Hey everyone buckle in because I’m about to cover five months of journaling in one monster Journal. I’ve been in this gorgeous country of Italy for a little over five months now and it’s been absolutely amazing, even though it comes with its difficulties. I hadn’t really written any journals both because it wasn’t something I felt particularly excited to do but also because I felt like maybe my exchange wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t doing well enough as an exchange student to write something that would be helpful to any of you thinking about or going on exchange. It’s a lot of pressure when everyone talks about exchange as the most magical time of their lives and you want to live up to that. But the truth is that exchange is incomparable and no matter the ups and downs, I have already taken so much away from this experience in so many positive ways. I feel a little guilty about not journaling though so I’m going to try to tell you all about these crazy five months.
Month one was pretty crazy. You’ve heard everybody talk about jet lag and culture shock. The flight was pretty bad and when there was a five-hour delay for my flight to London Heathrow they transferred me to a flight going to Lisbon last minute and I barely made my flight. You just have to push through it if you run into any airport nonsense (I hope you don’t). But nobodies ever not gotten there so it’s nothing to worry about. The jet lag and diet change really don’t make you feel good when you get there. I couldn’t really handle eating all that pasta (even though it was so delicious). But all the new experiences are enough to make up for and yucky travel side effects. I was taking pictures of every little street and my host family thought I was crazy. They were so welcoming from the second I got there and luckily I get to stay with them the entire year. They always treat me like family and do small things that are really kind. The second week I got here my host mom took me to show me how to walk to school and we had a cappuccino and chocolate croissant at the bar across the street. My host sister who’s thirteen always wanted a sister so she took it upon her self to teach me Italian with board games and her favorite TV shows and it's one of the main reasons I can speak pretty well now.
Month one was also the month when I started school. Everyone came and shook my hand at the door really excited about the new exchange student. It seemed to me that to them meeting a foreigner was so fascinating because in Italy most people are Italian like you would think. The United States is pretty new compared to Europe so people who aren’t 100% American much more common than in Italy. You guys will get sooo many questions about American culture and movies. My favorite question of all time that they ask is, “Do you put the pasta in the water before it boils?”
School was fun and it was really interesting to see the differences between Italian and American school but it’s really hard to make friends. Because they’ve been in school with the same people for three years and I live in a very small town.
I live in Tivoli, which is a little outside of Rome and it is the cutest thing ever. There are three beautiful Villa’s and an actual castle. The history is so interesting too because it’s actually older than Rome and It’s small so I can walk everywhere and it’s not too much colder than Florida.
Coming into my second month I still spoke pretty bad Italian, but you could see it improve every day. The improvement could really be seen when we would go to my host Grandma's (nonna) house every Sunday for lunch. The food is so amazing and they have a farm where the grandfather makes his own fresh ricotta and mozzarella, grows his own tomatoes, and hunts his own rabbit. They gave us a tour of the whole thing and I was in love with the big white sheepdogs.
During my second month in Italy, I also became friends with the one other Canadian exchange student and we’ve always been there to help each other through our exchange because we’re the only two students in our area. (now three because of the new Australian student)
My host mom also took her, my host sister, and I to Florence and Naples when she had to go there for work. It was so much fun to see everything and eat our way through the cities, literally. Florence had gorgeous churches everywhere it was absolutely beautiful.
In Naples, we met a few colleagues of my host mom who were participating in a food festival and we ate food at every single one of the cute wooden stands.
NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER
In November I had to start dealing with a lot of my host families drama. It really made me want to switch families even though I already felt so at home with them. But it got better and Rotary let me know that if it ever became serious then they would help me change families.
December was awesome. I did get homesick around Christmas but I wouldn’t give up experiencing Natale for ten other Florida Christmas’s. We only ate seafood on Christmas Eve and when it was midnight on Christmas Day we all gave the Baby Jesus a kiss and opened presents. We barely slept before we went back to my host Nonna’s house to eat traditional Christmas Italian food.
I was also my birthday! And I’m so fortunate for the host family that I have because they took me to Vienna and we got to see museums and Christmas markets and all the sightseeing.
JANUARY AND FEBRUARY
Because my host mom is addicted to traveling (I’m not complaining it’s so nice) we spent the new year in Tenerife, Spain. It was gorgeous and me and my little host sister hopped on the bus and explored the island by ourselves while my host parents stayed at the hotel.
It was so interesting to communicate because we would speak Italian, and the locals would speak to us in Spanish but we still understood each other and had conversations in the two different languages.
And by now in the present day, I feel so much better with the language and the culture. I don’t consider myself fluent, but I would like to be by the end of exchange even though it’s very hard to define the meaning of fluent.
It’s hard when there’s drama and when it’s hard to make Italian friends but I’m still having an amazing time. I used to think that my exchange wasn’t good enough and I was so stressed and determined to have the life-changing exchange that all the Rotex talk about at Lake Yale. It stopped me from taking away the positive things and when you stop caring about what you don’t have, you realize you’re still in a whole foreign country and there’s so much to do. I can honestly say that I’m having an amazing time with the ups and the downs. Rome and Tivoli finally feel like my cities.
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