It was a rather hot afternoon when I gathered my luggage and headed into the unknown. As I followed my host family along the tattered streets in Rome to the parked car we would be taking back to their house, I pondered at how I was going to spend the next six weeks of my life as a foreign exchange student. Not until this day actually came, did it occur to me that I would be facing the greatest challenge of my life thus far.
I knew no one. I didn’t speak Italian; at least not very well. I was away from home.
Yet none of this mattered because reality was hitting me like a culture shocked deer in the headlights of an Italian Vespa and the only way to dash out of danger was to look in a new direction. We finished our dinner of homemade pasta around an old wooden table that night. The television rattled off the evening news in Italian, the scent of brewed coffee filled the kitchen space, and we continued to talk.
It’s all about the food and people in Italy. I attempted to put together as many Italian words I knew in order to answer their questions and despite the language barrier I was still able to learn. My host dad, Antonio, is a Forest Ranger and leaves on excursions throughout Italy to protect the natural environment.
Their son Alessandro is enrolled in the Italian militia. On Wednesday nights Clemetina, my host mom attends a class to learn English, which also happens to be my host sister’s favorite subject in school.That night Antonio asked me if I’d like to go to a concert in the town center of Rieti, ‘Volrei andare a Rieti per un concierto Eva?’ I answered with a yes, ‘Si, va bene,’ though I honestly didn’t have the required bundle of energy to be going out at 10:30. Not to mention my stomach was twirling in knots from the thought of not knowing what awaited me.
My eyelids were drooping to the floor but I found it to be no excuse to hold back. Venture out. Seek opportunity.
Who knew attending a small town concert, late at night would open up such possibilities?I was buzzing with my newly found energy the moment we arrived at the piazza. My host sister Rita was introducing me to new people as if she knew every single person in town. They were lashing out questions to me and it was intriguing to see how interested they were about America and my life in Seattle.
‘Come e la scola in Stadi Uniti?, Dove vivi? Hai una molta grande machina e casa?’ It took me twenty times of sounding like a frazzled idiot before I articulated what I wanted to say. Later I was surprised to find out that Antonio had connections backstage to take Rita and I to meet the soulful singer Fausto Leali. We were led around to a trailer which resembled the shape and color of an egg, though once behind the rickety door a smiling face awaited us.
Fausto graciously gave his autograph and posed for a picture of Rita, he and I that captured our moment of delight. Before we returned home the night ended with a stop to eat some stracciatella gelado imbedded with chocolate shavings in a savory rich vanilla flavor and crusty waffled cone. From then on, I told myself to do all that I can, take the risks, be bold. I found my experience became more engaging that way. People appreciated my efforts in trying to understand the little things such as not leaving the house with wet hair or how they insist on ironing every article of clothing. It never struck me one night could change a whole outlook and steer me away from the blinding headlights.
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