I am currently taking a break from translating my homework to write this article, and if that doesn’t describe the life of an exchange student in Italy, then I’m not sure what does. Anyways, the last few days have been a whirlwind if I do say so myself!
Between setting up my room, finding my way around Perugia, trying to remember dozens of new names and faces, and learning how my host family works, I have definitely kept busy. Here are a few highlights and what I’ve learned so far from my first weeks studying abroad in Italy so far.
Yesterday, I started school, and was absolutely terrified. As I walked into the classroom I was welcomed by many smiling faces and a few confused ones. A normal response I suppose. Little did they know, my stomach was doing flips.
As I looked around for a seat, a girl in the back row patted the seat next to her. Thank God. I felt my heart beating out of my chest. I could feel the awkward stares from all angles. But as soon as I got to my seat I was swarmed by the entire class.
Even kids from other classes ran up to greet me. After 15 solid minutes of this, the smile on my face was starting to hurt (although I was truly happy). I now feel bad for teeth models.
Allora (anyways), my first point was to let you know that meeting new people is scary at first.
Whether it be your host family, classmates, or the cashier at the cafe next to your place… It will be awkward. And scary. But you’ve just got to embrace the awkwardness and remember why you are here! To learn another language, culture, religion, how to cook (aiutami– help me!), or whatever your reason is. And I completely understand how going into anything foreign can be scary at first.
To start, there is the obvious language barrier. You may think, “did I say that right?” and then that will turn into a “I just won’t speak at all, because I will end up saying it wrong anyways”. WRONG-O.
There is a challenge staring you in the face for a reason. You came here knowing there was going to be one, too. So go get em’, tiger! Alongside this, you are the newcomer, so automatically all eyes are on you (whether you like it or not). You are the magic word: FOREIGN.
You dress different, your makeup (if any) may be different, you may prefer peanut butter over Nutella (that’s me). You have their attention, now is your time!
Third, the pressure. Oh, the pressure. “Does my host family like me?” ,“ Oh, I should order a what? An ‘expresso’?”, “Wait, where I am?” Ha-ha it sounds ridiculous but it is true. Once I got past this awkward stage (which lasts as long as your resilience does), I really started to enjoy the life as an exchange student.
In hindsight, meeting people shouldn’t be as scary as we make it. But then you realize that everything you were nervous about never even existed. It was all some preconceived notion that everything would go kaput. Our fear of the unknown should not have its tight grip on us.
At home, I am the first person to get up and greet someone new. I try to assure them there is nothing to worry about and there is definitely no judgment coming from me. And you know what is great? People do that here, too! For example, meeting people in Perugia is great because everyone knows everyone! For example, my host mother is my desk mate’s doctor. Crazy, right?!
Speaking of my host family, I absolutely love them. Living with a host family is quite an adventure. At first I felt very out of place and almost invasive, although my host family gave me the best possible welcome. They prepared a huge dinner, a SURPRISE VACATION, the whole nine yards (They even told me not to unpack!). I have to remember that they chose to host me, I’m not just a pest (I hope)! My host family is a true blessing.
I have two younger sisters and one older brother and sister. I have learned that this family is: 1. Very busy 2. Very active 3. Very close and supportive. I cannot express my thanks to them.
Navigating daily life as a highschool student is a beautiful mess. The day starts off early, 6:30 AM. Breakfast is small: either biscotto (toast) with jam/ Nutella or a small coffee cup of cereale. Then I skip out the door and make the haul to school. Two of my host sisters join me. Yes, it is a haul. A very hilly one, may I mention. But it is growing on me because it wakes me up (Pfft, what am I saying, I have only been to school two days).
School consists of 4-5 classes per day, and there are 9-10 classes total. Each day there is a new schedule. And here is the real kicker (for my fellow Americans): you do NOT change classes, the teachers do! Yup, that’s right. You sit by the same people, in the same chair every day, for five years of your life.
Boring right? Actually, it is not too bad. You grow fond of those in your class and it becomes your second family more or less. For example, on the first day of school the whole class went out for lunch together. Allora, after school ends around 2 PM, we all make our way back home. Then, I take a little break and rest. In the afternoon I run and start translating my schoolwork. Around 9pm we have dinner as a family and then head to bed.
Weekends are a different story. Mornings are relaxed; everyone goes and does their own thing. Gigi and Valli (my host parents) go to work, Mati and Beba go to tennis practice, Fran goes to her driving lessons, and I stay at home and study Italian, go for a run, or go to the center with my friends.
Around 1pm or 2pm we all come together (minus Gigi) and have lunch either at home or at Nonna’s house. Everything is made in the kitchen before our eyes. I’ve been here almost a month and I’ve yet to eat a meal out (this doesn’t count the gelato)! After lunch there’s some chill time (nap time!) and then back to your own schedule in the afternoon. For example, shopping, gelato, walking the town, Bible devotion, running, etc.
A note on Italian Timing!
Italian timing… whew! For example, the other day I had plans to meet my friends in the town center at 7:30. I was “fashionably late” on purpose.. about 20 minutes late. I leave at 7:30 to make it around 7:50, knowing that’s when we would most likely meet at anyways. On my way up, I get a call from my friend Ottaviano saying “I’m so sorry! I’ll be there in 10!” See? Perfect! Although he said 10 minutes, he really turned up about 20 minutes later. I even had time to spare! I love this crazy life.
Around 7pm or 8pm we all end up together and start prepping la cena (dinner). After dinner everyone parts again or watches some tv or chills on the patio. Then bedtime! Mealtime is the key to Italian family. At the table all phones are out of sight, everyone is present and ready to debrief about their days. They are truly beautiful people and I cannot wait to see what else is in store for the next few months.
My words of wisdom: JUMP IN! Throw the fear of it all out the window! Make a fool of yourself (be safe kids). Grow. Learn. Have fun in the process. That’s what it’s about. Exchange will challenge you in good ways!
About the Author:
Bethany Carideo, is 16-years old and our 2017 Greenheart Travel Correspondent scholarship winner from Athens, Tennessee. Bethany is traveling abroad as a high school student in Italy and her goal is to become proficient in Italian, and is excited to have new host siblings during her time abroad. Follow her adventures here!