Phebe O. is currently a senior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from John Bapst Memorial High School in Maine.
When I received a message to bring my passport into school a few days ago, I thought nothing of it, stuffing it into my bulging purse amidst half a million other documents. “You will need to go pick up your stay permit “Permesso di Soggiorno” at 3:50 pm. Please bring your passport.” I smiled. It had been long enough that I needed a permit of stay.
I found Roberta, the Program Assistant, source of all organization and important information, at the front desk the next day. She handed me a receipt to pick up my permit. I stared blankly for a second, then asked who would meet me at the station. She began laughing. “Nobody! We went with you the first time, now it’s your turn.” I shook my head, nerves suddenly spiking. Only this school would send students with no warning to the Italian police station to pick up official documents alone. Looking at Roberta’s kind smile I thought again. We were given the responsibility and opportunity to book trains to wander around Rome or spend a weekend alone in Milan; why shouldn’t we be responsible for picking up our own paperwork?
I arrived at the police station, blood pumping in my ears. After mishearing their question three times I finally gave them my name and was called inside. Off to a good start. I sighed. One officer waited at the door, looking over at me. I must have appeared nervous: out of place with my oversized school backpack and birkenstocks (I cannot possibly explain how many conversations I have had with curious Italians wondering why anyone would wear “sandals” during the winter). The officer smiled at me, asking about school with heavily accented English. He was clearly familiar with SYA students showing up in a similar state of disarray. We talked about teachers and work and winter, comparing our hometown climates and commiserating over the weather. He was as kind and friendly as anyone I’ve met here.
Leaving the office with my permit a few minutes later, I smiled, thinking of how much has changed in the past few months. I used to be afraid to walk into my local co-op at home in the United States because the concept of small talk and social interaction made me so nervous, even in English. But here I was alone in an Italian police station, conversing about the weather with an officer while waiting for my Italian permit of stay. Who would have guessed?
Maybe it’s stupid, but I carry around my permit with more pride having gotten it on my own. SYA commits a level of trust in students that no American school has ever given me. And I have watched myself step up again and again, working through situations in a foreign country and foreign language which I would have shied away from in my own American hometown. It is these small moments in which I realize true personal growth.
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- SYA Italy