Brooke, outbound to Italy

The Start of an Adventure!

Well, my first few weeks have already come full circle. I woke up this morning, stepped outside and said to my self “you’re in an amazing city.” Truthfully, I am. I came to Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily not exactly knowing what to expect. I had done research and looked on the Internet, but how much is that really? Going through the airport, I only had connection with my host family when I had wifi. Concerning my flights, everything was ok, until I got to Amsterdam.

My flight to Rome was delayed, so when I arrived in Rome, my next flight would have left. But that’s ok. I’m an expert in airports, considering it took me 52 hours just to get back home this summer from Taiwan. I have been around the block a few times in airports, so I was comfortable. Stepping off the plane in Amsterdam, I only knew my flight time and destination. There was no kiosk to help me, so I went to the big screens where all the flight times were. There I found my gate number and something called a transit station. Ok, this was new. Probably had something to do with the fact that Amsterdam is a big hub for all of Europe. My Transit Station was ”T2”, so that’s what I went looking for.

“T2” turned out to be something like a customs line and a second baggage check. Going with the flow, I followed the procedures. After that I found the “T2” ticket station. I printed up my ticket and the itinerary for all of my flights. I thought maybe it would come in handy later to have all of my flights. Realizing I had about over an hour to kill, I exchanged my dollars to euros and sat down with my sketchbook. If you have to know one thing about me, it should be that, I’m an artist. I love art and while I’m in Europe, I hope to travel and see as much art as I can!

My trouble started when I landed in Rome. For some reason I had to re-print my Amsterdam and Rome tickets when I arrived in the airport. Well, “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” I had no idea where to go or what I should do in the Rome airport, so I just followed people that were on my flight. We ended up at a luggage claim. I was thinking, “Ok, this is where I get my luggage and go through customs.” I waited for an hour. No bag of mine turned up.

Fed up with waiting, I decided to go look for a check - in counter, as I had done so many a times coming back from Taiwan. I found one, and the clerk solved the very problem I had at the moment. He put me on the next flight to Cantina, told me how to properly pronounce that city’s name, and re - directed my luggage. I went through security and had another hour to wait for my next flight.

I was exhausted. I passed out on the plane. Only to wake up an hour later to realize we had been delayed for an hour, and we were about to take off. Just so you know I was supposed to arrive in Cantina at about 5pm. I arrived at 9pm. But that’s not the best part. My luggage didn’t arrive till four hours later. During that time I waited two hours in the terminal to only find out only half of the planes luggage was there. Yeah, Italy. Apparently this was very typical of Italian airlines.

At this point I was exhausted from traveling. I went to find my host parents who were no doubt waiting for me. Oh, did I mention that I at this point, I could only communicate with wifi, and there was none when I got to Rome. Yep, I had no way to tell the host family what was going on till I met them. But they were there waiting for me. They helped me get all of my luggage and we headed to their house or my new “home”.

It’s been a month now since arriving. Since I got here, I’ve eaten nothing but pizza, pasta, and fish. Italy is truly the land of carbs. Everything I have tried, I have liked. I don’t know what it is about the food that makes it so amazing. Maybe it’s because everything is grown locally on this volcanic island? It's all so fresh even down to the fish. Which, by the way, I can walk down to the bottom if my apartment building and there is a Pescaria (fish shop).

Food dominates when mealtime comes around. The meal always starts out with some pasta dish, and then comes mozzarella, maybe some bread, and some Italian deli meat. After that is coffee and maybe a cake if you want. At first I thought they were just trying to feed me well. I was new and they wanted me to try all the good Sicilian food. As it turns out the Sicilians just have big meals for lunch and dinner. My host mom explained to me that they don’t really have a breakfast. Maybe a coffee espresso, some fruit, or perhaps bread with Nutella. I really miss biscuits, eggs, gravy, and bacon.

The cars are so small here. I have a VW bug at home, which I thought it was a small car. Here, it's one of the bigger cars. All the cars are small, because all the roads between the houses are tiny, ancient lanes. I can’t imagine my mom’s big Yukon XL trying to weave its way though the alleys of Siracusa. Besides the cars, almost every teen has a moped. At the age of 14 you can get a moped license. At 18 you can get a car license, but until then every young person rides a moped. It’s easy for mopeds to weave in and out of traffic. It's kind of scary having to share the roads with mopeds.

The driving laws are a little loose here. That’s one of the main differences I’ve noticed. Most of the regulations for driving are disregarded. Except for stoplights. Its like everyone here expects all drivers not to be stupid and know how to drive. Same with the parking. I’ve seen my host mom park in some pretty impossible places. Mopeds can park practically whereever they want, including in between cars and sometimes on sidewalks.

One thing I really like is the Italian time frame. They have a half hour of leeway to arrive somewhere. For example, if I’m going to meet some of my new friends at 8:30pm, some may not arrive till 9pm. Its part of the relaxed Italian life style. Taking a nap in the afternoon is common as well. It gets really hot here, and the food is lulling in the heat. So, the combination of the two, will sooth you into an after noon nap.

Being an exchange student, yes, you will come across awkward situations. Mainly these situations are caused by cultural differences and miscommunication. I didn't know that in Italy, even though you don't have assigned seats, you stay in the same seat. I found this out on the second day of school when I chose a different seat. The guys in my class, to them, their seats are very important. They all want to sit as far away from the teachers as possible.

On the first day I had no choice to sit in the front. On the second day, I sat in the middle of the class. I had unknowingly disrupted the balance of the class. That day I saw the Italian passion come out as the males of the class argued about a new seating arrangement. Of course, it was all in really loud Italian so I had no idea what was going on. I have to admit it was scary. Not knowing a language and having it shouted all around a room and at you can be kind of scary. The girls of the class told me it was ok, that the guys were crazy. They explained to me the dynamics of seating arrangements in Italy. I had learned my lesson. It's the fourth week of school and I've been sitting in my original seat ever since.

I must specifically talk about Italian passion. As I mentioned, Italians can be overly passionate compared to Americans. Everyone knows Italians use body language as much as spoken language. Italians don't just like things, they love things. Using body language helps get that out. Everyone here is incredibly nice. Everyone wants to help. I was welcomed with open arms, and accepted in like one of the family immediately upon my arrival. You can tell someone's true feelings by their body language, and actions. It's one of the reasons why I love Italians. It's easy to read them, and they make sure you know how they feel.

My current host mom, on Tuesdays, works during lunch. So my third host family invited me to have lunch with them on those days. I didn't know I could feel a part of two different families. It seems that everyone here is a part of one big loving family. On the topic of loving, the Italians kiss on the cheek here. I wasn't exactly prepared the first time I kissed a stranger on the cheek. It's still strange to me, and I don't know exactly when to or not to give kisses. But, hey, it's an experience. I think when I return to America I'll still try to dollop out cheek kisses like they do here.

A month has passed. It doesn't even seem like it. I can clearly remember exiting the Cantina airport for the first time. I've made magnificent friends and eaten more pasta and pizza than I thought possible. I love it here. I can feel myself becoming more and more Italian every day. Learning the language isn't easy, and some times I miss my friends and family back home really terribly. But when you’re on exchange, you have to take the good and the bad together. Learn something from everything, and as an exchange student you can grow in unimaginable ways. I could preach all about exchange for hours, but the only way to truly know is to experience it for your self. I’m not kidding when I say if you want to do something amazing, go apply. Going on exchange is eye opening to the world.

If you want to have the best year of your like, you also have to accept it will be your worst. Humans instinctively hate the unknown. When you’re on exchange your uncomfortable, and you feel out of place sometimes. Who in their right mind would do that to themselves? An exchange student would, because in the end you become familiar with the unknown. After some time your host country will suddenly become home. “Its not a year in your life, it’s a life in a year.” And if you want to have the most life changing life in a year, become an exchange student. You won't regret it.

I'm not going to lie, not everything is lollypops and smiles. It's inevitable you will miss your family and friends. But that's the price you have to pay for an amazing exchange. I am constantly amazed at the history and artifacts here. It has that same sense of a walled city by the ocean that St. Augustine does. Seriously, Siracusa has the largest amount of catacombs and buried temples than any other city. Its one reason why the people here are so proud of their city, as well as why they can’t have a subway in it. Italians really pride them selves on their local culture and antiquities. Everywhere in my city there are ancient ruins. It’s incredible to see these thousand year old structures, still somehow, standing. My favorite to drive by is, the cave dwellings. It looks like little homes carved out from the rocks. They also have an ancient Greek amphitheater. It is one of the three largest still in use.

Some of what you would expect of Sicily is true. The people are warm and friendly. It’s sunny. Open-air markets are filled with the freshest produce and amazing cheeses. The food is great. And yes, they really do talk with their hands. My first host family has 2 daughters. One studying at the University in Milan and the younger is a Rotary Youth Exchange, just like me. So, I am in her bedroom and actually "filling in" for her at school. I don’t really understand a lot at school, but I now have an Italian tutor 3 times a week. I am the only Rotary Exchange student in Siracusa. It’s just the beginning and I’m excited about all that will come my way. Till next time.