Nelson Mandela once stated that “there is nothing like returning to a place that has remained unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” After completing a semester abroad in Italy, I’ve come to understand the full meaning of this proverb. Stepping foot inside my house was an experience unto itself, and seeing my friends again truly brought about a sort of “back-to-reality” feeling that, up until that point in time, I had only seen in movies. This rush of emotions caused me to reflect upon what had changed about me during my travel, and I found that the alterations were innumerable. I decided to read through my Italian journal in order to identify the more significant changes, and what had caused them.
After reflecting upon my mentality prior to, and after returning, I realized that one of the most noticeable changes was my desire to learn more about other languages. When I first arrived in Sicily, most students at school spoke English. While I enjoyed the fact that I was capable of communicating with them, the reason that I made the trip was to learn Italian. It took me a month before I was able to convince everyone, myself included, of my true desire to speak their language, and while I made some terribly embarrassing mistakes at first, soon I was speaking to my classmates with ease. Being fluent after just two and a half months, I began thinking about all of the other languages I could learn because of their similarities to Italian. I spoke to a group of Spaniards and found that I could understand a bit of Spanish, and the same happened with a group of Parisians speaking French. It was an exhilarating experience, and I felt like a true member of the global community. Despite the elation that was felt following the discovery of this new gift, nothing could prepare me for the mind-blowing realization that occurred just weeks later.
After a series of unfortunate events caused me to switch host families midway through the exchange program, I found myself in Florence. Suddenly, the differences between Florentine and Sicilian culture became extremely clear. Up until that point, I had generalized in my mind that all of Italy was the same. The way everyone dressed, their accents, what they ate, how they spoke, and just about every other mannerism was in some way, different. Swiftly, I began applying this idea of different regions being so diverse, and I realized how small of a world I had been living in. Though it pains me to admit it, and though I may not have realized it, I was ignorant prior to this trip. Coming to understand such large-scale ideas left me in a state of awe, and those weren’t the only two changes that occurred.
Living in two different regions of Italy for a semester caused me to become a person completely different from the one who walked out of my house last January. Discovering all that I can do, and all the people that I can now communicate with based upon my mastery of Italian still amazes me. Never again will I follow in the steps ignorance; cultural differences from region to region will never go unnoticed. Learning these kinds of lessons has given me an advantage over all of my friends, and I look forward to displaying my knowledge whenever an opportunity presents itself. All in all, my trip to Italy opened up many doors for my future, and the growth that I experienced while abroad will forever remain a part of me.
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