Understanding the Fine Line Between Similarities and Differences

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.

The November winds whistle behind me, yet I find myself overcome by first-day-of-school jitters as I walk through the front door of Liceo Ruffini Cientifico, the Viterbese high school where I am attending classes for “sei giorni” (six days) this week. The familiar, oddly-comforting laughter of rowdy teenagers echoes around me as I turn a corner, my heart racing. Entering a classroom, I immediately scan my surroundings. My eyes dart between rows of desks, chairs, white boards, posters along the walls, groups of students congregating around each other… Everything looks the same as what I am accustomed to; everything that I have been seeing for as long as I can remember. Yet, as I look closer, I begin to see the differences. Rather than just backpacks, motorcycle helmets are stashed beneath the desks, resting there until the end of the school day when students will pick them up and zoom home on their Vespas. The students, teenagers just like me, are all sporting the same trends that are nowhere to be found in my closet and chattering in rapid slang in a language that was barely even familiar to me just two months ago. Taking my seat, I think about how amazing is it that something can be so similar to what one is used to, while simultaneously being so different. This realization does not only apply to school in Italy, but to every aspect of life. For instance, I am living with a family here, just as I was in America and we share our meals, our stories and our traditions together — just as I did before. Only now, those meals, those stories, those traditions are all different from what they have been all my life. However, walking into the classroom, all of the students immediately welcome me, introducing themselves and offering me pizza (because it is Italy, after all) and as we start to talk, I do not feel like an outsider.

Everybody here has made it easy for me to look past our differences, and focus instead on the similarities between us by treating me as if I had been living here all along. Although we have different norms and different lives, they are slowly becoming one and I am learning that, at the end of the day, we are actually much more similar than we are different. At school, we may have different mother-tongues, different classes and schedules, but we are all students and we can still study, chat and spend time together in town just like teenagers do anywhere in the world. In my host family, we may come from different places, but they are eager to learn about my roots — my culture and my background — and share their home with me by taking me on various outings and including me in their family gatherings. Their routines and traditions are becoming mine and vice versa. Gradually, it is becoming no longer a matter of “me” and “them” but, instead simply one of “us”. We are all people and we all want to get to know each other, in an effort to better know ourselves and as I settle in, I am feeling more and more like my home is right here.


  • Campus Reporters
  • SYA Italy
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