It’s really hard to interpret what my first impressions of this place truly are, because I still feel blinded by love and infatuation. My first few memories are the most clouded of all. The plane ride over I do remember. I drowned out my insomnia with the sounds of movies, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Radiohead, and Clean Bandit. I thought that if my life was some college, coming-of-age-story, I’d be the naive, headstrong dreamer, soundtracked by bright, poppy hits about finding yourself. I was surrounded by people who didn’t learn English as a native language, wasn’t carded for the small bottle of red wine I sipped during dinner, and somehow I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to wake up back in my twin XL bed on campus, surrounded by a Doctor Who poster, an embarrassing amount of books, and a lot of sorority paraphernalia. It was all so strange.
And then there was the final arrival at what would be my home for the next four months. At first I was shocked by the level of comfort in talking to my host mother, a small, older woman who definitely does not speak English. In the first few days, she asked me about myself, my family, my nonexistent love life. It was all so nice as Italian (somehow) flowed from my lips. She told me (and my roommate—’sup Mel) about some of the girls who lived with her, some of whom were lucky enough to have romances while in Sorrento. Some of those ended up in marriage, others ended as soon as the girl went back home. But I couldn’t even think about romance in Italy. I was too curious about school, but most especially my thirty minute walk to school (which sometimes ends up being closer to thirty-five or forty minutes).
And for the first few days, everything was so overwhelming. There was rain, a surprising number of American students, and a wardrobe that I was beginning to regret packing (still do). But I also went on some of the most amazing, spontaneous walks with my roommate. We either found our way around Sorrento’s (currently closed) beaches, or we walked the other direction into Sant’Agnello, which turned out to be a beautiful experience that reminded me of why I should never have second guessed living along the coast.
But my biggest cultural mess up involved, you guessed it, alcohol. There are details that I shouldn’t mention, but the one thing I can say is that it is possible for a responsible twenty year old American girl to make mistakes. Never think that you’re above making mistakes abroad. Too much freedom abroad creates problems, especially when you can freely buy alcohol without having to produce an ID. However, there are saving graces in the middle of problems, which, if you’re lucky (and I’m usually not), can come in the shape of a cute Italian boy who will become your tour guide and an interesting first experience story.
After one week, I think I have experienced some things both expected and vastly unexpected, but that’s what happens when you leave home for the first time. Life happens when you leave your comfort zone.
Mikaila is a current student at Belmont University studying at Sant’Anna Institute in Italy during the Spring 2015 term.