New Year New Language

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.

I’m currently sitting in Attigliano-Bomarzo, it is 18:42 on a Sunday night, and I’ve traveled for the last three hours on a train from Florence. The station is rightfully deserted (it is in an inconvenient place), and there are several other slightly lost Americans from the university in Viterbo. The only thing we have in common is the bus we are about to take (assuming it shows up), to our new home. Speaking several languages, we are awkwardly glancing back and forth trying to read the cues and see if it is appropriate to exchange a couple words. One girl speaking French, another speaking English, and us. But this time, we’re speaking Italian.

After six months in my new home, I’m starting to get it. The American tourists? Annoying and confused. The train schedules? Easy, just read the signs in Italian and find your way to the correct “binario,” (otherwise known as platform). The Italians? Comprehendible as if I was speaking English. With hard work, dedication, and the ability to mess up, I’ve taken on the new year in a new language: Italian. And it has been incredible.

Just several minutes ago, a lost, Italian woman wandered through the station looking for help. Attigliano is remarkably abandoned on a Sunday night, so the only light was coming from the musty station. “Scusi, sei da questa zona?” She asked to the girls sitting across from us. They looked at each other, and mumbled a quick “no,” not understanding the question. Another Italian woman walked through the door and she repeated her question, getting another “mi dispiace, vengo da Roma e non sono molto familiare con questa zona.”

In desperation, the woman turned around and looked at us. “Ha una domanda?” I asked. “Si, io sono sbagliata e devo la stazione successivo, Alviano. C’è un autobus o un altro treno? Il prossimo treno arriva alle 21.” (She said: Yes, I messed up and needed the last station, Alviano. Is there a bus or train? The train arrives at 21). I took this as my moment and prayed my Italian would be enough. “Hmm, non so se c’è un autobus a Attigliano, ma c’è un autobus a Viterbo...” I continued to explain. She listened intently, and together we were able to figure out a plan to get her to her friend’s house. It was a moment of success. A moment when my new language and my acquired accent added together and I was able to help her. With enough hard work and practice (as well as messing up!), I’ve reached a stable “fluency.”

Moments like these remind me why I came to Italy, and the amazing things I am learning this year. I’ve started to become helpful to Italians, and that is a feeling I will never forget. Whether it is translating passages to help my host brother on his homework, or explaining a basketball drill to a confused friend, nothing matches being able to help others in their native language.

So, as I sit in this station in Bomarzo, I can’t help but think how grateful I am and how random and incredible it is to be here, of all places, on a Sunday evening. More importantly, it doesn’t feel real that as the new year has taken off, I’m speaking Italian everyday and have not only learned the language, but made it a part of me. This feeling of culture independence, language acquisition, and exploration is something I will never forget, along with the Italian words and phrases that got me there.

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