La Mia Famiglia Italiana

Blessie R. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Milton Academy in Massachusetts.

"Ciao, bella!'

"Ciao, nonna!" 

"Sei tornata a casa?" 

"Si, sono tornata a casa." 

Before I can put my backpack down, my host grandmother pulls me in for a warm hug, kissing both sides of my cheeks before she gestures towards the couch. She makes her way to the kitchen and turns off L'eredita, her favorite Italian game show. She walks back in a relaxed manner but all I can do is sit down anxiously, rehearsing lines in Italian in preparation for my daily conversations with her. "Come va la tua giornata?" How was your day? "Cosa hai mangiato per il pranzo?" What did you eat for lunch? 

In spite of my bashful nature - manifesting in sheepish grins and the more-than-occasional blank stares I give when spoken to in even the most basic of Italian, she smiles at me. She asks about my day - the classes I had, what I had for lunch that day, and how much work I was assigned. I answer all her questions, in part with the Italian that I actually know and other part Google Translate. In my mess-ups and all-around inability to communicate, I find myself vehemently apologizing but as always, she simply reassures me. "Piano, piano." Little by little, she tells me. 

In the midst of our conversation, I can hear the faint sounds of The Beatles playing in the background. One of my two older host brothers, Mattia, comes out, wearing a black hoodie and black sweatpants. The Beatles gradually shifts its way into Aerosmith and before I know it, he's unabashedly singing 'Don't Wanna Miss A Thing' to himself. "Ciao Blessie," he starts. Before I can greet him back, he rapidly transitions into incomprehensible Italian with my Nonna. Although I'm unable to understand their dialogue in all of its nuances, I can make out just enough of some few key-words to understand the gist of their conversation: he's heading to soccer practice for a scrimmage. Just before he leaves, I wish him in bocca al lupo - good luck! 

Almost immediately after he leaves, I hear humming coming from the hallway leading to my parents' bedroom. Similarly to my host brother is my host dad, playing (and, occasionally, belting) mildly older 50s' Italian love ballads on his tablet. 

"Ciao, Blessita!" 

"Ciao, Papa!" He smiles at me and continues to make his way to the kitchen, taking out the dough he stored in the freezer in preparation for his crostata alla nutella, otherwise known as nutella pie: the quintessential Italian dessert! As he's rolling the dough, I hear an all-too familiar high-pitched, doting voice making its way towards the living room: "Ciao, amore!" On the phone with my host mom is my other host brother, Davide. Although my host family had been hosting American students for years, this was the first year that Davide - having started university - didn't live at home. Yet, even with the 300 mile difference, I felt just as close to him as I did anyone else within my host family. From nearly daily calls over Whatsapp where we give each-other updates about our lives to something as seemingly even more trivial like FaceTiming to help him decide what dessert he wants to get after dinner, it feels gradually incredulous to me that I've only lived with my host family for a month when it feels as if it's been nothing short of a year. 

It was especially in my host family that my understanding of home had been complicated, straying away from its technical definition into the more abstract: that is, home isn't always a physical location. It's a feeling and one that I experience when I come home from a long day of school and my Nonna is there to greet me before I can even take out my keys. The feeling I get when I "help" (and, debatably, watch and potentially hinder) my host dad from making one of his to-die-for crostatas. It's the feeling I get when my host mom comes home at 19:00 from a long day of work, kisses me on the cheek, calls me tesora, and asks me to fill her in about my day. The feeling I get when I'm doing work in the living room while my host brother Mattia sits across from me, practicing a song from The Beatles on the guitar while quietly singing to himself. Or the feeling when I'm FaceTiming/failing to bribe my other host brother Davide into doing my Italian homework for me because all the time I could have spent doing it, I spent talking to him instead. All these moments have, in large, defined not just my experiences in Italy but have also helped me to understand how much my feeling of "being at home" has been grounded simply in my family. There's a lot to love about Viterbo. From the quella in L'antica Latteria (a gelato comprised entirely of Frozen nutella!) to the unfamiliarly narrow, cobbled streets I could only ever dream of finding and walking on in Boston, I find myself falling in love with at least one more aspect of this place every single day. However, I can say with full certainty that my host family has, is, and will continue to be my favorite part of my experience here. 

A mia madre, mio padre, miei due fratelli, e nonna: vi voglio bene, siempre!  

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