A Letter to my Pre-SYA Self

Katharine K. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado.

Dear Katie,                                                                                                                       12 maggio, 2019

You are about to embark on a life-changing experience, and I am so jealous you get to step on the plane in Boston; enjoy every moment for me. I know you are nervous, and yes, saying goodbye won’t be easy. When I did it, we turned a corner and there it was. Security. With of course, no line. It was fast and everyone shed a few tears, but it isn’t the hardest goodbye you’ll have all year.

Please try to sleep on the plane, it is pretty miserable if you can’t get your mind off of the adventure ahead. I remember being in complete shock: what did I just do to myself? More importantly, why did I step on this group flight in Boston? That won’t really go away, but you’ll quickly realize this year is better than everything you’ve imagined. As the hours pass, you’ll bond as everyone watches America disappear on the flight map. It is a strange feeling, but embrace it. You’ll hold onto the thrill and panic as good memories for years.

When you arrive, I’ll warn you now: it’s strange. All of a sudden you’re in Italy. Exhausted. Experiencing the first of many culture-shocked days. You’ll meet your host family (one of the best moments of my entire life!). And I almost forgot! You’ll have to conquer your fear of getting kissed on the cheek. Right, then left. Expect a hug from your mom. People aren’t really watching you. Be prepared to not understand anything, to be crammed into a tiny car, and to go to a huge Italian dinner. You’ll be exhausted. You’ll feel foreign yet familiar from day one. Talk to your family and say grazie even if it feels strange. Learn the word “doccia” as quick as possible (It means shower!).

Take everything in. Before you know it, you’ll understand everything, so appreciate the awkward and funny phase before it goes. I could give you advice for Santa Rosa, the insane, pazzo first weekend, but I think I’ll let you experience that one on your own. All I will say is to enjoy the moment and be in awe. The experience of being confused and having the language barrier is fundamental to your adjustment. Embrace that you are a confused American and have a blast.

As school starts, open yourself up to every experience and make tons of mistakes. Please don’t be afraid to speak Italian. You’ll mess up a ton, but it is the only way to learn. That goes with the buses, trains, dishes at restaurants, what pasta gets parmiggiano instead of pecorino, ect. Your first field work will feel like “un casino”, and yes, you will probably have to call Mr. Scanlon at some point. But that’s totally okay, and the day will become one of the best days of the year.

Before I forget, here is some quick advice for traveling from Viterbo. First, you can take pretty much every bus from Porta Romana; spare yourself the trek and don’t walk to Riello. Also, always buy return tickets before leaving. Who knows what will be open or closed when you need to catch the bus home. Lastly, validate validate validate. Train tickets, bus tickets, everything. It could save you lots of money and awkward conversations.

You’ll start to notice that the year is going too fast. And it is. But that’s okay, just enjoy every single moment. Sei giorni is unique and don’t be afraid to jump right in. Find a way to interact with Italians as soon as possible. I played basketball, and it was the best thing I’ve done all year. Find the balance between time with family and time with friends: even though you’ll want to eat out, the Italian dinners are unique so don’t miss too many. Also, make an effort to get to know your relatives. They all want to know and love you, but you need to initiate. Christmas is magical in Viterbo, so enjoy the Christmas market and wander the streets daily. Eat pandoro and panettone, you can never have too much. After Christmas, the year goes by extremely fast so don’t let yourself get caught up in social media, technology, or anything other than the present moment.

When you come back from break, everyone will tell you “the year is essentially over.” Don’t listen! You still have so much time. The year is over on May 25th, no earlier. But don’t forget to appreciate every moment. January and February will be hard, but when March hits you’ll find yourself traveling so much that you’ll end up in May not understanding where time went. Enjoy every single second of it, the traveling, your Italian, and normal class. You’ll find yourself deciding on your capstone, finishing final projects, and gone for Spring break. I don’t know how these months go so fast, but they do. Talk in Italian, eat good food, and live Italy to the fullest. Please talk in Italian. Please! You have the skills and it will only get easier if you do it.

And that brings me to May. It is heart wrenching. Don’t think about this now, stepping onto the plane, but don’t take anything for granted. Things like cobblestones, pizza bianca, and cappuccinos disappear before your eyes. There is no other way to say it, except that it is sad. Really sad. But don’t think about that now, and you’ll get through it just like everyone else has.

I’ll leave you with this: You probably feel crazy, you’ll feel extremely stressed at times, and you’ll question your decision at least once. Whether it is studying for the SAT or realizing you’ll be taking APUSH as a senior, it is all worth it and you will leave the year as a new person. Record the memories, write down funny quotes, and be aware of how incredible the experience is. Don’t get caught up in drama, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, and for goodness sake speak Italian.

Experience the emotions, whether sad or happy, but always find a reason to be grateful. I’m so proud of you and know that everyone here at SYA Italy is ready to help you have an amazing year. Be open to it, be ready for it, and in the end, you are the only one who can create your time in Italy. Mangia pasta all’amatriciana e gelato per me, per favore, e una pizza dal Monastero. Saluta Doriana e Speedy (my host parents!), e Nadia al Bar 103. Guarda il tramonto, è bellissima, e pranza nel parco. In bocca lupo!

Ciao ciao,


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