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“Che sarà, sarà.” What will be, will be. What region we go to and even the country we get sent to is out of our control. But oh, did I get lucky, did I get my first option? No, but Rotary seems to know where everyone will have the best exchange. Not only am I in Italy, but on Sardegna. If you’re anything like me you’ve never heard of Sardegna before so just to give you an idea, its 190 km (120 miles) west of mainland Italy in the Mediterranean. Today marks one month since I’ve arrived on this little island and it’s already managed to steal my heart. Through this past month I’ve been able to discover a lot of things about exchange. I will be the first one to say that my exchange isn’t exactly how I imagined it. Before I left I looked at exchange student’s instagrams and blogs and it looks like they’re living in a fairy tale and in a way we are. We’re getting experiences impossible to get back in Florida and Georgia! But, what I didn’t realize was that exchange isn’t always a fairytale. There are still good days and bad days, I still have to wake up at 6am here, I take the public bus for an hour to get to school, and I still have things I’m responsible for here at home. On exchange you’re developing a life, and it truly is a life, one that I’m so grateful to be living.
I arrived on September 17th a week delayed due to Florida’s good friend Hurricane Irma. When I arrived I was confused as to where to go because I’m used to meeting people before getting your checked baggage but in Italy you get your checked bags before meeting whoever may be getting you. So once I finally found my host family and the Rotarians that greeted me at the airport I went back to my host family’s home and had my first big Italian lunch. And if you don’t already know, Sunday lunch is kind of a big deal and my first meal in Italy was HUGE and I definitely was not prepared. Also Italian food is delicious and I’ve certainly gained some weight in the last month.
When I first arrived I had a host sister who was still home from University and she did a Rotary exchange in the States so it was super helpful having her there my first few days to adjust and it was really nice being able to get to know her since we were able to communicate. The Thursday after I arrived she went back to University so it was just me and my host parents who didn’t speak any English. This was the time when my language skills were officially put to the test. In my opinion, there is no amount of studying that can fully prepare you for this experience. But my biggest tip is, skip learning the grammar right away and focus on phrases and vocabulary. What’s the use in knowing verb conjugations if you don’t know how to use the verb? If you know vocabulary and can string the words together 9/10 times whoever you’re talking to will understand what you’re trying to say and you will also be able to understand more of what’s said to you. This is what I did and I fully believe in it. Where I am most people don’t speak very much english but I can understand a lot of what’s said if it isn’t said too fast and I can also get my points across. While on exchange you also develop really good skills in charades.
At the beginning of my second week I changed host families because my previous parents both worked and they didn’t want me to get lonely since their daughter had left for University. Even with the language barrier I was able to get close to my first family so switching took some adjustment. But it’s really good to see different family lives in your culture and I’ve also been able to bond with my family now.
On the Tuesday after I arrived I started school. Since my arrival was delayed my school had already started and on Monday I was able to just hang out with my host sister and relax a little bit after my long travels the day before. Just a heads up to any future exchange student reading this, school in a language that you don’t understand is so much harder to sit through than school in your native language. My first day of school was good, even though the kids in my class don’t speak very much English they tried, and still do try, to help me when I don’t understand something that’s said to me. Italian school is so much different from school in the US, it would make this post too long to explain all the differences.
At the end of my second week we had Inbound Orientation in Tempio Pausania which is in the North of Sardegna, while I’m in the south. It was so much fun to meet the rest of exchange students and talk to them and compare exchanges. I can see why Rotary stresses to try and not develop “inbound syndrome.” It’s so easy to talk to people who understand what you’re feeling and what you’re going through but it’s also really good to make local friends. In my case, the closest inbounds are in the city, around 50km away, so it’s not easy to go hang out with them which forces me to make local friends that I love. This past weekend me and some of the other exchange students in the area were invited by a Rotaract club to tour some ruins of an ancient village that just happens to be 10 minutes from my house. And after we went and had a picnic where there’s wild horses and we were able to see a couple which was pretty cool.
One of the biggest things they stress in Outbound training is to say yes to everything. Since I don’t always know what’s being said it just works out that way. But since I’ve been here I’ve tried things I never would have tried in Florida. I tried a dance class which I ended up loving, if someone had asked me to try it in Florida I would’ve been way too scared of embarrassing myself to go but I told myself that I would try more things here. I also tried swimming as a sport and even though it wasn’t for me I’m glad I gave it a try!
This last month has been the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on and I’m so thankful to everyone who made it happen and everyone at Rotary and my sponsor club back in Florida and most of all my parents, especially my mom who made it happen. If you want to keep up with my exchange follow my instagram, shoot me a message on Facebook if you have any questions or anything
Ciao, a dopo!