June 30th, there was a Gay Pride Parade in Pompei, which stirred up a lot of controversy. Discussions of LGBT are very polarizing here, with the older generation being more conservative than the younger one; however, as a whole, Italy seems more conservative than the US on this topic. Some people I talked to, even those who are accepting of gay marriage, were shocked at a Pride Parade being held in Pompei, a sacred place to many. During my trip there, I could see rainbow flags on the streetlamps on the block next to the ruins.

Today I hiked up Mount Vesuvius, which felt fitting after being in Pompei yesterday. Despite only being a 30-minute hike to the top, the steepness of the trail made it more difficult than I expected. However, the climb was worth the amazing views of the volcano, the sea, and the surrounding towns.

The view from the top of Vesuvius
The view of the crater

Tomorrow we are watching the World Cup final in town, even though it would be more fun if Italy had made it in the tournament. However, it’s fun watching games here as everyone is a calcio fan here!

Ciao for now!

Ciao Ciao!


I arrived in Sorrento on Sunday after flying into Rome. Minutes after clearing customs, the reality of being in Italy hit me when I had to locate my lost suitcase. I walked up to the “Alitalia” desk and handed the man my passport. Upon seeing my nationality but also my last name he asked if he should speak in English or Italian. I requested a “slow” Italian and he obliged, which gave me the chance to practice my italiano. In addition to finding my suitcase, he also told me about life in Rome, his family, and how to best travel in Italy. I was grateful for the opportunity for conversation and just as thankful for the retrieval of my bag!

Touring Rome gave me more exposure to the language, despite everyone’s insistence on speaking English with me. I struck a deal with some shop owners and waiters that I would practice my Italian with them and they could respond in English to practice the language with me. It worked out well for everyone involved.

The view from my room in Sorrento!

I arrived by treno to Sorrento, which is a beautiful beach town with a population of about 16,000. The small size means that everywhere can be reached by walking—if you don’t mind going uphill! I live about 10 minutes from the town center, Piazza Tasso. Nearly every Italian I have met here has proudly taught me about Torquato Tasso, a late Renaissance poet who was born in Sorrento. One man said that every adult who lives here has read poetry by Tasso.  Sorrento has streets, plazas, and restaurants named after the late poet.

On the walk to Piazza Tasso, there is a view of Mount Vesuvius!

Even though it is a fairly small town, Sorrento has many English speakers. However, whenever I go into town for groceries, dinner, or gelato, I try to speak Italian. The people here are so willing to supply a word or finish my sentence if I seem to be stuck, which I really appreciate as it helps expand my vocabulary.

Today I went to a gelato shop and was determined not to require any assistance with speaking Italian.  I have, after all, gone out for gelato probably 5 times in the past 3 days. Everything was going according to plan (mango and strawberry gelato was put into a small cone for me) and panna (whipped cream) was added on top per my request. After paying for my gelato, the server continued talking to me, which I was not expecting. He saw my blank face and immediately translated what he had said to English: stand in front of the fan to slow the melting of your gelato. This interaction reminded me that in addition to getting comfortable with speaking only Italian, I have to continue my study of vocabulary.

I look forward to the coming weeks during which time I hope to become a regular at my favorite coffee and gelato shops so I can understand more about the culture and continue practicing the language.

Grazie for reading about my Italian adventures!