Coming Into My Own

Isabel M. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Avenues: The World School in New York.

I have never been quiet or introverted, but I am not necessarily an outgoing chatterbox who immediately strikes up conversations with anyone I encounter. I am reserved, especially when meeting new people or interacting with people with whom I do not share common interests. Sitting around a table of kids talking about the Super Bowl, I feel rather limited, because I don’t even know which teams played, much less who scored which touchdowns. I would prefer to be discussing other topics, so why share anything if I have nothing to contribute? However, in these situations, people will often read my reservedness as being “shy” — which is not the case at all. Although I don’t consider myself to be timid, I always wanted to find my balance somewhere between reserved and chatty — and I did not find it until I came to Italy.

This year, as I found myself thrown into new situations and needing to speak my mind, in a new language. I have steadily noticed myself becoming less and less reserved and, as my Italian skills develop, I realize I am jumping into conversations with everyone I meet — from my friends and host family every time I have a chance, to baristas in cafes or kind taxi drivers and people I meet on the street. A few weeks ago, while traveling to Syracuse, Sicily (one of the most beautiful places I have been in my life), I found myself hurrying through the streets of Catania to make my train — jumping on just as the doors slid closed behind me. I happened to sit down next to an Italian guy wearing ripped blue jeans. Sitting beside him, I greeted him with a friendly “ciao” and we exchanged formalities. I learned his name was Luigi and thought that might have been the end of it, but then, before the train had even departed, he and I were suddenly deep in conversation. Luigi told me all about his life working on a boat in a small town outside of Catania and I told him about my experiences studying in Italy.

“Is New York really like it is in the movies?” he asked me, his eyes full of wonder.

“In some ways, but in others it is not that great. There are so many people and it’s so chaotic — part of why I love being here in Italy because it’s calm and there’s space to breathe and think,” I responded. He nodded and asked me if I have ever been to the bar where they go in How I Met Your Mother.

“You watch that show too? It’s the best! I’ve seen every single episode.” I replied, surprised that he had seen it. What are the odds that some random Sicilian guy that I meet on the train one morning would watch the same American TV shows as I do? We chatted about the show, discussing our favorite episodes and on-screen couples and it felt as though we had known each other forever. Over the course of the hour-long ride, I learned all about Luigi’s childhood, his work, his travel experiences in Liguria and Venice and, of course, in typical Italian fashion, his family. Needless to say, we became great friends. During just one train ride, we ended up connecting and talking, all because I opened up to him from the beginning.

Reflecting on this moment, the most important aspect is that I didn't find it difficult to be garrulous with Luigi at all. In fact, until now, I didn't even think about it as anything out of the ordinary and this, if anything, shows how I have changed this year. I now have numbers in my phone from new people whom I would not have had the chance to get to know had I not spoken out as I did. During my incredible week in Sicily, I was able to be especially (unconsciously) talkative with the warm, loquacious Sicilians everywhere I went and through this, I made so many interesting new friendships, learning bits of Sicilian dialect and experiencing the culture from a more local point of view. This gave an entirely different feeling from being a tourist and reflecting. I feel as though through getting to know the people, I am much more in-touch with the places I visit overall and many of my fondest memories of places I have seen this year revolve not just around the beautiful things I have seen, but around the people I meet while traveling.

I have been told that I am "more fun" in Italian. Honestly, I don't know if this is an insult, a compliment, or just an observation, but, in a mere six months, I have become so much more talkative. Towards the beginning of my time in Italy, I felt frustrated that my minimal language skills limited me, but, within just the first few weeks, with the unwavering encouragement from my family, the conversations grew deeper and pushed past the superficial level. My host mom, in particular, has pushed me to be more outgoing and come into my own more, whether just in the family or in larger groups. Her warm, outgoing and vibrant personality never ceases to amaze and inspire me and by now, I never feel like I am holding back or like there is anything we cannot talk about together. Our family dinners are lively and animated and I find myself speaking with my hands nearly as much as my voice, expressing all of my thoughts without even thinking twice. Now, unlike only a short time ago, I see no problem jumping up with my host sister and a gaggle of friends, giggling and dancing around the living room, or singing along to the radio when our favorite singer, Ultimo, begins to play — because, by now, I know all the words to every song. I was not dissatisfied with the more reserved person that I used to be, but this year in Italy I have found a confidence and a genuine joy of life that I never knew I had. This has helped me gain a broader perspective on myself, others and the world around me, while making this experience so much more memorable and valuable, overall.

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