isabella, outbound to Italy

I think that the western and eastern hemispheres are different universes. Something that blows me away is just how drastically different every country on this side of the world is. Being American you get used to similarity because America is so great and big. You do not get that here. You have so many countries and so many cultures and you just grasp so much from the impact that there is so much difference in everyone. Americans have so much diversity, most of us are all from different countries all over the world but we still have a new nationality that brings us together. You would think America would be the best place to get to know cultures all over the world because America is basically made up of that but in reality you just can't.

The difference is that here the diversity is so clear but back home we all have that one thing that makes us one. The American culture is beautiful and as we continue to live there it covers up the differences between cultures and makes them one so you can't get the whole picture of a culture because it is mixed in with the American one. To really get to know a culture you have to live in it. You have to experience it. Once you do this, you start looking at everyone and life in general so differently. You start accepting and loving and your mind never stops exploring.

F O O D. Italian food is a sneak peak of heaven. Seriously, it is good. Every week I try new things. New pasta, new pizza, new wine. Those three things are principles here in Italy, but it's not all there is. A lot of it is the same food but made in such a different and extraordinary way that it becomes its totally own dish. Rice is different, meat is different, and if I told you how much cheese I've wouldn't believe me. At a supermarket you see a lot of cheese. A whole wall full of hundreds of different types. Its absolutely incredible.

In my first host family they grew a lot of veggies themselves. The first day I got here I saw around 50 veggies I've never seen before. I've seen a lot of different dishes while at the same time seen none of the ones I'm used to. My biggest cultural shock when it comes to meals here is breakfast... its non-existence in my diet. Occasionally I'll drink coffee but that just about does it. It hit me when I came down to eat breakfast and saw only crackers. Italian breakfast is very light. Its made up of a drink and a simple sweet pastry or cracker. Whereas in America breakfast is a big meal. Seeing no eggs for breakfast... it changes you. Now when I eat eggs or a big breakfast my stomach isn't used to it.

There is a lot that Italians are missing out on in food. I'm hispanic and I didn't realize that of course they wouldn't have any of it here! I gotta open their eyes soon. The food has also been very different by family. There's two types of Italians in this world: the healthy and the gormandizing. Fortunately I've lived through both. In my first host family, my mom was 80% vegan. She incorporated a lot of vegan dishes on the table. She would make us our own dishes as well of course. I found that the kitchen in that family was very simple, healthy, and very good.

In my second host family I got the real deal when it comes to the verb: to gormandize. I got a heavier and realer feel on what Italian food is. I ate new things almost every day and ate a lot of it. It was an extraordinary experience... until you weigh yourself. A problem when you encounter new food is not knowing how to eat it. So I began to train myself to eat smaller portions and to not eat until I was about to explode. It was hard. I was very happy in my second host family and I love going back to meals cause she is such a great cook.

I'm was also happy in my first family because I've learned a lot about falling in love with salads and meals that will help me stay fit. However, whenever there is pasta or pizza on that table I purposely forget. Gotta love Italian food! On another note, GELATO. Italian ice cream is super good. I don't eat a lot of it, mostly because I don't have a very big sweet tooth to begin with but when I eat it there are no regrets. Its hard having so much good food that you want to dive into and keep fit. I've learned that yes, it is about what you eat, but also about how much you eat of it. I'm thankful for my third host family's way of eating because they are kind of at an in between from my first and second, and the best part is that they only do one course so you don't ever eat too much. You can enjoy all the wonders of the Italian kitchen without stuffing yourself. I still have yet to learn how to cook a lot of stuff for my family back home. I think I'll start a recipe book!

Lets talk about pizza. Italian pizza is very good. I feel like the big difference in pizza here and back home isn't necessarily the taste or quality but the variety and quantity. My first host family took me to a pizzeria one night. It was my first Italian pizza in Italy and I was definitely left amazed. I was confused when they asked me what pizza toppings I wanted on my pizza and they were confused when I told them it was fine whatever they got on the pizza pie they wanted to order. They then explained that you don't order one big pizza and share it like they do in America, you order one big pizza for yourself! I was amazed when I got served an entire pizza pie in front of me. I thought "this is all for me? impossible!" but my stomach showed me differently cause I ate the entire thing.

Another thing they do here is called an "Aperitivo", which translates to appetizer. It's a thing to go out before dinner with your friends for drinks and small appetizers. You go to a bar and you order any drink and they bring it to you with a platter of small portions of sandwiches and pizzas and veggies. It is a very lovely thing.

During my first month I went to a mountain with my host parents and after walking up it we arrived at a restaurant. It was so beautiful. I really love spending time with them, they mean a lot to me and it is never boring. Yesterday, I went hiking for the first time! It was crazy because I'm a city girl and I was dressed in what I thought was appropriate ( a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers ) but to my surprise I was given different socks and shoes and sticks to hike up the mountain. It was an amazing experience. I was out of breathe half the time but it was unforgettable. There were also lots of bugs which a city girl like me had a major issue with.

I was strong that day as I took off caterpillars from my sleeves. We also saw a snake! At the end of the hike there was another restaurant where we sat and ate with a family friend who is an amazing cook. I even got to ride a horse! It was overall a great experience. Every week all the granddaughters eat next door at the grandma's house. It's just us and the grandparents and a plate called "Cotolete" with fries and ketchup or lime (I'd like to take credit for integrating the ketchup & lime into the tradition). It's chicken, but covered in bread crumbs and then fried. Its so good. The menu is always the same, and it's a small tradition I find so deeply special.

We also have occasional pizza nights at the grandparent's house. My host grandma has a huge pizza pan she uses for the entire family. Every house cooks a pizza and brings it down to the tavern. There is a very big table down there and we all sit down and eat. I've had many adventures with my host family. I'm gonna really miss them.

Something that I also was not expecting is being so distant from my Rotary Club here. I've gone to about two dinners they host at a 5-star hotel here in my city but that is about it. The times I've gone have all been great! They love having us. It's fun because it is at a very fancy hotel so we all have to go fancy and I always love dressing up. We also get to eat five course meals and just the entire feel of elegance is pleasing. The second time I went I had to introduce myself. I had written down everything and practiced almost every day. It went pretty well considering my Italian was not so great back then.

My Rotary Club President was very pleased to meet me. His excitement made my happy as he took his phone out of his pocket to show me his phone case which was a Florida License Plate. It's always a fun time. I'm actually trying to set up a clothes drive with my Rotary Club right now. Hopefully we get to do more together.

I would like to end with saying how much I've grown in appreciating small things. Sundays are beautiful. Everyone is outside and all you see are smiles all over. It's a family day, but there is a beautiful unity you see in every family and I love that. It's the day where no one works and everyone has a chance to breathe and forget about the week's stressful aspects. I love seeing my host parents cooking together and always coming up with a fantastic plate.

They have so many different cooking books, although I'd say the inspirational books stay on a shelf most of the time. This family makes me laugh, however after every good moment I can't help think that it'll all be gone soon. I try not to think about it, it makes me really sad. I don't know if they'd say the same about me. As an exchange student you always feel judged, but its not their fault. You're the expert in accepting the difference in cultures, while the people around you are working on it. They are very different from my real family, but they have found a way to stay in my heart.

I'm very fortunate. I'm living in Italy. I mean who else gets to say that?! (I guess everyone else living here right?)