Homesickness. It happens to everyone. Usually around the third week of being in a new place. Before that, you’re too busy getting acquainted and exploring this new place. But right at that three week mark, it starts to sink in: You’re a million miles away from your loved ones, you’re a stranger to a new place, you find yourself leaving an extra hour early to get someplace because you’re bound to get lost, and if you’re abroad, you’re tired of constantly trying to find a good WiFi connection in order to connect with those you’ve left behind.
It starts with boredom and laziness. After visiting the hundredth church, you seem completely over it, even though you’re not. You’re just exhausted and homesick. You’d kill for a home-cooked meal from Mom, and just for some familiarity in this new and different place. Many of us go through this. Instead of wasting time being sad about missing home, here are a few tips for coping with homesickness.
1. Find a routine.
Whether it’s taking the same walk to and from school everyday, or promising yourself to venture off to someplace new, get into a routine. Maybe start your morning off with a walk, and then make it a point to eat lunch outside under the sun, or make time to read. Whatever it is, building a routine will help you find some familiarity in your temporary home.
2. Settle down.
Once you have this routine, settle down and get used to it. Especially after a long weekend traveling or a busy week at school, make sure you make time to lounge and be a little lazy. I know you’re trying to fit as many adventures possible into a small time frame, but don’t burn yourself out. Make time to catch up on Netflix, take a nap, read a book, and just relax.
3. Keep a journal.
You’re going to want to look back on all the good and not so good times, so make sure to write it all down! Write down what you’re feeling, smelling, seeing, and about who you’re meeting.
4. Look up.
Sign off of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. We view life through a lens too often, make sure you remember to look up and enjoy the view. Disconnecting from social media will also help with homesickness because you won’t be able to see what your friends and family back home are doing every second of everyday.
5. Make new friends.
Looking up and disconnecting will also allow you to make new friends. Hey, a new place should come with new friends. Skip the “I’ll text you the details,” and just plan to meet up at a certain place at a certain time and have a blast.
6. Have a good cry.
It’s totally okay to be sad. It’s perfectly fine to miss home. Everyone needs a good cry every once in a while. What matters is what you do after that cry. Turn it into something positive, catch up with your loved ones via Skype, or write them a letter, but make sure you then go out and make the most of your time in this new place.
7. Take a deep breath.
I remember tearing up as I stood before the Roman Forum for the first time. All of these crazy emotions came over me out of no where as I realized, “I’m really here.” Somewhere I’ve wanted to visit my entire life. Somewhere with such an immense history. It’s a feeling that I’ll never forget, a moment in time that is locked in my memory forever. After that moment, I try to capture these memories as much as possible. Whenever I’m in a new and beautiful place, I take a deep breath and appreciate the world for what it is and take a photo with my mind before taking one with my DSLR.
What about you? What are some ways you deal with homesickness?
I remember wanting to study abroad since I was in middle school. I made a list that had places such as France, Italy, Ireland and Japan – foreign places that I could easily see myself living. Heck, I remember counting down the days until I could go to college because I knew that I would be leaving my little home in the middle of the Pacific. I guess growing up on an island will sometimes do that to you – make you eager to explore new places.
Luckily, I went to Lewis & Clark College, one of the top ranked colleges for the study abroad programs. I studied abroad in Siena, Italy for one semester during my junior year. It absolutely changed my life, and here’s how:
I became much more independent.
I already gained a lot of independence when I went to college. But studying abroad was something no one in my family had ever experienced, so I had to figure everything out on my own, one step at a time. I had to learn my surroundings and figure out public transportation. I had to learn a new language. Quickly. I had to figure out how to communicate with my friends, family and boyfriend back home (harder than you might think because of roaming charges, lack of wifi and finally learning to unlock an iPhone).
I learned to appreciate my home and college even more.
It’s not like I was studying abroad in a third world country or anything, but living in Italy really made me appreciate the little things, and the bigger things in life. Like heat, timely transportation, and my college education. I learned to appreciate my family even more than I already did because I didn’t think it was humanly possible to miss people so much. I even learned more about the U.S. Government and really appreciated the opportunities we are allowed in America that many people in Europe are not.
I realized my passion for travel.
Moving to Italy opened so many doors for me. I learned about cultures that I didn’t even know existed. I learned how easy it was to travel around Europe. I got to see beautiful places that I only thought existed in paintings. I even got to visit some of the wonders of the world. I learned that the world isn’t such a scary place and that there are good people in this world. I got bit by the travel bug and now have incurable wanderlust and am always planning my next adventure.
I became more open-minded and curious.
Being from Hawaii, I was used to being exposed to different cultures and ethnicities. I grew up with many traditions and types of delicious foods, so being in Italy, where the culture is completely different from anything else I’ve ever known, was a huge adjustment. Being introduced to all things Italian really excited me. I went from being quiet and shy to eager to learn about someone’s hometown and culture.
I became much more easy going.
I bet some of you are reading this and thinking, “You’re from Hawaii, of course you were already easy going.” This is just not true because I was pretty uptight, and sometimes still am, before I moved to Italy. I’m the type of person who needs to plan every minute of every day, and I am also a compulsive list-maker. That definitely changed after living in Italy. At first, it would really annoy me when professors showed up to class late or when I had absolutely nothing on my to-do lists. Then I learned how to embrace this free time and to enjoy every moment that I had in Italy.
With about one month left for most universities, the semester is slowly coming to a close and study abroad students are starting to make their way back home for the summer. Returning to the U.S. was a huge adjustment for me after my time living abroad. I had to deal with reverse culture shock, similar to the culture shock I first experienced when I moved to Italy. I never really sat down and reflected on my time abroad until recently, and I’ve come to realize that most people don’t really reflect until they are back home. Here are some realities that every study abroad student experiences when they return home that are just too real:
1. You make a list that’s about 2-feet long with all your favorite foods that you just can’t wait to eat
“So what do you wanna eat when you get home?” My mom would ask as my time abroad was winding down. Being from Hawaii, I needed all of my favorite local eats. Let’s start with Portuguese sausage omelette, eggs and bacon, loco moco, kalbi, Mom’s 7-bone roast, and lots of cheeseburgers! Surprisingly, I never got sick of pasta and pizza, but I sure did miss protein and french fries.
2. People start to get annoyed with your countless stories
Every story starts with “I remember when I was in Italy…” And although it will never get old for you, it gets old for them. But who can really blame you for having such an awesome time abroad?
3. You become super interested in every culture around you
I knew that America was always a “melting pot,” I mean, I’m from Hawaii which is one of the most racially diverse states. But it never really interested me until I lived in Italy. Now, whenever I bump into someone who is from a different place, I immediately feel the need to ask them about their home.
4. You get overly excited when you meet someone who is from the same place that you studied
I remember the first time recognizing someone’s Italian accent while I was walking my dog. Me: “Oh my God, are you Italian? Are you from there? I lived there while I was in college!” Even if they don’t always share your enthusiasm, it’s a great conversation starter.
5. The travel bug bites again
After living in Italy, I have the idea that I can travel everywhere and that I should! So I literally spend my days planning future trips and daydreaming about my next destination. I even made it a goal to own a villa in Tuscany one day.
6. Slips of the tongue
During the first few weeks that I was back home, I kept catching myself saying Italian phrases, especially “Grazie,” and “Ciao.” I’m sure people thought I was being pretentious, but I was honestly so used to speaking Italian that it took me a while to get back to speaking English full time. I still make grammatical errors in my speech because of the different verb uses in Italian versus English.
7. A different kind of homesick
It didn’t take long before I started to miss everything about my life in Siena. Whether it was the long walks through the city’s countryside, waiting for a bus that was guaranteed to be late, or just the company of having dinners with my host-parents and roommate each night, I missed my Italian lifestyle.
8. The pace of life
This brings me to the go-getter attitude that most Americans carry. I’m not suggesting that Italians are lazy, but they had a way of life that made you stop and appreciate your surroundings. Going from that back to my goal-oriented self was a struggle, especially since I was about to start my senior year of college and had the pressure of finding a post-grad job breathing down my neck.
I’m hardly the type of person who gets sick (I’m talking like maybe once per year), but lucky me had the flu for two weeks while living abroad and all I wanted was my mommy. The weather was super gloomy the first couple of weeks in Siena, that and all of the traveling it took me to get from Hawaii to Siena could have done it. Of course my host-mother, Luciana, would tell you that it was because I didn’t blow dry my hair after showering. Here are some of the things I went through during my time on what felt like my death bed in Siena:
Freezing my butt off.
I know that bacteria is what causes illness, and that being sick from cold weather is just a “silly rumor,” but who knows? Maybe I got extremely sick from being so cold. Before moving to Siena, I was told that the weather would be between 40-50 degrees at first, and then gradually warm up. Whoever told me that was a liar. Half of my time in Siena was spent in 20-30 degree weather and the local Sienese were so surprised when it snowed. This didn’t help the fact that the apartment complex that I lived in, turned off their heat at night. I literally went to bed in long underwear, socks, sweatpants, a long sleeved shirt, and a hoodie. I still remember the sound of my teeth chattering putting me to sleep.
My crazy host-mom.
The first time I sneezed at the dinner table, my host-mom started babbling away in Italian that was too quick for me to understand, about not blow drying my hair. She told me that since I towel dry my hair, I’m going to get very sick. She also scolded me for not wearing a scarf every single day. The first time I coughed at the dinner table, she brought me a scarf and instructed me to wear it 24/7.
Finally admitting that I needed medicine.
I’m the type of person who will deny, deny, deny being sick. After taking Dayquil or Airborne, I’m usually fine. But I got to the point where I was miserable. I didn’t have a fever. But I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, my throat was in unbearable pain, I had headaches, and I was hardly getting any sleep because I was up shivering all night. I spoke to one of the administrators at my school and he called a doctor for me, but this doctor only did house calls.
My doctor’s house visit.
As soon as I got home, I told my host-dad, Roberto, that a doctor would be coming to see me that night. Roberto felt my forehead, and told me that I was being silly because I didn’t have a fever. My doctor visited me and we conversed in Italian – I mostly gestured by pointing to my nose and throat because I didn’t know how to say it in Italian yet. Luciana came into the room and dramatically explained that I was feeling like absolute crap because I walk around the house with wet hair and don’t wear a scarf every second of every day.
I wouldn’t advise taking medicine you’ve never heard of, or medicine in which you can’t read the label. But I trusted my school instructors and host-parents who all said that it was fine for me to take. I was prescribed this weird liquid that was to be dropped into my water. It was supposed to help my throat feel better. It eventually worked, but drinking that three times per day was awful because it tasted like nail polish remover.
Being sick sucks. It sucks even more when you’re in a foreign country and your mom is 12 hours behind so you can’t call her at all hours of the day. My advice to any traveler who has a long-term trip abroad coming up, would be to pack a first aid kit with all of the medicines you usually take when you are sick. I let my attitude of “I never get sick, I don’t need medicine,” get in the way of doing the smart thing. Do any of you have stories of getting sick while being abroad? I’d love to hear them!
Siena is located in the heart of Tuscany, located near numerous destinations and options for fun filled weekend trips. During my study abroad program through Lewis & Clark College, hosted by Siena Italian Studies, I was not allowed to travel outside of the country during the program. I took this “rule” as a chance to take advantage of my immediate surroundings – the one and only, alluring Italian region of Tuscany.
While in Siena, I saved all of my money by sacrificing going out for drinks with friends during the week, shopping only for necessities, and eating at home with my host family, all in order to travel during the weekends.
If you’re currently living in Tuscany and you need some help planning a weekend getaway (on a budget), here is a list of the best weekend trips, all of which can be traveled to by train.
This is a no-brainer. If you’re living in Siena, spend a weekend in Florence, located only about an hour north of Siena. Round trip tickets start at around €8 and there is an unlimited amount of things you can do once in Florence. If you’re one for art and history, or maybe you are like me and live with a “you’re only here once,” mentality, check out the Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, both priced at €6,50. You could probably spend an entire day in the Uffizi, admiring the famous works of artists like Masaccio and Giotto, and the Accedmia Gallery is home of the world famous David statue by Michelangelo.
Honestly, just strolling through Florence is an experience within itself. If you would rather just walk around, walk through Ponte Vecchio, check out the most mesmerizing Duomo, shop your way through all of the markets, and eat!
2) San Gimignano
My classmates started referring to San Gimignano (San Jimmy-ya-no) as “San Jimmy Johns” because of the quirky Italian way to pronounce the letters “gn” together. Located about an hour bus ride away from Siena, up high on a mountain top, this town is the perfect epitome of Tuscany and the best place to relax for a while.
Whether you choose to explore its ancient structures, or just sit back and enjoy the view, SG is so great, you might need to visit twice (I did). SG is also home to the world’s best gelato, so you really can’t go wrong. Make sure to try the Vernaccia flavor – made from SG’s very own Vernaccia grape which they also make a white wine with 😉
3) Pisa and Lucca
If your’e a first time visitor to Italy, why wouldn’t you want a goofy picture in front of the Leaning Tower? Other than the Leaning Tower, check out the 11th-century Duomo. Unless you want to deal with the countless tourists at Pisa, venture on over to the nearby town of Lucca.
I added Lucca to this trip because this town will make your trip to Pisa worth it. Offering cobblestoned streets and elegant palaces, and surrounded by its Renaissance-era walls. Take a bike ride on Lucca’s ancient city walls, roam the piazzas, and hangout at a cafe to enjoy the view and talk to the locals.
4) Cinque Terre
The weekend I visited Cinque Terre was the weekend that the Italian coast stole my heart. I stayed in Riomaggiore with five friends in an awesome hostel which had its very own balcony! During our time there, we explored as many towns possible and really just loved walking along the coast. We even had lots of time to relax on the beach and read while laying out beneath the sun.
We got to visit four out of the five towns, Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Corniglia and Vernazza. While in Monterosso, I experienced jumping into the freezing cold Mediterranean Sea (the only other ocean I swam in was the Pacific). We also played frisbee along the shore, searched for sea glass, and climbed rocks. Cinque Terre is the perfect place to visit without a plan and to just take everything in stride.
While in Vernazza, we hiked to Corniglia. You need to go on at least one of the hikes! This was the only open hike while we were there and I’m just grateful to have been able to go on one. Hiking along the Italian coast is an incredible and breathtaking journey, and will definitely make you feel small and realize how lucky you are to be in such a beautiful place. Hikes are available for all levels of hikers. Our trip back to Siena was also an adventure! Cinque Terre would not have been completely Italian without a couple of train strikes.
5) Venice and Verona
A lot of people complain about Venice being too crowded with tourists, but that was not the case for me. I visited during February – sure it was pretty cold, but it was definitely worth seeing while close to no one was there. Venice is where I learned to get lost. Even with a map, all of its narrow streets and alleys are bound to confuse you. After stressing out about getting lost, I realized that there was no point to getting upset and to just appreciate my time there.
I also spent way too much money while in Venice – street markets will do that to you. I became obsessed with Venetian glass and wanted to eat everything from Nutella crepes to dinner at fancy restaurants. This is not to say that Venice on a budget is impossible, because there are a lot of free things to do there too.
We only had a few hours in Verona so the main attraction we visited was Juliet’s (yes, from Romeo & Juliet) house. My romantic expectations were crushed when I learned that the balcony was made out of part of a sarcophagus. Gross! Other than that there is a pretty wall full of lovers’ locks, similar to Pont des Arts – but I don’t know why anyone would want a romance like Romeo and Juliet’s.
Are you currently living in Tuscany? What are some weekend getaways that I should have visited?
While I was a little skeptical about the idea of living with host-parents, I am so glad I did. Instead of living in my own apartment with American college, English-speaking roommates, I got to further immerse myself by living with two grandparent-aged host-parents. Their names are Luciana and Roberto, and they are a traditional Italian couple, who hardly speak English. We bonded through nightly dinners which lasted about 2+ hours, with conversation and game shows. They helped me with my Italian and genuinely tried to get to know Trushaa and me.
Personally, I got along better with Roberto, mostly because I have a soft spot in my heart for grandfather figures. Roberto is a hilarious human being who hardly took life seriously and always found a reason to laugh. I remember the first night Roberto and I actually hit it off, it was the week Luciana was in Milan visiting their daughter and Trushaa was sick, so I had dinner with just Roberto. At first I was nervous, but he brought home pizza and told me that he remembered me mentioning that pizza was my favorite, and then we literally talked for a good 2 hours. We talked about everything from school, softball, Siena, Andrew, my parents, pizza, chocolate, etc. And at the end of dinner, he told me that I speak well and should speak more often *cue self-five.* Since that night, I was able to open up to Roberto and Luciana more easily and was no longer so nervous around them! Throughout my time in Siena, Roberto taught me a few important things:
1) White wine is for wussies
I learned this during my first week with my new host-family. Roberto asked me about what kind of wine I liked, and before living in Italy, I only really tasted a few white wines. So naturally, I replied with white wine. Roberto’s response: “Ah! Vino bianco è per… I can’t remember what word exactly,” but he defined it as “wussies.” I laughed in response. But he was very serious because he went on to say that we only drink red wine in this house, hence my love for red wine.
2) It is basically ok to drink wine all the time
I remember once asking Roberto if he only drinks wine because I hardly saw him drinking anything else. He told me that he drinks one glass of water in the morning with breakfast, and wine with everything else. When I asked him if that was healthy, he gawked at me and said that there is water in wine, so he will be fine.
3) Go out every weeknight
Roberto occasionally teased Trushaa and I for not being “normal American college students,” because we didn’t go out every night of the week. When we explained to him that we wanted to save money in order to travel on weekends and that we didn’t think that our boyfriends would appreciate it if we went out every night, he told us who cares and to spend all of our money while we were in Italy. As you can see, Roberto tried to encourage this “You’re only here once,” mentality.
4) There is always a reason for dessert
Luciana cooked dinner for us every night, and we usually ate fruit for dessert, unless Roberto brought home dessert for us. My favorite was during Carnevale, he brought home cenci at least 3 times. Other than that, he’d bring home chocolates or pastries for no reason other than his love for sweets.
I know that these lessons might come off as a bit silly, but I love that Roberto taught me to appreciate the little things in life and encouraged me to do everything at least once. I sure do miss that guy! Do any of you have similar experiences with host-parents? Good or bad? I’d love to hear about it 🙂
Getting accepted into a study abroad program is quite exciting and downright just a dream come true. However, there’s a lot you need to prepare for with your time leading up to the big move. Personally, my college required us to take one semester of Italian 101 and to attend weekly meetings to address questions about obtaining a visa, what the program will include, etc. That was definitely not enough for me, especially because I took Italian 101 right before winter break, which caused me to forget pretty much everything I learned!
Here are 10 tips on what you should know before studying abroad to Siena, Italy:
1) Learn basic Italian
Especially in a small town like Siena, where a lot of people don’t speak English, learn the basics and the locals will be happy to help with the rest. This includes knowing which tense to use, how to say good morning/buongiorno, good evening/buonasera, the general and widely known casual greeting ciao!,excuse me/mi scusi, please/per favore, thank you/grazie, and how to order things at a restaurant or cafe, vorrei un… cafe per favore?
Just knowing these little phrases will really come in handy because locals are more than happy to help you (unless you are in a big city like Rome). But most Italians in Siena are often impressed that you even took the time to attempt speaking Italian. I remember getting lost going home one day, I caught the wrong bus which took me way farther than I needed to be. I asked the bus driver if this was Route 10, and when he informed me that it wasn’t, I panicked. All I could say was “Dove Belverde?” “Where is Belverde? (my street name).” The bus driver looked up at me, and smiled before he saw the worry in my face and said, “che l’autobus va a Belverde?” which means “Which bus goes to Belverde?” aka exactly what I was trying to convey. He continued to tell me and gave me instructions on where to go in Italian, made sure I understood, and even announced to me when to get off his bus. I was so grateful for his kindness and patience. This experience helped me to be more confident when speaking Italian and eventually led me to be able to have conversations with random strangers, and even they were willing to help me out when I said something incorrectly!
2) Figure out public transportation
Becoming savvy at riding the city bus, trains, and knowing where to book your flights for the best price is essential to traveling around Italy and Europe in general. While living in Siena, you can walk everywhere, which was probably my favorite part because I loved getting lost in my little Tuscan hometown.
3) Get a map
As much as I love getting lost, it’s also important to have a map. Mark off all the things you want to see and the places you’d like to visit, and keep it just in case you get really lost (not the good kind).
4) Personal space does not exist
Italians don’t know this concept. Get over it and learn to live with it. I’ve been stuck standing next to lots of smelly people on buses to feeling violated because someone just decided to stand right behind me. Italians just don’t know they’re being rude according to American standards.
5) There is never a wrong time for pizza, gelato, or wine
My favorite part about living in Italy was the unlimited amounts of world class pizza, gelato, and wine, at any time of the day. I remember Roberto (my host-dad) once telling me that he only drinks one glass of water per day, and wine throughout the rest of the day because who needs water? “c’e l’acqua in vino,” / There’s water in wine.
6) Differentiate between real and fake gelato
I learned how to do this while I was in Rome. The huge mountains of colorful, eye-catching gelato, is fake. In order to know whether it’s real, it will be a color that can be made from a natural ingredient. For example, the flavor mint would be a white-ish/very light green color -because mint extract is white – instead of bright, mint green.
7) Italians’ engagement with alcohol
A major difference between Americans and Italians is their use of alcohol. Sure, Italians drink a lot, but they do not drink to get drunk. Instead, drinking is a social activity for them and no way would you catch an Italian being belligerent. In Siena, I was always able to differentiate between American students and Italians because Americans would be walking around with a handle of hard alcohol, while Italians would have a glass of wine, cocktail, or a bottle of beer.
Another interesting thing about Italy’s drinking culture is that the drinking age is only 16 for those buying fermented alcohol such as beer or wine, and 18 for those buying distilled alcohol. There is much controversy over this, but overall, I thought this was a good thing. It teaches teenagers to drink responsibly and learn how to get home by using public transportation. Whereas, in America, since the drinking age is 21, teenagers tend to sneak around and lie to their parents about what they’re doing, leading to more drunk driving and binge drinking for the thrill of it – but that’s an entirely different topic to indulge on.
8) Learn to barter
There is a huge market in Siena that takes place every Wednesday with lots of goodies that you’ll want to buy. If the workers know you aren’t from Siena, they will most likely hike up the prices, so learn to negotiate. This is even more apparent and helpful in bigger cities such as Rome and Florence. I didn’t really need to haggle in Siena, although I was able to get the cutest pair of flats for 5€ when they were originally 10€. My biggest accomplishment took place in Florence when I was on the hunt for the perfect leather jacket. The salesman noticed that I was American and with my parents so he tried to charge us 200€ more than what we bought it for. Crazy!
9) To tip or not to tip?
Tipping isn’t necessary in Italy because of coperto/cover charge, which most, if not all restaurants have. This charge covers water and bread and is included in your bill. Although some places will leave it off of your bill to try and trick you into leaving a tip.
Also, take note on the differences of services you receive in Italian restaurants. Most Americans find it rude because waiters/waitresses won’t constantly ask you how your meal it or be there to refill your drink. But in Italy, meals are a social time and can take up to at least 2 hours. The waiters/waitresses understand that which is why they don’t bother you and why you’re able to feel relaxed and not rushed during your meal.
Lots of people suggest getting a money belt while living abroad, I did this and it wasn’t entirely necessary. Girls, you can use your purse, just as long as you don’t leave it hanging open or are oblivious to your surroundings. I also learned that it’s helpful to keep copies of your bank cards and any type of identification, just in case you lose yours; and to keep money in different places (i.e., keep some cash in your wallet, shoes, different clothing, locked in a safe at home or in your hostel, etc.)
I hope you found all or at least some of these tips helpful! What are some things you wish you knew before going abroad? Comment below!
My first week in Siena flew by. I kept busy with student orientation, getting to know my family, and exploring the city. I loved everything about it! I constantly took photos with my DSLR and iPhone, and when I finally had a chance to catch my breath, I reached down into my pocket to grab my phone and opened up Instagram. “Unable to connect to wifi,” continued to pop up. Ok, I’ll just wait til I get home. My host-mom, Luciana, had no idea what wifi was and offered me their desktop computer. “Grazie!” I genuinely exclaimed as I thought to myself, “well, I can’t upload pictures onto Instagram using a desktop computer, so… I’ll go get ready for bed instead.”
Laying in bed in my comfy pajamas, I started to shiver so I got up and tried to adjust the heater. Hm, it’s not getting any warmer… I asked my host-dad, Roberto, to fix it. When he finally understood what I was trying to ask him, my Italian still fresh and most likely incoherent, he responded, “Ah! Non funziona alla notte!” (“It doesn’t work at night,”). WHAT?! I gasped.
As the sound of my teeth chattering slowly rocked me to sleep, it was then, that I realized that living in Italy would be way more different than living in America, way more than I expected. Thus, here are 5 American habits I lost when I moved to Italy.
1) Being quiet and shy
Italians are all about their hugs, kisses, hand gestures, and loudness. Upon arrival, my host-parents hugged and kissed me “hello,” which I was used to because we do the same type of greeting in Hawaii. But once I was in their home, my host-mom started yelling at me in Italian! Something, I don’t know, about dinner I assumed, I had no idea because it was my first night and I didn’t know enough Italian to keep up with her speedy speech. Then my helpful roommate, Trushaa, leaned in to me and said that our host-mom was just asking us if we were hungry and what we wanted to eat for dinner. Whew! What a relief because I was in shock and had no idea what to say! All I could mutter was “si, grazie…” (“Yes, thank you,”). It took me a few weeks to learn that neither my host-parents nor random strangers on the street were yelling at me. Every Italian I encountered was loud and touchy and I learned to love it because it made me feel welcome and reminded me of my Hawaiian-style family and friends back home.
2) Eggs and bacon for breakfast
Italians are all about their desserts for breakfast. There came a time where this was my biggest complaint about living in Italy, then I knew I was acting like a spoiled brat. What can I say? I missed my protein! Breakfast in Italy is all about the Nutella, pastries, coffee, espresso, etc. It was amazing at first, but then I noticed myself growing a distaste for sweets first thing in the morning, gaining weight, and craving eggs and bacon. Once, I asked Luciana for eggs, and she served it for dinner.
3) Needing a car
Now I know that public transportation is pretty huge in America, even though most families own 2-3 cars. While in Siena, I learned to looove public transportation. I caught the city bus to school everyday, walked around the city every free moment of time I had, and rode the train to different Italian cities every weekend. I can recall being in a car only twice – when my host parents first picked me up, and on my last day in Siena, Roberto saw me waiting at the bus stop and picked me up. Anyway, if you ever wonder how Italians stay so fit, it’s because they walk everywhere, and there are tons of hills!
4) Being attached to social media
I used to be all about posting everything about my life via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. That all changed mainly because I had no wifi in my home in Italy and the wifi at my school was way too slow. At first, this frustrated me, especially because of the people back home I wanted to keep in touch with, and because I took some pretty great pictures that I wanted to share. I also planned to start my blog then, but my lack of internet kept me from doing so. However, becoming unattached was very relieving and was a big reminder for me to remember to look up and appreciate the view.
5) Planning every minute of everyday
Before moving to Italy, I was very organized and needed to plan everything or else I would go crazy – I blame growing up in fast-paced America. The first couple of weeks in Italy, I had a really hard time getting used to having so much free time and it really annoyed me when professors would be late to class. But, with time, I got used to this. It only took me having to write down things like “relax” and “take a nap,” on my daily to-do lists to realize that I needed to just kick up my feet and enjoy the ride.
Learning to go with the flow also really helped me to find the beauty in getting lost. I no longer planned every trip I went on, and sometimes I wouldn’t even use a map, all because finding unfamiliar and unplanned gems were more rewarding than sticking to a itinerary.
The most selfish thing I’ve ever done, was study abroad in Siena, Italy for a semester. After going, I have no regrets and I can truly say that it was the best experience of my life. Studying abroad was something I always dreamed of doing, and when the time came, I could not have planned it any worse. France and Italy were the two places I wanted to live, but I wanted to attend a program that was not language intensive. Although, my program in Siena informed that it was not language intensive, they could have fooled me – I had to take a semester of Italian 101 before leaving, and the first 3 weeks of the program were 5-hour classes of Italian. We all called it “Italian bootcamp,” and thank God for it because Siena is a small Tuscan town where everyone speaks Italian. My host mom, for example, didn’t speak a lick of English, and my host dad hid the fact that he could speak English for the first few weeks of my stay. That darn Roberto!
Anyway, it may not seem so, but I risked a lot to study abroad in Italy. For example, it was my junior year of college, I was a softball player, and I basically ditched my team to go abroad. As cruel as I may seem, it was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I had been playing softball since I was 7 years old, it was a big part of my decision to attend Lewis & Clark College, and I didn’t want to let any of my teammates, coaches, friends, or parents down. I let a lot of people down, but once I made my decision there was no turning back and I just had to embrace every opportunity granted moving forward.
Another risk I took was leaving my friends, family, and boyfriend of 3 years at the time. Yes, they all supported me, but my parents were so worried about me and missed me like crazy. As for my relationship, I just put more distance and tension in our already long distance relationship. My being in Italy put a huge strain on our relationship especially because I was experiencing all of these fun, new, and crazy things, in a brand new place, and his routine hadn’t changed at all. The time difference and lack of wifi also almost killed us.
Everyday, I risked getting lost all while finding the beauty of getting lost and falling in love with stumbling upon somewhere unfamiliar. I risked losing my friends by not keeping in touch and by making new friends from all around the world who somehow had more in common with me than my friends back home. I risked ruining my relationship with my parents because I couldn’t always talk to them, while they were sad and worried about me, I was enjoying my time to myself and busy exploring. I risked losing my boyfriend, by staying awake until ungodly hours and doing a horrible job at keeping up with phone calls, skype chats, and snail mail.
I used to live my life to please those around me, but moving to Siena allowed me to put myself first. I risked looking like an idiot because I moved to a country where I barely knew the language, and by the time I left I was almost fluent and able to keep up a conversation with a friendly stranger on the street. I risked losing loved ones and no longer being the girl who always did what she was supposed to do, and in it, I found my passion for travel.