By Nicole Gasiorowski
Growing up, I have always spoken Spanish as a second language. Coming to Italy, I thought Spanish is close enough to Italian right? Kind of, but not at all.
The first night I was in Rome, my roommates and I went to our local grocery store. I wish I was kidding when I say that we stared at the shelves of milk for at least ten minutes trying to figure out which milk to get. This was the first time I really felt uncomfortable. The next morning, we went to the bar and I looked at the menu wondering why everything had two different prices listed. This is when I realized my Spanish could only take me so far. I was officially uncomfortable and I knew I was not going to like feeling this way for 18 weeks.
Because I was staying in Rome all three blocks, I really wanted to learn how to read menus in Italian, understand street signs, or simply buy the right kind of milk.
In order to try to fit in more to Italian culture, I decided to enroll in the Beginner Italian course during my first block. In just six weeks, I learned so much! I learned how to count, say the alphabet, and tell the time. One of my favorite parts of the CIEE curriculum is learning outside of the classroom. My Italian teacher took the class to the bar (coffeeshops in Italy) around the corner so we could practice ordering, making me feel confident in ordering a cappuccino and a cornetto semplice. I also learned that it is typical for Italians to order “al bar” or at the bar, compared to “al tavolo” which is at the table. Al tavolo prices are higher because they include a cover charge for table service.
Not only did we learn how to speak Italian, we also learned about Italian culture. During one class, we rented bikes at Villa Borghese and rode around the park. Thanks to this class, Villa Borghese is a beautiful place where I can find some greenery and quietness in a busy city. Now, I try to go to the park whenever I can to read a book, write in my journal, or go for a walk.
We also learned about eating habits in Italy. Italians have a small breakfast, followed by a large lunch, and a large and long dinner. We went to the local grocery store and learned how to order bread and meats at the counter. We learned that Italians buy in small amounts and go to the grocery store almost every day - something very different from what I usually do in the US! One thing that shocked me was that you can buy milk that is on the shelf or milk that is refrigerated. Eggs are also found on the shelf! At first, these differences felt very foreign and uncomfortable, but have now become part of my everyday life.
I think the most important part I have learned from studying in a foreign country is understanding and accepting that I am a foreigner. As hard as I try to fit in, my blonde hair and tall height make me stand out as an American. When I speak Italian, I speak it with an American accent, throwing in some Spanish words here and there. Although I am a foreigner, Rome has been my home for 18 weeks. By learning the Italian language and culture and living it out in my daily life, it is appreciated by the locals. My Italian teacher told us that the locals appreciate Americans trying to speak rather than not trying at all. Sometimes, the waiter or salesman is going to recognize me as an American, but that is okay. They are not wrong. I am an American. Learning the Italian language and culture is just the first step to learning that it is okay to be uncomfortable.