Ciao from Bologna, Italy
Italian and I have a love/hate relationship; I love listening to other people speak Italian, but I hate trying to speak it myself. After living in Bologna for two months, my feelings toward the language haven’t changed—but nearly everything else about me has.
Despite knowing little Italian compared to the outrageous percentage of fluent students in my program, I’ve learned so much in a short period of time. Yes, I’ve brushed up on my subjunctive skills and added a few hundred new words to my vocabulary, but in the long run my language skills are unimportant because—let’s face it—they’re fleeting. Instead, I’ve decided to make the most of my five months here by concentrating on making friends, traveling and experiencing every pasta, pastry and pinot grigio that Bologna has to offer. My language skills may be subpar, but socializing and eating are two things at which I’ve always excelled.
Through my never-ending quest for cultural experience, I’ve somehow become a completely different person. I still use my Klean Kanteen and I still watch Modern Family, but being surrounded by Italians and their easygoing lifestyle has altered my entire perspective. I hate sounding melodramatic, but there is no other way to describe it.
For example: after spending too many hours of my life in Miller during the past two-and-a-half years, there are some days in Italy where I don’t even consider cracking a book. It’s not that I don’t have homework—trust me, with my struggle with the language barrier, I need to do more translating than anyone else here—but studying seems unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Why would I waste time reading my art history book when I could be hiking up San Luca, a large hill that we’ve deemed a mountain to make ourselves feel more accomplished? Why wouldn’t I take advantage of the Europeans’ midday break and catch a pisolino (nap—one of the most important words I’ve learned. Second only to spuntino—snack)?
The Italian laziness is contagious, but if there’s one thing they’re serious about here, it’s food. In all honesty, I chose to learn Italian freshman year so that I could study abroad here and eat authentic Italian food. I’d like to say that I chose Italy for more refined reasons like art or architecture, but that’s just not the case. In order to achieve my ultimate goal, I chose a program in the city that’s known for having the best food: Bologna, nicknamed La Grassa—“the fat one.”
If you ask my friends in America, they’ll tell you I’m the pickiest eater in the world. But after taking some cooking classes, hanging out with veggie-lovers and being completely open to trying new things here, I’ve expanded my palate tenfold. While I still eat pizza every now and then, and I’ve stumbled upon the best pastry in Italy—a rustico, if you’re ever in town—I’m proud to say that I’m becoming a bit of a food snob. I won’t waste money on just any gelato when I know exactly which gelaterias have the best flavors. I’m still never going to like mushrooms, and lobsters will always creep me out, but how have I survived life thus far without nutella? Or stracchino cheese?
Although I’m shamelessly impressed by the relaxed style of living and fearless eating habits that I’ve adopted, the most important addition to my life is my newfound optimism. Before venturing abroad, I actually had friends describe me as a pessimist. Now, the complete opposite happens: people commend me for looking on the bright side of every situation. When we accidentally took the wrong train, at least we visited a new city. When we (regularly) climb hundreds of stairs to see panoramic views from bell towers and cathedrals, at least we’re getting a quad workout. When I was assaulted by a woman in Paris, at least she didn’t pickpocket me.
Maybe I’ve become an optimist because I can’t imagine anything being that terrible in Italy. Sure, we got lost, but it was in Pisa. Yes, we missed the train and spent a night wandering outside, [but we were in Venice]. There are worse things. Even though my language skills remain largely elementary, I’m learning enough about this culture and about myself to render my choice to study abroad the best decision I’ve made in my life.
But I know that when I return home, I’ll be forced to revert to some of my old habits. My battles with Miller will resume, and I suppose I’ll have to eat Dana food again at some point, but I’m determined to maintain my optimism—how bad could life be for a college senior with an amazing group of friends who just returned from a semester in Italy?