Today is a very bittersweet day as we wish our Furman music students a fond farewell back to the United States. They have truly brightened our community with their glowing personalities, supportive attitudes, and of course, their beautiful music. We asked four music students to reflect on the steps they have taken outside their comfort zone this semester that has brought them the most personal fulfillment. Read on to hear from Sully, Emily, Mackenzie, and Lilla!
Sully Hart (Furman University, SC)
If you’ve ever lost your voice, you know how frustrating it is not to be able to communicate with people. Simple phone calls become impossible and ordering at a restaurant can be a disaster. Now take this incapability to speak and mix it with a healthy dose of fear of humiliation, and you can come close to understanding what the first few weeks are like for someone living in a country with no knowledge of that country’s native language. I was terrified to go into town and converse with the locals of Arezzo and, if it hadn’t been for my sweet tooth and the need for gelato, I’m sure I would have sat around the safe, English-speaking Accademia. Once I ventured into town for these incredibly necessary “gelato runs,” interacted with the locals, and discovered how welcoming and kind they were, I gained confidence. I realized I had not lost my voice and was learning every day. If I made a mistake, no one would throw me out of the country. There was nothing to lose from trying to speak Italian and everything to gain. I therefore, made every effort to leave the safety of my comfort zone and speak to people in Arezzo as much as possible. When I took chances and left the fear of misspeaking behind me, I discovered he kindness and generosity of so many people I would not otherwise have met. Signor Stefano, the owner of one of my favorite cafes, always suggests the pastry he feels I would like based on what I’ve ordered before. Stella, who works in another cafe, always helps me with my Italian and turns down the music when I’m studying. Alice at Istanbul Kebab always gives me free treats when I swing by for a speedy dinner. Every time I interact with these wonderful people, I’m so thankful I made the decision to step out of my comfort zone and start getting to know them in their native language.
Emily Lamb (Furman University, SC)
This week we were asked to elaborate on steps we have taken outside of our comfort zone. There’s a lot I could say to that – to name a few, I ordered food I didn’t recognize, I took movement classes to help with my viola performance, I backpacked through Austria…but I don’t regret any of it. The biggest step I took was attempting Italian in my viola lessons. We developed an English/Italian/hand signal language but we both did our best to communicate! My teacher has helped me with my tension and some other technique but we have spent the majority of the term working on my musicality and understanding a historical context for my pieces. Without our attempts to have fun and try to communicate, I would have not grown as much as I felt I did!
Mackenzie Crim (Furman University, SC)
One of the things I did during this semester which really pushed me out of my comfort zone was speaking Italian with Italian people. The first week I got here, I could only say “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “I want that gelato,” “See you tomorrow,” and a lot of random vocabulary I’ve acquired from singing art songs. As the weeks passed by, our vocabulary began to grow and we finally started learning some verbs and conjugations. During this whole process there was a lot of saying, “I don’t understand,” and, “Could you repeat that again.” However, slowly but surely the verbal wall became just a little more manageable.
I’ve spoken to a lot strangers since coming to Italy (sorry mom), and every one of these encounters has made me grow and feel more comfortable speaking in this country. At first my only interactions speaking outside of the classroom were for things like ordering coffee and food, but I started getting real practice during voice lessons with my teacher Ester. It was a great starting point speaking with her, as she often spoke to us in Italian even more so than English.
From there I built my confidence. I had a short conversation with a nice old man in park in Florence. I talked to a woman who sat next to me at the opera and learned that her name was Christina. I learned that she was from Verona and that it was her first time at La Scala, but she had always wanted to come her whole life.
My favorite interaction happened on a train when we were leaving Assisi. Emily Lamb and I sat together on the train and were soon accompanied by a lovely old woman named Jillian who spoke absolutely no English. She was having trouble with her bags so we asked if she needed help and we just started talking from there. Emily and I must have spoken to her for an hour and it was amazing to see how much we could communicate. We learned that Jillian was in a singing group that sang to children with Down Syndrome. She has a grandson named Guido who liked to fence (she showed us pictures). She was interested in things like Yoga and spiritualism. Jillian was extremely patient and kind, and when we didn’t know or understand something, she would explain in different ways until we did. When we got up to leave, she told us that she was glad to find such nice travel companions on her long way home. I know I will never forget meeting this woman.
Hard to Say Goodbye: Lilla Keith (Furman University, SC)
These past few weeks, the Accademia has been packed day to day with classes, finals and fun. As the music students gear up to head back to the states, hearts are getting heavy. I can say that my overall experience here at the Accademia is something that I will always remember. To live in a beautiful place with people from all over the world, studying and creating art is like a fairy tale world. The people here are the kind of friends I never knew I needed. They are so full of inspiration, passion, life, and energy. Everywhere you go in the building, someone is strangely warming up their voices, playing the same section on their instrument over and over, practicing his or her commedia piece, or rolling around on the ground “feeling out the space.” These things for a normal person would be considered quite strange, but to us, they are part of everyday life. Going back is bittersweet; it will be wonderful to be reunited with family and friends, but leaving Italy is harder than I thought. Not only the culture, gelato or pasta that has my heart, but the family I have made here.