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When I decided to study abroad for a semester, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I did know what I wanted to gain from spending a semester in Italy. I wanted to learn about a different culture than my own, and find more of myself in that different place. I wanted to challenge myself with new experiences, and discover what it means to be a global citizen. After an entire semester living and studying in Sorrento, Italy, I think I gained all those things and so much more.
In just four short months, the little town of Sorrento had become much more than simply the place I chose to study abroad–it had become my home away from home. After a few weeks of feeling like somewhat of an outsider looking in, I managed to find my place in this close-knit small town. I exchanged greetings with the same man outside his deli each morning on my way to school, my friends and I have gotten to know the owner of the bar we frequent for lunch (they have the most amazing pasta al tonno) so well that we share lunch with his family on the weekends. The close community atmosphere made immersing myself in the culture the easy and natural thing to do: after dinner each night, my roommate and I would walk down to the shore, as many Surrentinos do, and speak only in Italian until we got back home. Though our conversations may not have made perfect sense to a native speaker listening in, these walks really helped me learn the language, and became my favorite part of my day.
Not only did I have the chance to learn a new culture and language, but I also discovered some things about myself. Everyone was so open and friendly in Sorrento that I quickly adopted the same attitude. If I heard someone speaking English at a bar or gelateria, I found myself going right up to them and introducing myself. Sometimes, if I felt especially brave, I would try to strike up conversations with some of the locals that I see regularly around town. At first month I was shy and embarrassed by my poor Italian, but after making so many friends by simply saying hello ( or ciao), it seemed silly for me to not put myself out there and make connections.
Though there were many moments during which I felt so excited about all the learning, both of my self and of the world around me, I was doing in Italy, I think the most amazing experience had to be my last in Italy. While waiting to board my plane from Napoli back to New York, an older couple sitting next to me offered me some biscotti. Always having room for cookies, I gladly accepted. Soon the elderly man and I were having a conversation: he told me he and his wife were going to see their daughter get married, and I told him that I was flying home after studying in Sorrento for four months. Though my Italian was still a little rocky and he spoke not a word of English, somehow we spent the next half hour sharing stories with each other. Before we got in line to board our flight, he said something which stuck in my head. He told me that it was a great thing for two people who came from different parts of the world, different generations, different languages all together, could still find a way to share stories, because that is how we learn and grow. I couldn’t agree more.
Studying abroad through SAI presented many challenges: language barriers, culture shock, but all of these hurdles opened doors for me to have unforgettable experiences. The old man in the airport was right: stories and experiences are the most important things we have, because those things keep us learning from each other and growing with each other. To be a good global citizen means being open to share your stores and willing to listen to others’. I know that because of my semester studying with SAI in Sorrento, I will have the skills to be a lifelong learner no matter where in the world I am.