In an ideal world, I have a knack for languages and leave my study abroad experience in Siena fluent in Italian. My Italian class is a breeze, and Tuesday and Thursday mornings are enough to double my vocabulary every day. My Italian roommate doesn’t need to speak English around me, and I can understand all the music she plays when we cook. I make being bilingual my personality trait, and when I get back to the United States, I strictly say “grazie,” instead of “thank you.”
Unfortunately, this idealistic dream is not my reality. My Italian skills are introductory at best, but I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. When I first got to Italy, my language abilities started and ended with the word “ciao.” Even though I cannot have a full-fledged conversation with a stranger or understand a stich of what my roommate babbles into her phone, I’m not completely incompetent!
Taking an Italian class during my semester was the best decision I made. The basics of any language are fundamental for a good experience abroad. Since I live in Siena, it is not always easy to encounter people who speak English. When I travel to bigger cities like Florence or Venice, it’s easy to get by without having to practice Italian. Oftentimes, people speak English the instant they see a bunch of college students wearing white tennis shoes. But in Siena, using Italian was a necessary part of my everyday life. There is no way I would have survived my first month here without coming to class twice a week with a list of phrases or words I needed to know. After being traumatized in a Conad when I couldn’t understand the cashier, I made it my mission to speak enough Italian to confidently navigate my way through the city.
At first, I didn’t feel comfortable ordering in Italian or making a reservation on the phone. But I live in Siena, and sometimes I was forced to test out phrases I’d memorized in class. I butchered the Italian language on more than one occasion, but this consistent practice was the only way I learned from my mistakes and got better. It was difficult to notice my progress—for every word I knew, there were twenty I didn’t know—until I had friends and family visit me.
My sister informed my entire family that I was “fluent,” after her first day in Siena with me. The only impressive thing I did was successfully buy bus tickets, but it really blew her away. Instead of measuring my progress by what I still didn’t know, it was refreshing to see her perspective. I learned so much! I could communicate with people in a different language, even if it was minimal!
I’m thoroughly emo about leaving Siena in general, but I’m also sad that my Italian language experience is coming to a close. As an incoming senior, I don’t have room in my academic schedule to pick up additional language courses. If I did, I’d want to continue learning Italian despite being back in the United States. When I come back to Italy (sooner rather than later), I hope that I haven’t lost my interest and dedication to the Italian language. One of these days, I will be insufferably annoying about being bilingual. Today is not that day, but watch out!
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<p><span style="font-size:13.5pt"><span style="font-family:"Helvetica",sans-serif"><span style="color:#333333">My name is Brooke Fakhoury, and I am from Southern California studying abroad in Siena, Italy! I’m a junior at the University of Richmond, majoring in English with a minor in History. Other than reading and writing (both in and out of the classroom), I enjoy hiking, cheering on my favorite soccer teams, and eating pasta. After graduation, I plan to stay in the East Coast since I’ve grown attached to my winter coat and would hate to retire it so soon.</span></span></span></p>