I can’t believe I’ve made it through my first week in Sorrento, Italy! Sorrento has surpassed my expectations in every way. I am so blown away by this little town. The people are kind and interesting, the views are stunning, and the food is beyond life changing. I’m having so much fun, and I’m learning so much! I’m excited to share some of my more important lessons from the last several days.
1. First of all, learning a language is tough. It’s really easy to mess up, but it’s not something to be embarrassed or shy about. My host parents don’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Italian. One day, I was telling them all the new Italian words I had learned that day. Gnocchi, a type of pasta that is formed into little nugget shapes, is a dish that my parents served back home as I was growing up. We had been pronouncing the word “no-chee.” I was telling my host parents about this “no-chee” pasta, and they busted up laughing. It turns out that the correct pronunciation is “nyo-kee,” and that noci (no-chee) are not pasta, but walnuts… Oops! We laughed over that for a while. My mistake turned into a joke with my host parents, which they’ve brought up several times since. It always makes us laugh. Learning another language is hard, but what better time than now to try?
2. Italians don’t drink milk after lunch. One of my friends was drinking a cappuccino in the mid afternoon, and our new Italian friends were very concerned! They said that espresso is the only coffee beverage that is served after lunch, and cappuccinos are only for morning. Now I won’t make that mistake at a cafe!
3. There are multiple ways to approach the study abroad experience. When we visited Capri, we encountered attractions, shopping, restaurants, and beaches that were tailored to appeal to wealthier tourists. They were absolutely beautiful, and I’m definitely excited and grateful to explore places like that. But there’s another side to Southern Italy. I have loved getting to know our small town of Sorrento, especially the neighborhood up in the hills where my host family lives. It’s off the beaten path, but quiet and quaint, and the people here are so friendly and warm. They make their own everything, and support each other. It’s definitely a learning experience for me to see what it’s like to tour Italy, as well as to just live in Italy.
4. Walking shoes are much more important than I thought! Because my host home is on the outskirts of the city, and our school is on the coast, we’re pretty much always walking. Sometimes my roommate and I walk over 10 miles in a day. That kind of distance in the wrong shoes is pretty much torture! It doesn’t matter how cute the shoes are – you really don’t love them anymore when you’re dealing with the blisters they made.
5. There are places in Italy where you can touch actual Roman ruins. Somehow, the idea of Roman history has always seemed so far away to me, but a few days ago, we visited I Bagni di Regina Giovanna, and swam in a natural pool formed in the middle of the ruins of a Roman home. So incredible and so beautiful!
6. Fresh is better! This is a lesson my taste buds have learned. Whether it’s a fresh peach from a store on the way to class, lemon gelato from the famous Sorrento lemons, or local buffalo mozzarella cheese, its better fresh. My roommate and I learned the other day that our host family makes their own tomato sauce. They bought vast amounts of tomatoes from local farms, and cooked them for a while. They then ran the tomatoes through a fabulous machine I’d never seen before. It removes the skins and seeds, and expels only the delicious part. They did this several times, to ensure they didn’t lose out on any potential sauce. After seasoning the sauce, they filled 1300 bottles! The whole project occurs once a year, but it guarantees that the family and all their friends will have enough tomato sauce to last the winter. I’ve had Signora Adele’s spaghetti, and I can tell you first-hand – fresh is better!
7. As fun as studying abroad is, it’s not going to go perfectly smoothly. I personally ran into some paperwork issues early in the week, and that stress combined with my jet lag made for a very distressed me. But in situations like these, its so important to reach out. The program staff and faculty at your home school and host school are eager to help out, and they were all very helpful in sorting out details and making sure everything was set.
8. I’ve learned that it’s important to be able to slow things down sometimes. Because I’m in a new and exciting place, I’m tempted to fill my days up to the brim with activities and events. I am realizing (through my exhaustion) that its also give myself time to adjust to the new environment and get lots of rest.. Down time is part of what makes the fun times so fun!
9. Keeping in mind the previous tip, it’s also so important to jump at these opportunities! I’ve only been here a little over a week, but I have already made so many memories. I have never once regretted signing up for that extra gelato class or going along with my friends for a spontaneous beach trip. Now is the time to soak up everything and give this crazy adventure everything I have!
10. No matter how busy or stressed or excited I feel, I’m learning to take time to pause and allow myself to remember where I am and to be amazed by my surroundings. Sometimes it’s a sunset over the water, or a little green lizard scampering across my path, or a sweet old Italian lady who smiles at my friend and me and tells us we are “belle.” This time is such a gift, and I am so incredibly grateful.
Claire is a current student at University of Mary Washington studying at Sant’Anna Institute in Italy during the Fall 2015 term.