Study Abroad Lesson #1: Do As the Italians Do

Written by Katherine May 21, 2015

Asolo - One of Paderno's neighboring towns

Narnda & Vladco - artists I met in a little shop in Florence

CIMBA's campus in Paderno

Our wonderful Italian instructor

Getting gelato with a few other Cimbians

“A 10,000 mile journey all begins with a single step.”

What this Chinese proverb forgot to mention was the car, 3 planes, 2 trains, and the bus I took to get there. But the journey, the getting there, can be as vital to growth as the destination. Getting on my first plane to Chicago, it was my step out. Step out of normal routines, step out of comfort zones and the step out of daily life to take a journey, take an experience that is unknown, exciting and somewhat uncomfortable. But uncomfortable is good. Not a single successful person can describe their means to success as something of comfort, because growth happens outside the walls of normality. With great risk comes great reward and in the case of CIMBA, the risk and the reward all come in a living and learning trip across the ocean.  

The journey that led me to Paderno has been filled with lessons of patience, flexibility, and confidence that only comes through traveling with delayed flights, missed trains, and talking in a language you are not entirely comfortable with. But this has been so liberating and has recaptured a spirit of adventure in me. 

The biggest lesson I have learned so far is to do what the Italians do! Working to immerse yourself into the culture has been so much more of an experience than being “that american” who isn’t putting in the effort. Words like ciao, buonoguierno, vorei una coppetta di fragola gelato, or duve il (insert what you are looking for here) are so simple to learn and they mean the world to the people you are speaking with. I have had more English/Italian conversations with local store owners, taxi drivers, and restaurant waiters than I ever had before and those are the things that stick with me. This place, Italy, is beautiful, but the people make it personal. 

In Florence, I got Italian kisses from two 60+ year old artists who I had asked directions to the Ponte Vecchio in their art shop and got into a mini conversation which lead not only to great directions, but an amicable conversation, and a fun memory. Across the street from CIMBA, there is a Tabacchi (sandwich shop/convenience store)- Tabacchi 2 to be exact. It is owned by Bruna and Diego and simply saying a few words in Italian opened up an opportunity to make a friend while practicing my pronunciation, learning new words, and just giving you a little taste of Italian life. The locals, like my instructor in a program called “Survival Italian”, gave us some tips on restaurants and gelaterias in the area where we can go eat, talk, and enjoy our time in Italy with my new-found travel buddies from all over the United States.

Along with the language, even dressing and talking like an Italian can and will help to make the most out of your experience. Italians are passionate, but not loud. They smile and nod when in passing and a friendly ciao is always appreciated. In Venice, saying hello (in Italian) to local vendors and store owners will often be reciprocated with a “Ciao Bella” meaning “hello beautiful”- those two words make my heart happy. I have seen Italians dress very well and to be honest I do not know if I have ever seen a single Italian woman wearing jeans or shorts. For ladies, dresses, skirts, and linen or khaki pants are the norm and men wear khakis or jeans with button down shirts – some younger people wear graphic tees. CIMBA does not have a specific dress code so on campus many people dress like they would at their home university. My suggestion is to yes, be comfortable, but make sure you put effort into looking like an Italian when you go to town or travel. From what I’ve seen, you are taken more seriously and while traveling you have access to cathedrals and other monuments and things around the cities. Respect is vital to interaction, so act, speak and do as the Italians do!

Addio miei amici,