Sarah F. is currently a senior at SYA Italy and a blogger for our Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Walnut Hill School (MA). Read more of her work throughout the year here.
Being in Viterbo for a total of six days was not exactly what I had planned when I told my family to "come in to Italy for Christmas." Don't get me wrong, Viterbo is full of charm, but you can also see the entire center in about a day. Lo and behold, my mother and father fly in from their tiny little encampment in northern Russia, and my brother comes the day after. He meets them in Rome, beaten and battered from weeks of finals preparation at the University of Washington. Growing up overseas in Southeast Asia like I did (dad works for Shell and moves about every three to four years) and constantly switching schools and then going to Boston alone when I was 14, to be a dancer, I have built up quite the convenient little immunity against any emotions that involve my missing someone. Therefore, it was a surprise when I found myself tingly with nervous jitters the minute I opened the 400 -year old, forest green door of the school and saw my older brother standing before me on the sidewalk. I must say, exceptional hugs are one of my talents, and my poor brother was enveloped wholeheartedly in my arms (which, by the way, were completely bare, as I hadn't bothered to throw on a coat before flying down the steps to that dear door) for far longer than he probably wanted to be in public, and by his little sister.
Safe to say, the emotions for me were a bit higher than previous Christmases, even with the self- conditioned acceptance that I only see my family three times a year, and have been doing so for the past four years. I had a sense of delicate pride that depended on my ability to accurately present to my family the country that I had called home for the past five months, and the people that made it so. I wanted my American family to see what I did in my Italian family, the unconditional love and vivaciousness that they had nurtured this experience abroad with. I wanted them to see the very particular cafe culture—the way you always paid with cash and not a card, the proper time frames in which to order an espresso or a cappuccino, the way in which you were expected to sit and respect the environment and fellow cafe-goers, and the conversation you were expected to have with the baristas. I wanted them to see the tiny winding streets with the magic that they had given me, the home-made pastas and breads, the local meats, the family-owned osterias and ristorantes, the strong bottles of local red and white wines, and most of all, my ability to navigate all of these aspects in the native language.
There are fewer moments when I felt as satisfied as when I had to translate my host mother's historical soliloquies on Civita di Bagnoregio (the ancient, crumbling city atop miles of valleys on either side) to my American family members, and still, even fewer moments as when I looked over to see my Italian grandfather firmly patting my mother's shoulder, leaning back in his chair as his weathered face crinkled into millions of tiny laugh wrinkles and he uttered some hearty words of agreement in in Italian, regarding their stuttering conversation. I looked at my almost-60 year old dad's face as his eyes welled up with tears on the last night when he said to me how wonderfully genuine and loving my host parents were, and how grateful he was to have his daughter in their hands. My Italian father had surprised us all when he whipped out a kazoo and started improvising alongside my dad and I, as we banged out rounds and rounds of the blues on the piano. My host sister timidly brought out her sketchbook which held the most treasured efforts in her life. My host mother kissed my mother twice on the cheeks, and brought her in for a long hug before she let her go, dewy eyed and holding my mother's hands in her own as she said "We are so happy to have your daughter here, and we so hope to visit you when you return to New Orleans in two years."