September 4, 2008

Exactly two weeks ago, I was sitting in the international terminal at Logan Airport looking at the clock; the plane my mother and I were about to board would depart in five minutes. I had been waiting for this moment for the past four years. Ever since I returned from a weeklong trip Greece and Italy during my junior year of high school I had been determined to return and see (and eat) more than I had been able to in my brief seven day tour. Maybe it was because of something they put in the gelato or simply the memory of the Piazza Navona at nighttime, but there was no way anyone was going to stop me.

Keeping this in mind as I considered colleges, I chose Holy Cross — a school at which I would not only be able to realize this dream but expand upon it further and learn what it means to be a member of this society (and to be fed pasta nightly). Well, on the eve of my return it hadn’t yet hit me that I was going to be living in Italy for a year. I had packed my entire life into one overweight (by airline standards) bag; I had said goodbye to my family and friends; and I had even written a letter introducing myself to a family of strangers with whom I would be living for the extent of my stay; but still, it somehow did not seem that I was actually about to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

Last Friday, it finally did. After spending a week wandering around Rome, Florence, the Tuscan countryside and Bologna (my new home), I left my mother at the train station and turned back toward the piazza…alone. Twenty minutes later, I found myself walking down a narrow cobblestone street lined with reddish-orange and yellow colored houses. Behind me the buzzing traffic of Smart cars and Vespas whizzed under the remnants of an ancient gate and in front of me there was a giant medieval palace, complete with stone fortifications and its very own clock tower. As I began to lose myself in the details of my surroundings, the ringing of the bells at mid-day awoke me from my weeklong daze: I was in Italy.

The past week has been busy, to say the least! Sunday the other Holy Cross students and I met with our program advisor, Alessandra, for an introductory lunch in a restaurant near the University. Since this is the first year that Holy Cross has sent students to Bologna, no one was really quite sure what to expect. Naturally, this has been a source of some anxiety for us all, but Alessandra assured us that she would do everything in her power to see that these growing pains do not prevent us from enjoying our year to the fullest.

Leaving the meeting feeling relieved, excited and stuffed, we spent a few hours exploring the city. The following day our classes began at Cultura Italiana, where the bulk of our language work will take place. Each weekday for the next semester, we will spend two hours in a grammar class and an hour and a half in a conversation practicum grouped with other students of similar levels of language competence.  Speaking only in Italian at the school after a long summer off combined with my instructors’ unique approach to teaching (lessons are more conversation-based rather than lecture style like I am used to) has caused me to feel somewhat overwhelmed. It’s impossible to convey how agitating it can be to not be able to communicate the simplest of concepts sometimes or read a menu at dinner. However, this is only the first week and I’m already beginning to feel myself adjusting. I have no doubt that this initial period of frustration will be worth it in the end.

After school, the other Holy Cross kids and I have taken to wandering the streets in pursuit of lunch. Pausing to study (and translate) the menu at each restaurant, we’ve literally spent hours trying to find somewhere to eat. The past two days we’ve eaten some incredible pizza from a small place in centro near the school. Although it’s not like other traditional Italian pizzas (having a thicker, softer crust), it gives a whole new meaning to “comfort food.” And, it’s right across the street from Gelateria Gianni — our favorite gelateria which we frequent at least once daily.

In the evenings I return to the house of my host family, which is on the top floor of an old Italian apartment building located five minutes from the Piazza Maggiore. It’s pretty cool, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been very fortunate — not only do I have my own room in a beautiful flat, but the family has welcomed me into their home like one of their own (and my host mother is an amazing cook). I have five host-brothers and sisters (my age and older) and they also have a cat. Initially, I was afraid about living in a house with seven other people (I grew up in a small household and have always been used to having my own space) but within a few days my fears completely dissipated. They’ve really gone out of their way to make me feel at home here and I could not be any more grateful. The only challenge I’ve been faced with thus far has been to keep up with the dinner conversation! I’m very much looking forward to spending the year with them.

More to come later this week’a presto!


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