So on Thursday, August 27th, I separated from my home in New York. I didn’t know how I was going to feel once my family left me, but I definitely knew my mother and sister would be crying. It was hard knowing I’d be hugging my mother and sister for the last time until three and a half months go by here in Italy. It was hard to leave them, and when I was finally alone waiting on line to hand the TSA member my ticket and license, I really never felt so alone. You don’t know how you’ll feel until you’re actually there, so I never really anticipated feeling that way. Nonetheless, this feeling of loneliness went away fairly quickly and I grew eager to start my independent journey Perugia. And now, I’m actually here. And it’s quite exciting to say the least.
The first day I arrived in Perugia I stayed at a hotel with all the other students attending the Umbra Institute. At this point I felt super tired from the long plane and bus ride as well as the 6 hour time difference. I also didn’t know a single soul there and was feeling a lonely at this point too. But I knew I had to be patient and things would get better. I mean, it was just the first day after all. My patience paid off, because when I moved into my apartment, I met my roommates and many other Umbra students. It is safe to say that these other students represented my communitas. Communitas is the word used to describe the people in a similar situation as you, working together to combat challenges and inconveniences. Most of the other people are in the same situation as I am: lost in this unknown, beautiful city that is Perugia. We stick together and communicate in order to get around. We also help each other out with the learning the Italian language as we definitely make mistakes.
The biggest challenge I have faced so far is the language barrier. I am a pretty friendly person and since I see the same locals every now and then, all I want to is talk to them and get to know them. But I become so frustrated because I don’t know what to say! Just today actually, I said hello (in Italian) to a restaurant worker who I pass by almost every day. While he smiles and say a couple of Italian words, it mostly just ends there because my brain has used up all the Italian files I have. I can say a few sentences in Italian but I obviously cannot talk fluently in the language yet. The reason I say yet is because this is one of my highest goals here at Perugia. I love languages and I also love the Italian language, so I really want to learn it and converse with the locals to get to know them and show them my positive, Italian-American charm. I am certain that as time goes on I will learn the language and be able to talk more with other Italians. It is only day 4 and I already know a lot. Being of Italian descent somewhat changes things for me, though. I have already been mistaken as being a local twice which is rather gratifying and funny. Yet, being in this liminal state, I have to expect certain challenges like this and even though not knowing the language is hard at times, it is extremely fun to learn and try out my Italian on the cobblestone streets.
That being said, living here has made me realize how a foreigner can feel. While Italy isn’t super different from the States, I am still a foreigner. This makes me think about foreigners in the States who may get laughed at or ridiculed for talking differently or looking a certain way. It makes me kind of sad actually. Certainly there are friendly people here in Italy or in the States, yet; there are always people who are mock those that are different. I’m sure I have done something like this in the past. Moving forward, I am going to think twice when I see someone who talks a different way or dresses in different clothes. Slimbach writes, “To our hosts we are largely an unknown quantity needing to be put in some familiar category of persons: tourists, trader, teacher, development worker, even spy.” It makes sense that we as humans label and group things to better understand our world. However, sometimes these labels marginalize the people around us, halting growth. It’s best we not focus on labels and instead remember we are all just humans living each day.
Even though I have only been here for a few days, I am looking forward to all the city and new country and even the Umbra Institute has to offer. I really want to get involved with the community here to learn the culture and make new European or Italian friends. I plan on joining many extracurricular activities around the city to spend more time with locals. I’ve signed up to tutor Italian kids in math so hopefully that works out. I’m also going to go to local events that occur in the city to practice my language skills and meet people. At times, there are so many things to do or places to go that it becomes overwhelming. Still, I am good at relaxing and keeping good stress levels.
The picture I am using to describe my journey to date is a picture of me and my friend trying to figure out which building we need to get to. You can see us pointing in the distance as we discuss which way we want to go. The reason I chose this picture is because it demonstrates the beginning of my journey. The city of Perugia is unknown and I must figure out where to go by exploring around. I feel proud of my determination to uncover the beautiful places of Perugia as well as the other places I will travel to. This picture is just the beginning.