It might be jet lag or maybe it’s the water but right about now those four years of Italian I took are proving rather useless. It seems that I was in my prime when I studied abroad, I wasn’t fluent but I could at least use most verb tenses with ease, and it’s been all downhill since. My host family speaks mostly Italian with me and that’s what I wanted in a last ditch effort to immerse myself in a language I spent far too much money on learning in college. I wanted to be challenged and learn new words and phrases but the language barrier has reduced me to a smiling and nodding bobble head. I mimic what they do, I laugh when they sound happy, and I act serious when their tone of voice drops. My vocabulary has been reduced to “Si”, “no”, “non capisco” (I don’t understand), and “ok”. In reality I understand almost everything they say (and almost everything I read) but I can’t quickly respond to save my life. It’s frustrating to show someone how much you understand when by the time you think of a response the conversation has moved on. I have trouble searching for Italian words I once knew and when they ask me for the English translations I can’t seem to find those either. It’s all just a big blank space. The past four years of Italian have fallen out of my head since I landed in Milan and I’ve been suffering from an acute brain fart ever since. I have luckily enough, gotten over the fear of making mistakes and sounding stupid because let’s face it folks, I already seem witless if I sit in silence. So, as wrong as I may be, I am putting some serious effort into these next three months and finally using the Italian I know is floating around there somewhere.
Other than the Italian struggles, Northern Italy is incredible. I haven’t ventured far from my new home yet, but the old town of Moncalieri is gorgeous and by the looks of it a little ritzy. I haven’t seen a whole lot of the town but it’s charming and filled with cobblestones and rusty streetlamps and bed dressings hanging out the windows just to make sure visitors know they are in Italy. The town comes complete with some high-end stores that sell Dolce and Gabbana and leather goods that I could never afford but I guess that’s another way Moncalieri lets you know you are in Italy. It is, however, a bit cold and cloudy which makes me feel like I’m in Syracuse again (so essentially, it makes me feel bitter and moody).
All in all, I’m loving it so far. My host family is better than I ever could have asked for and they have really gone the extra mile to make me feel comfortable. The first time I studied abroad in Rome I stayed with a host family that made me swear off host families forever. This time I have an incredibly generous host mom and dad and two thirteen year old host sisters who seem pretty interested in me and American culture and are avid watchers of Modern Family, the Big Bang Theory, and Friends so it’s all good. We may have some trouble understanding each other but watching funny youtube videos of cats together puts everyone on the same level. They’ve made their house my home and for that I am very grateful.
At the end of the day, Italy has a way of making you throw your hands up and go with the flow, because going with the flow is basically the mantra of these people.
Whatever happens, happens. Whatever doesn’t happen, doesn’t.
I’ve felt this way since arriving in Milan and I quickly realized I didn’t know as much about my host family, where I am living, and other aspects of the program as I should have. I was told to show up somewhere at a certain time, so I did. I was told to take a plane to Milan, so I did. Part of me really likes not knowing what’s next and figuring it out along the way. We all got a little taste of the Italian mantra when our bus from Milan to Torino wouldn’t start and we were stuck at the airport for an hour before it was fixed. Communicating with the bus driver in broken Italian yielded only responses of “aspettiamo” (we wait) and dramatic shrugs. Aka: yeah the bus is broken, and this is the only one we have, it’s whatever. (For future reference, in case of emergency, simply place bus in neutral and push it backwards. Boom, you’ve got a running bus.) Italian time is one of the little, albeit stereotypical, things about Italy that I love and hate at the same time.
For now, because it is only the beginning of my time here, I have a lot of blank space to fill up with whatever Italian words I can retain and all the experiences, good or bad, that may come along.