Fitting in can take a long time to achieve in an exchange. By “fitting in”, I mean feeling less like a tourist and more like a part of the society. I have now been in Italy for 2 ½ months and I am just now beginning to feel like this is my home. I am dressing more like an Italian, I can navigate my way through Italian cities, and I know how transportation works. I even have my own favorite places and hidden gems of Siena that I go to often, which I recommend everyone who studies abroad to search for. Fitting in starts off with the small things.
I started to feel a small accomplishment when I knew how the streets worked. I know what directions cars are able to come from and where they have to turn. This means I can now walk on the side of the street and not freak out every time a car drives right by my feet and I can chuckle along with the other Italians when we see the tourists being flustered by the cars and not knowing where they are going. I am also learning street names, so when someone tells me where they live, I do not always have to pretend that I know where it is.
My Italian still needs much improvement, but I have repeated simple conversation enough to feel comfortable talking to new people. I love it when I am able to give directions to Italians and tourists visiting Siena. I socialize often with store owners and employees and when they recognize me, it gives me a great feeling. I definitely recommend starting little conversations with employees in stores that you visit frequently. There is even a sweet old man that runs a restaurant down the street from my apartment and we greet each other every morning that I walk by.
I think the most important part for me to make this place a home is finding Italian friends. Thanks to a program that my school offers, Language Partners, I am able to meet with some local Italians each week. I have met some really great people and we have started to get together outside of the group. These past few weeks have been the turning point for me in Italy. I was invited to aperitivo (Italian happy hour) and a celebration by my new Italian friends, and I had a blast. Having Italian friends will help me improve my Italian and will make me feel like I have put down some roots and will have an emotional connection to Siena.
For the most part, I know how to fit in here, but it does not mean I will always want to. I will still happily be stared at by the Italians while eating gelato in the cold weather and I will probably always walk as if I have somewhere to go.