Exhausted and exhilarated, my classmates and I arrived at Fiumicino Airport in Rome. As part of a school-sponsored exchange program, we were en route to Assisi, and were anxious to meet our Italian counterparts. However, the airport information screen that directed us to our luggage kept changing. Eager to practice my Italian, I walked up to a nearby airport official. “Sono connessi?” I asked, pointing to two baggage conveyors to inquire if they were connected. He responded with a no, and I skipped back to the group to report my findings.
I have always loved languages, and participating in an exchange was the perfect way for me to improve my Italian. During the two weeks with my Italian host family, I was completely immersed in the Italian language, as my host parents, and most other townspeople, could not speak English. My host mother would try to learn small English phrases, and would sometimes greet me with an insecure “How was your sleep?” My host father would also slip in a few heavily accented English words. However, he mainly liked to joke in Italian about the delicious meals that he cooked, when in reality he never did any domestic tasks.
Despite the close relationship with my host parents, the most amazing bond that I formed was with Francesca, my host sister. Our lifestyles are obviously quite different; hers is a slow-paced life among the hills in a small town in Italy, while I come from the suburbs of New York City, where we all move at a lightening pace. Regardless of the differences in our backgrounds, we connected instantly. We would go on long walks through Assisi and chat about school and family while looking at the beautiful ancient churches in her town, such as La Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli. She was always unabashed, and would try to say many things to me in English. “It’s so hot!” she exclaimed on one freezing night. “No, it’s cold,” I said, trying to correct her mistake. But she was insistent, repeating her conviction that it was hot. She was doing one of the most difficult things when speaking in a foreign language: using sarcasm.
Francesca and I also found that we adore the same Italian singer, Laura Pausini, and would spend hours singing her songs together. Once, Francesca told me to close my eyes, and when I finally opened them again, she presented me with a pair of neon glasses to use while singing one of our favorite songs. Francesca was always a jokester, and being able to laugh with her despite our language barrier was so magical for me.
Being able to experience Italy through the life of an Italian teenager was one of the most eye-opening and magnificent adventures of my life. For two weeks, I got to forget my life in New York and become a resident of Assisi, a sleepy little town with gorgeous views that is a religious pinnacle for many. When I met up again with my American classmates, we all had so many stories to tell. They were funny stories, embarrassing stories, and many that involved ridiculous misunderstandings. (I once thought that my host mother was giving me a gift, when it was really for my Italian teacher.) My life has been enriched by this trip, and Italy and its inhabitants have cast a permanent spell on me.
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