On a daily basis, I usually interact with the locals directly or indirectly. Whether it’s choosing gelato flavors, asking questions to my host family, or finding the right cold medicine at the pharmacy, there are a lot of opportunities to interact with locals. I don’t know what interaction with a local to consider my first, because all of the first people I met spoke English, or at least some. So, instead, I will reflect upon my first local interaction flying solo—that is, with a person who spoke solely Italian.
An older gentleman runs an art shop on a side street in Sorrento. He paints hundreds of beautiful paintings of seascapes and towns, popular locations in Italy, and boat ports. And, he sells them, This is his life. I was so in awe of his beautiful work, and I wanted to tell him that it was so, and speak with him. I asked him if he spoke English, and he said that he didn’t know any English. So this was my first lingual solo flight. My first completely unleashed, help-free interaction with a local. And, it actually worked. I spoke Italian much better than I thought I could. I guess when the ropes unravel from around our wrists, we are a lot more okay than we thought we would be. I told the artist that all of his works were beautiful and that I liked them. And that my sister who studies in Barcelona would be coming over to Sorrento, among other things. When my sister does come to visit, I plan to take her there.
One ongoing obstacle that I have had to deal with is the internet. WiFi where I live in Italy is very fickle, and not really dependable. The internet varies like the wind. My host mom described that there are “good internet days” and three are “bad internet days”. If it’s a bad internet day, everyone can pretty much forget about checking those emails or sending that assignment. It’s very inconvenient, to say the least. To overcome, or at least more positively interact with this issue, my roommate and I have several tactics we use. In our house we have, as we call it, “the internet room”. This is where the internet modem for our house is located, and if you stand in just the right margin of space, the internet and WiFi quality generally improves enough to use. It’s uncomfortable to stand there for the duration of the phone call, email, or facebook messaging session I may need to have, but it is an option. Sometimes it’s not even an option if the internet is bad enough that day. Another tactic we use is standing in the bathroom at the right spot, which is also uncomfortable and inconvenient especially if someone else actually needs to use the bathroom. Other than that, we can go to our school for better internet, which is about a 45 minute walk from our house and about a 55 minute walk back home because it’s uphill.
Not everything in Sorrento is a struggle, though. My most amazing moment during my time abroad so far was not amazing in an impressive or over-the-top way, or a way that I will brag to my friends later. Instead, the sort of experience that has felt the most special fits more into a beauty and poetry category rather than just plain “amazing”. Recently, one of my professors guided our entire class on a tour through several parts of Naples. While in Naples, he took us to an old monastery that is now a museum. At its core, there is a large square courtyard. This calm garden, hidden in a crowded and sometimes rough city, is a sacred and lovely chapter of existence frozen in time. As soon as I entered, the world and space around me became silent as if I crossed over into a parallel universe. This little island inside an ancient church was like a room of eternal Spring. It also had a really cool Harry Potter-esque well in the middle.
Hayley is a current student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania studying at Sant’Anna Institute (SA) in Sorrento, Italy during the Spring 2016 term.