‘Buongiorno’ was about the only word of Italian I spoke when I first arrived in Rome this past summer. I had decided to spend a month and a half exploring Italy with other students through the USC Dornsife summer study abroad program in Rome. We would be living with host families and spending our days taking an Italian language class at a school called Italiaidea located in the heart of the city right next to the Spanish Steps. Additionally, many of our weekends would be spent exploring various parts of Italy, such as Naples, Venice, Tuscany, and Verona, just to name a few. This was my first time abroad, and I couldn’t wait to spend my summer learning about a new country and a new culture.
After the long 10 hour flight, I hopped off the plane and went to meet my host family. When I arrived at my new home, I found out that I would just be living with a single woman, who did not speak a single word of English. I was nervous and anxious about my new living situation to say the least, since I barely spoke a single word of Italian. However, I tried to look on the bright side, and figured this way I would have the opportunity to practice my Italian 24/7 at home.
The next morning when I left for my first day of class, my host mom had already left for work an hour or two before. I looked at my map, trying to figure out how in the world I was going to navigate the two and a half mile trek to class. I saw a woman standing by the bus stop and hesitantly walked up to her asking, “Parle Inglese?” (Do you speak English?) She shook her head no, but I decided to try to communicate with her anyway. I showed her where I was trying to go on my map and she did her best to explain it to me in simple Italian. However, when she saw the lost and confused expression on my face, she grabbed my arm and dragged me onto the city bus with her.
Once I was on the bus, I listened as everyone chatted in Italian around me, not understanding a word of what was being said. I had no idea where I was, let alone if I was heading in the right direction, but I didn’t have any better ideas so I just stayed put. A few minutes later, the door opened and the woman pushed me off, pointing to a sign and saying “Metro.” I smiled at her and simply said, “Grazie.” Still lost, I did my best to find my way around the Metro station and FINALLY managed to make it to class (Ten minutes early, I might add).
Throughout the next month and a half, I learned more Italian, did more walking, and ate more gelato than I ever would have imagined. By the end of my time in Rome, I was able to carry on a conversation in Italian with my host Mom during dinner. For me, this was one of my greatest accomplishments during my time abroad, as my greatest fear at the beginning of the program had been the potentially awkward silences at the dinner table. Even though she would mock my accent every now and then, I could tell she was impressed by how much my Italian had improved.
Although tough at times, my experience in Italy was extremely rewarding and helped me to grow as a person. It reaffirmed my desire to travel and see the world, and I can’t wait to explore new places in the future. This summer, I’m hoping to go back to Europe, and maybe even have the chance to see the beautiful city of Rome for a second time. This time though, I definitely won’t be as nervous, and hopefully won’t have to be dragged around aimlessly on the city bus!