Ryan Chartrand

They say that children are capable of retaining any language taught to them under the age of 5. Well, one morning in August 2006, I woke up in Florence, Italy, realizing that I knew nothing more than how to say “ciao.” Alone at the age of 20 in a foreign country, briefly angry with my family for not forcing me to learn another language as a child, I decided to take advantage of my situation and live with Italians.

Little did I know that for a number of reasons, this would be the most challenging, but best decision I have ever made.

Although the idea was easy to come up with, the question was how to go about finding a place to live with the evident language barrier. I first turned to the Cal State Program, which provided a map of Florence to find posted advertisements for wanted roommates. Getting lost repeatedly, I managed to stumble upon a piazza in which students posted rooms and apartments for rent.

Over a course of three days, my vocabulary had already increased to about ten words, including, “rent,” “room,” and “bed.” With these words, I was also able to make an ad for myself; “a desperate, lost American girl in search of Italian students to live with.” I even bought local magazines with listings of ads in incomprehensible Italian. My dictionary became my best friend that week.

After finally finding the courage to call and practice my Italian, by day 6, a Florentine brother and sister, a boy from Sardinia, one other American girl and a cat were to become my roommates for the next year in Florence.

The beginning was challenging, not really having much to say simply because I understood nothing and could hardly formulate a sentence. But, day by day, and especially after repeatedly listening to their political arguments, I was finding myself able to understand more. My attendance at my non-English-speaking art academy in Florence would definitely have been more of a problem if I were not able to ask my roommates the meaning of certain words my professor would say.

The main theme of Italy, “Piano, piano,” is what they would remind me, “slowly, slowly;” with time I would be able to speak Italian. Our friendships grew fast until I eventually found myself hanging out more with my roommates and their Italian friends than other American students.

Though it was becoming easier to speak and even easier to understand, there were definitely moments that the language barrier came back in full effect, such as the time my American friends and I decided to go to a Ben Harper concert, miss understanding the operating hours of the train station, leaving us wandering the streets of Rome until 6 in the morning. My roommates still tease me about it.

I have been all over Europe, and have even stepped foot in Africa on a recent adventure to Morocco, and though I still have four months left abroad, I know that living with Italians has become the best decision I have ever made. It is because I live with Italians that I am able to follow current political events and the European Union, able to understand what took place in the past, and, most importantly, how to make espresso!

They care more about world events than the average American, and have made me realize that compared to them, I know nothing about my own political system. I had to go to the doctor on one occasion, and was able to learn better expressions to use to explain my particular pain.

I have connections with their friends from other countries too, allowing me to have places to stay in London, Spain and Poland. They laugh at my choice of words and teach me the correct way to say them as to not embarrass myself out in the real world. Make sure you really pronounce that “L” in “calzone”. you’ll know what I mean if you come to Italy.

These little examples of my life abroad are only attempts to convince anyone to live with Italians or any native to the country of choice! Getting laughed at for my attempt at a new language, my choice of music and wearing Rainbow sandals is the tough love I get from my roommates to help me assimilate. I already know it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to them when I have to return home. Until then, however, pasta, pasta and more pasta. Basta! Ciao ragazzi!

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