Three Fears of a Potential SYA Student and How to Conquer Them

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.

For this month's blog, I'd like to write about three fears students have about studying abroad at SYA Italy:

  1. You will be bored in Viterbo because it’s so small
  2. You will embarrass yourself and feel awkward with your host family
  3. You won’t be able to do everything you did back home

1. Viterbo is a small, provincial city. When in giro (around and about in town), it is very common to run into those you know — and even to stop and chat or grab a coffee at the nearest bar. Everyone knows everyone, for the most part and everyone has their regular places that they frequent. It is a tight-knit community and people here are generally very, very set in their routines. However, just because it is not a bustling metropolis like Rome does not mean it is necessarily boring. In fact, it is almost because of that that it is quite the opposite. Rome is gorgeous, with all of its grandeur and splendor, but after spending one day there, you will hear more English than you do after six months here. The city caters to tourism in every way—from its high prices, to the vendors that call out to you on the street in a million different tongues. Viterbo, however, is not this way and life here is much more real and from it, I have been able to gain a genuine taste of what it actually means to be Italian. Here, people around town do not typically speak English, so you will be forced to learn and make the most of your experience every day. People go to work, come home in the evening and have joyful, exuberant meals with their families — eating cheeses, bread, pizza and countless other products that come from a mere few kilometers away. Conversations, whether with friends or family, are never dull, as everyone always has plenty to say and even though there may not be “nightlife” as in a larger city, it is just as fun to go to dinner and a nice long passeggiata with your friends — talking and laughing, getting to know the twists and turns of this medieval city, as well as all of those around it and learning new words of “Viterbese” every day. For an SYA student, between school, family, friends and independent travel (to name just a few), there is never any shortage of things to do and after six months, boredom has yet to even enter into my mind. If you somehow begin to feel “bored”, remember where you are. Seize the opportunity to try something new, to go out and discover a new corner of the city, to pick up a newspaper or watch a movie in Italian with your family, go for a walk and see where it takes you… The possibilities are endless.

2. Before arriving here, I was, as might be expected, somewhat intimidated by the thought of living with another family and speaking a language that was not my own all of the time. I thought about how awkward it would be sitting in a car with them, unable to communicate well, or after school when they asked me about my days and I found myself unable to respond… However, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I never, ever had to experience this. From the day I arrived here, my family has been nothing but open hearted and welcoming. They have always been completely understanding of all of my (countless) mistakes and never for a moment have I felt at all awkward around them. When I make silly errors in my Italian, we often make them into jokes. We go to dinners and concerts together, or on long walks by the lake or to visit an Etruscan pyramid (right here in Viterbo) and, like any family, we enjoy comfortable downtime at home together — baking cookies or watching movies. Yes, the first few days it will feel somewhat strange, because of the obvious language barrier and the culture shock and maybe you won’t be able to discuss organic chemistry or the iconography of fifteenth-century frescoes, but soon it will all fall into place and it will be like you have always been here. You will begin to talk and laugh together, to understand each others’ humor and likes/dislikes, to settle into your routines and finally, to view your host family like your own and your house as your home.

3. Maybe when coming to Italy, you are worried that you won’t be able to do everything you did back home. After all, with travel and school and everything else, where is the time? How can you continue being the person you were before? The answer to this is simple: you can’t. But this is not a bad thing at all — in fact, it’s quite the opposite, because after all, if you only want to continue doing everything exactly as you did before, why come here at all? Part of this experience is an open mindset and a desire to branch out and try new things and without this, there is no way to truly make the most of it. Maybe at home your routine was a steady rotation of school, sports, homework, friends, repeat, but here it is so much more and you will learn about dimensions of life that you never even knew existed. If you continue the sports you did back home here, you will learn an entirely new look at them, not to mention a whole new Italian vocabulary along with it and a different set of friends who share this interest. Or maybe, as I have, you will discover the joys of going for runs in the stunning Italian countryside — surrounded by olive groves and quiet. No matter what you are interested in, you will develop the skills you already had and gain countless new ones – whether they are in the sport themselves, or with people, or even navigating how to make it to practice and manage your time efficiently. Beyond this, there are the travel opportunities — each and every one of which will be unforgettable in a unique way. Maybe before you were happy with your set routines, but this year you will be able to truly see the world and the routines of countless other people — the aspects of life that to you might be strange, but to them are simply the norm. You will also be able to accomplish this using the time you spend with your host family, from whom you will learn every day. Maybe you will discover a passion for Italian cuisine that you never knew you had, or a hidden interest in wine or Italian music — you never know what you might find out about yourself. So, at the end of the day, you will not be able to do everything you did back home, or to return the same person you were when you left, but this is part of what makes this experience so remarkable.

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The 100-Day Countdown

Sadie reflects back on the first half of the year and now is trying to take advantage of the time she has left in Italy.