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.
Before heading out the room, I paused for a second, speaking before I could think: "Ehi, volete prendere un caffe?” (Hey, do you want to grab a coffee?)
“Devo prendere un treno presto ma che ne dici di domani?” (I have to catch the train soon but how about tomorrow?)
Nodding a bit too eagerly and unabashedly, I pulled my phone out ready to send a follow-up text detailing the place and the time. It was just a few minutes before when Dave, the SYA Italy extracurriculars coordinator and leader for our Italian/American Language Exchange club, paired us all up randomly with another individual from the other “side” to exchange introductions. It was then, in the second meeting mid-November that I had met an Italian teenage boy named Lorenzo. Although neither of us were anywhere near close to fluency let alone had the capacity for basic conversation skills in the other's language (let alone in general), the both of us would bring up the occasional mutual interest that inspired the prospect of a bond. Whether it was our mutual appreciation of the show Orange is the New Black (as well as mutual hatred for the same character!) or magical-fairy-universe show Winx Club (who knew?), it was, perhaps, in my interaction with him that I first recognized the potential for getting out of the SYA-American bubble and actually developing friendships with other Italians, language barrier and all.
In hindsight, as I think back to the past few months that I've spent here and all the factors that have shaped the kind of person that I am now, I can't help but think about where I would be now had I not been part of this club let alone been any less unapologetic in my attempts to initiate things with other people. I remember the first time that it happened, recollected in my aforementioned interaction with Lorenzo. As embarrassing as asking for coffee might have been in the moment (more so as a person who's not exactly fond of situations that open up the possibility of rejection), it was all worth it and has helped me to make choices that have gradually not just made me a more confident individual but has also helped me form bonds that have shaped all other parts of who I am now. Whether it was in asking other Italian students for help with a project that required interviews with locals to eventually coming to a point where I asked if they wanted to have lunch or dinner together at some point, it's incredulous to me how easily I've been able to bond with them in just the few months that I've been here. More than I've broadened my friend group in befriending some of the Italians that I have, I've also broadened as well as challenged myself in ways, i.e. perspective and values, that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise, whether that's in making American friends here in Italy or back at home.
In conversations about the differing familial structures with Italy and America or even something as seemingly trivial as being asked as to why “Americans always carry such huge backpacks”, I've learned an indescribable amount through my interactions with all of them: interpersonally, culturally, linguistically, etc… and as late as it might seem to be into the year, it was just a bit over a month ago that I first spoke entirely in Italian with two of my friends for an evening! While I can't say it was the easiest ordeal ever, I can also say that it was incredibly rewarding - much like the process of putting yourself out there and interacting with locals. One of the most important things I've learned thus far is that everyone expects things to just “happen” to them without ever really wanting to put in the effort - not so much out of laziness, necessarily, but I think most prominently fear. Whether that's in rejection or the mere prospect of wanting to “do” or “be” something more with another individual, chances are that that individual wants just as and if not more than you do but feel held back as a result of the same fear. As cliche as it might seem (and is), it's true: You miss 100% of the (espresso) shots you don't take. If I were to relive this year knowing rejection was the outcome for every single hang-out or that rejection was the outcome for every single friendship I wanted to explore, I'd undoubtedly still do it because I'd rather leave this experience having ever felt embarrassed over regretful - and no matter how much I've already done and no matter how much I'll do, there's a part of me that can't shake the feeling that I'll leave having wanted to do more: so to all the current, prospective, or former students reading this: seize the opportunity… and, to kind of paraphrase/steal Shia Labeouf's catchline: just do it. Send that risky text. Ask someone out - for coffee, lunch, dinner, etc. Or, hey, maybe just ask someone out. Get rejected. Feel embarrassed. Try again. Get rejected again. Feel even more embarrassment. Try again - and maybe this time, things will turn out different. And what happens then? No amount of words or amount of thesauruses to replace those words could encapsulate just how worth it your interactions with someone could be. I've felt it all: love, joy, happiness, fear, and embarrassment.
But never regret: if there's any advice I can give now, it's to make the most of the little time you have here. Do things now that you wouldn't have or won't be able to do back home. Go out into the city, maybe take a leisurely walk to centro to buy a chocolate croissant and cappuccino (word-of-advice: never after morning!) and read a book (yes, also in Italian!)... ultimately, though, make connections: not in the nepotistic, opportunistic American sense of the word but in the sense of connections with friends that will last you a lifetime, whether that manifests in your actual, tangible interactions with them or maybe even so much as memories - or even in the kind of person that you become as a result of the changes you’ve gone through in the time that you were with them. But talk to as many people as you can.
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