Marin, Outbound to Italy

Ciao tutti! Can you believe I have been living in Monza, Italy for five months! I cannot believe it! I will try to address the most important topics. There is so much to write about, but no amount of words can describe my amazing exchange so far.

I am slowly beginning to pick up the language. I often have to remind myself how much I have learned within just these short months. My exchange began with the inability to distinguish between Italian and Chinese. Adesso, parlo un po e capisco piu che mai. È difficile, quando uscito con i miei amici è non riesco a capire niente perché è veramente troppo veloce, tutti parlano insieme. But I enjoy it nevertheless. It’s so much fun just listening to the conversation! In the beginning, I took the most joy from subconsciously understanding, and I would think “were they just speaking English or Italian?” Now I am at a point where someone will ask me for an English translation of what we are talking about, and my mind goes blank. It is an ongoing joke between my friends and I that I don’t speak any language now, just bits and pieces of English and Italian.

Within the last five months here, I’ve learned so much more than I anticipated. I have learned about myself and, more specifically, who I am without those who have almost always been a part of my life. Now that I have been given the freedom to be who I am naturally, without any outside influence or history, I’ve discovered an entirely new part of myself that’s confident, ambitious, and truly optimistic in every situation. I have gotten to know not only about Italian culture, but so many other cultures, including my own. Meeting students from around the world in the same situation as me, makes the world seem a lot smaller. Along with the local Italians, we have developed a bond unlike any other. We come together to celebrate everyone’s culture, trying each other’s favorite foods, sharing music tastes, discussing different holidays celebrations and even putting together celebrations for the locals to experience.

My host families thus far have been incredibly sweet and considerate. I am so very lucky to have not one, not two, but three families that truly care and are empathetic to the ups and downs of my exchange. I am currently living with my second family, ma sono già legati con mia terza famiglia. Believe it or not, my third host family is actually that of my best friend, Carlotta. My first host mom, Daniela, arranged this for me just a few months after my arrival, since I didn’t have a third family lined up yet. My first host family really was the perfect family to ease me into this new country. Daniela is a busy bee with the best fashion sense. She was always giving me pep talks, reminding me to put myself out there and get busy. My heart fills with appreciation every time I recall it, she encouraged me day after day and thanks to her, I am busier and more social than ever. My first host dad, Sergio, is always joking around, starting conversations (everywhere), and taking the lead. I greatly admired watching him interact with others, friends, family, or strangers, so effortlessly. I am so incredibly grateful to learn so much from each of my families.

This is another aspect of exchange I did not expect to learn so much from. How often in a lifetime does someone get to see what it is really like in the life of another family, and furthermore, becoming a part of that family? Living in another person’s home, getting to know their habits, their interactions, their struggles, and their beliefs, it’s so interesting to see and understand universal family traits. I found it even more interesting to see what was so different between our families. Italians are very openly affectionate, physically and verbally. I will admit, at first the random kisses, pinching of the cheeks, and general loss of personal space is definitely something to adjust to. But after a few months following this affectionate lifestyle, it truly has changed the way I view my relationships with those I love. I feel it has brought me so much closer with my best friends here, I often find myself hugging my friends and kissing their cheeks. I view this now as such a necessity for any relationship, how could I live any other way? This is honestly the thing I will miss the absolute most about Italy, just the love. Another major difference is that I currently live in a very wealthy city. Living in this kind of world, understanding what it’s like from such an inside view, it’s life changing. Kids come to school decked out in designer clothes, with designer shoes and bags. Each family has their apartment here in the city, a house in the mountains, and a house on the beach. I think the most shocking thing to me was realizing, truly realizing, these people don’t worry about money. Can you imagine? It gives me hope as well, that one day I will be successful enough to afford not to worry.

Here in Italy, I have school six days a week, meaning Sunday is the only day with no school. This is not nearly so bad. Generally, I have the opportunity to study Italian and read books throughout the day. School ends at 1:15 p.m., except on Saturday where I get out at 12:15! After school, my friends and I walk home and, yes, actually cook lunch together. This is my favorite part of the day. I always take a picture of the things I buy at the grocery store and send it to my family back home, as my American junk food diet suddenly changed to fresh bread, cheese, meat, and vegetables. This after school ritual has helped me learn to cook and appreciate fresh foods. I feel it has brought us all much closer, as we sing along to Italian classics and talk about our day, and finally sit down to eat together.

As for my social life, it’s safe to say that I’ve made more friends within the past five months than I’ve made in my life. I am so thankful for having gone through a similar experience 2 years earlier when I moved from my hometown in North Carolina after my freshman year to begin my sophomore year in Florida. That move taught me the importance of immediately putting myself out there. I started off my exchange with one main goal: to meet as many people as possible, and put myself into scary social situations so often, that it’s not scary anymore. This has changed my life. Before I arrived in Italy, I was too terrified to talk to anyone, and now I am starting up conversations with random people on the bus, in school, and around the city center. Already, I have made several close friendships, stronger than my own friendships back home. My heart breaks at the thought of leaving this life I’ve built here.

Saturday nights in Monza are something I know I will miss terribly. My friends and I dress up in our nicest clothes and go out into the city center, which serves as the local hangout for all of Monza’s teenagers. I absolutely love living in such a small town, everyone knows everyone. I find it interesting how differently teenagers act here. There are a lot of social standards, which may be stressful at times, but mostly, I absolutely love it. In America, nothing is as formal as it is here, especially not for teenagers. The formalities give each of us, I feel, more of a genuine sense of self, confidence, and independence. During dinner, which normally consists of pizza or pasta, my friends and I are often interrupted every few minutes with other teenagers coming to say hello. They say a friendly “Ciao, ciao amo” to their friends and turn to me, the infamous American, and freeze, unsure whether to greet me in Italian or English, and then, finally, let out a breathy “Hi!” before running to meet the rest of their group. A lot of people here are afraid to speak with me in Italian because they think I won’t understand, and when I tell them I will, they speak incredibly fast with slang I haven’t picked up on yet, and then I smile and nod. Under normal circumstances, though, I am able to understand nearly everything!

Lastly, I must explain, Italians are absolutely wild about their food. They take their food very seriously, they will discuss food with you for hours. You may have realized that I have also picked up on this. The number one conversation starter here is food, and yes, they really do eat pasta everyday. One of the first things anyone says to me when they find out I’m American is, “Oh you like hamburgers haha. You do know alfredo is not a real dish right?” So to all of you Americans reading my blog right now, never mention alfredo to Italians, they will get upset because it’s not an Italian dish at all. Also, never ever mention pizza with pineapple. Never. As my dear friend Carlotta once told me, “Gli Italiani hanno delle regole sul cibo.”

Now that my Italian friend’s can relax, knowing I’ve done my part to educate Americans about these food injustices, I suppose it’s time to end my first blog entry. Love you all.

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