When I came to Italy, I became an idiot. The first night I arrived, my host sister could hardly eat her spaghetti because she was chuckling so hard at the incorrect way that I twirled my pasta. Over the first days, I said “yes” consistently to questions whose answers were definitely not “yes or no,” and I said the same curse word on accident repeatedly as I tried to explain the problems with my key to my host mom (it was only a one letter difference!)
Granted, I still make some of these mistakes a month later, but by the end of my stay in Salerno, I became tanner, rounder, and far more assertive in my actions. What turned me from an idiot to una Italiana autentica was my mindset. It may seem cliche, but Disney is never wrongー it really is a small world. Through searching for comfort and connections to home, I became more confident.
I went to see the Royal Wedding in Windsor right before my Italian program started, and in the security line, I met two couples who live an hour away from me in Missouri, one of whom have a son who went to Ole Miss. Out of approximately 100,000 people who were in Windsor and 7 billion people in the world, I found 4 who came from such similar paths. When there are so many people speaking in different languages and rushing around, it’s terrifying, but it’s important to find what makes you comfortable in any situation. Coincidences happen frequently, but that doesn’t make them any less exciting. Part of the adventure of being abroad is discovering home wherever you go.
Even among the Italians, I could find similarities that made me feel closer to home. One of the reasons I am so grateful for living with a host family is that I could truly see how Italians live. However, as I saw the connections between America and Italy, the greatest gift I took out of the experience was not improved language skills, but greater empathy. Even though the language barrier was present, there are so many aspects of everyday life that are devoid of these divisionsー I could talk to my host family’s dog confidently! My host sister would get embarrassed by her mom, my host dad would crack “scherza il babbo” (a.k.a. dad jokes), and I felt at home.
People are not inherently scary, but not knowing an environment can be downright terrifying. Once you shrink the world a little bit, everything seems a bit more feasible.