Hannah Goldstein (Dance)
Studying in the small town of Arezzo has provided more of a cultural immersion than I think I would have experienced in a larger city, like Florence or Rome, so I feel like I am really learning about Italian culture, not just witnessing it. The town does not cater to tourists, as few people speak English, and there aren’t “tourist traps.” As I did not know Italian before coming here, I found the language barrier extraordinarily challenging. Now that we are in Italian class, however, I love that every interaction means another chance to practice the language. It also helps that the locals really want to teach us about the language and the culture, as they always greet us with a smile and answer our many questions with extreme patience. So, while there are occasional struggles, such as that time the train conductor yelled at me in Italian for 15 minutes because I sat in the wrong class (learn from my mistake), I am proud to say I feel like I am gaining a good understanding of Italian culture in a way that helps me get around and love the life here.
One of my favorite experiences so far was when I decided to attend religious services in the Venetian synagogue. I did not have appropriate attire, so I wrapped my scarf around me like a skirt and walked in. It was amazing to connect with so many Italians through the shared language of Hebrew and universal traditions. The best part was that afterwards the community invited my friends and I to share Sabbath dinner with them. There weren’t any seats left so they set up a table outside and fed us until we were so full we could barely walk. We got a lovely dinner overlooking the canals of Venice. The group consisted of Italians, Americans, and Israelis all bonding over a shared love of religion. It felt great to be in a foreign country but still feel so invited and comfortable.
Nick Orvis (Theatre)
The hardest part of living in Italy is, of course, the language. Even those of us who have taken some Italian classes before arriving have found out that we’re nowhere even near fluent, and while this can make ordering food seem like a challenge (not to mention starting a casual conversation!), the people of Arezzo are actually incredibly friendly and willing to engage with foreigners. Many of them speak some English, and it’s always fun to jump back and forth from one language to the other so that everyone gets a chance to practice. For me, discovering new places from coffee shops to cathedrals has always been one of the joys of traveling, and Italians are (generally) very open about welcoming you into their shops, places of worship, and so on.
For me, though, one of the highlights of this semester so far has had to do with the land itself almost as much as the culture. Italy (Europe in general, really) is a land saturated in history in a way that the United States simply doesn’t feel. Traveling across Italy, you understand why the peninsula was a series of small countries well into the nineteenth century; we traveled through three distinct climates just going from Arezzo to Venice! But when you see the hills of Tuscany rolling out before you (the view from the Facciatone terrace of Siena is particularly good for this), or the many generations of the same family all buried in a single graveyard by a small town, you can’t help but be inspired the very continuity, perseverance, and joie de vivre of the country’s people.
Celia Pain (Theatre)
One of the main reasons I came to Italy as opposed to my other Study Abroad option (London) was to be in a country that doesn’t speak my first language. My natural aptitude for the language I had previously learned in classes (Spanish) implanted fantasies in my head of arriving and within weeks being able to converse easily with locals. I imagined myself making friends and telling jokes while my perfect accent and grammar knocked them all dead.
False. The language barrier has proved to be one of the (very very very few) things I am frustrated by with my experience here. And yet, it is incredibly valuable at the same time. I am also finding out a lot about myself, particularly my limitations and fears. I get nervous doing basic things like ordering at a cafe. Yet as soon as I make myself plunge in and do these things, it is far easier and certainly nothing like the humiliating experience I imagined. The language barrier is also making me aware of just what communication consists of. In an acting program mainly focused on the physical, it is gratifying to see how much of the world CAN be expressed through body, gesture, tone and context. (Although the playwright in me protests that words are still my favorite!)
Besides the challenges I am facing in not being able to speak the language as well as I would like, I am finding being in a new culture incredibly freeing and exciting. I feel liberated from any idea of who I was before, or what the world should be like. I am seeing things every day that surprise and delight me. Learning about what other countries are going through — some poignant graffiti on a bank in Venice springs to mind — and what their perceptions of the place I come from are, is an incredibly valuable experience. I feel myself growing every day. One thing I have to say I really appreciate is the time we are given here. Though the busyness of classes does keep us on our toes here, our hour long lunch break reminds me that this is a country where I’m allowed to digest — literally and metaphorically.
And I certainly need to digest after the amazing week I’ve had! One of the highlights of my time here was our recent trip to Venezia. What a beautiful city it is! Although Venice is very touristy, I found that fact hard to resent. After all, I’m a tourist myself. And frankly, there should be that much tourism! I wish everyone in the world could see such a place. In all the postcards and pictures of Venice, I had always seen its grandeur highlighted. But really, the true beauty for me was in its simplicity, in the balance I saw between nature and man, water and city. The way the two opposites interacted was incredible. I had such beautiful perfect days there, particularly in exploring a more residential island off of Venice with some beautiful, beautiful people. I will treasure it always. How incredibly lucky am I that I am at a school where they will take us to have a class in Venice, not because they have a teacher there we need to go see, or because we couldn’t do that same class at home, but rather just so that we can experience a new city. I couldn’t be more fortunate, nor more sure that, despite my “come se dice…?” frustration, Italia is perfect abroad program for me. I wouldn’t trade it for speaking perfect English in London anyday.