It’s difficult to believe, but two months ago, I arrived in Italy to begin my nine months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Which means, among other things, that a blog post is long overdue.
I’m not going to pretend that the last two months have been easy, and I’m certainly not going to say that it’s been what I dreamed it would be or even what I expected it would be. Honestly, these have been some of the hardest months of my life, and that includes the two months I spent in excruciating pain last year because my eye was exploding. Why has it been so hard? Well, for one thing, this is my first year living on my own as an adult, and for another thing, I’m in a foreign country, and culture shock is a very real and very upsetting thing. I have never been this homesick in my life. I’ve had days where, after school, I curled up with a sad book or movie to give myself an excuse to cry, but I’ve also had days where I’ve had a lot of fun, and as the time is passing and I’m becoming more accustomed to living here, the fun days are outnumbering the stressful days.
So far, I have seen the best and the worst of Italy. Within my first two weeks here, I was hit by a car (I was on the sidewalk), and my mother and aunt were mugged. But none of us were hurt—just scared—and we also had some wonderful experiences before they left , and I have had some wonderful experiences since then. Some of my favorite have included meals with my teachers and my landlady and my mom’s cousin in Rome (seems like the way to enjoy the real Italian cuisine is to do it in an Italian home), my trip up to the fort at the top of Assisi with one of the teachers I’m working with, playing my clarinet for my landlady’s choir, and the festival for the Virgin Mary this past weekend (which included fireworks set to music and new, interesting street food!). And of course, I am loving teaching English and speaking Italian. I can practically feel my Italian skills growing with leaps and bounds every day, and every time a student asks me a question about America or asks me to elaborate on something we discussed in class, I just get really excited.
I want to share one particular story that I think really illustrates what things have been like here:
On a Saturday night towards the end of October, I was sitting out in the courtyard in front of my apartment, desperately trying to get my internet to work so I could skype with my friends in America. It was a pretty warm evening. I didn’t even have a coat on. It was already dark, and there was no traffic on my street, so it was pretty quiet. And then, just when I was about to give up and go back inside because the stupid internet just wasn’t working anywhere, I heard singing. I stood up, listening. At first, I thought it was coming from someone’s radio or television, but it sounded too clear for that. It was many male voices—a choir complete with harmonies—but it was too far away to distinguish words or even much of a melody. I stood there with my computer and listened, and I finally decided that I was pretty sure the singing was coming from the basilica, which is about a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. The night was so clear and quiet that it carried all the way to my street. Later, when I told this story to my landlady, I learned that it was the weekly candle-lit procession of the monks, but then, standing there in the dark, feeling confused and frustrated and pretty miserable, and then suddenly hearing this singing that seemed almost other-worldly from that distance, all I could think of was the story of why the lower part of Assisi is called Santa Maria degli Angeli—Saint Mary of the Angels: Because Saint Francis heard the angels singing.
Moving here hasn’t been easy (it has certainly been a much bigger adjustment than I ever anticipated), but I think the more comfortable I get, the more fun I will have. For every time I take the wrong bus or momentarily panic at the sudden movement of a car up onto the sidewalk, I also round the corner to find two cellists playing Pachabel’s Canon, or I’m invited to Sunday lunch with someone’s family and have a great time, or one of my students tells me they really enjoyed my lesson on American geography and one day they want to visit some of the national parks I described. And I remember why I dreamed of coming here and remind myself that even if it isn’t totally great now, it will be.