Looking back on my semester in Siena, Italy, I am filled with nostalgia and memories of experiencing the profound beauty of Italy for the first time. I didn’t know it then, but that semester would be the catalyst that reshaped my life. I wouldn’t be living in Italy today if I hadn’t studied abroad here. While I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, of course, it wasn’t perfect either. I don’t have any serious regrets, but here are some mistakes I made and things I would do differently if I had to do it over again. One faux pas, in particular, involved a washing machine…..
- I was so afraid of making grammar mistakes that I ended up missing out on prime opportunities to improve. I chose my program because I was determined to improve my Italian and I wanted a “full-immersion” experience. Living with a host family gave me exactly that, but I hadn’t counted on having a roommate who is Italian-American. I was still flexing my baby Italian speaking muscles trying to work out how to form a coherent sentence. Meanwhile, my fluent roommate took center stage every night at the dinner table. (No shade, all shine. She’s awesome.) I learned about Italian conversation the hard way, it’s not a question of if people interrupt you, but when.
- Typically, American students go abroad to party and travel and to have an “easier” semester. That was NOT the case for me. I wasn’t against having a good time, but looking back, I definitely could have let my hair down a bit more. I took the maximum number of classes, volunteered, and wanted to be the top student in my Italian language class. And I thought I was doing everything the right way. One time, a student in my program had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. They actually had to drive the ambulance right into Piazza del Campo to rescue him. I’m not suggesting he was on the better path. But, I do wish someone had told me none of those classes would matter later on. I don’t remember what I studied or what grades I got. I do remember wandering the streets of Siena taking it all in and sitting with friends having a beer in the piazza. I could have done with more of that.
- I was so afraid of being needy or impolite that I didn’t communicate well with my host family. My host mom asked me what I preferred to eat for breakfast and if I had any food preferences in general. I’m sure I responded, “whatever is perfect, I eat everything!” I felt like requesting something specific would mean that I was ungrateful. They had taken us into their home to live with their children and eat dinner with their family every night. Obviously, they were being compensated, but it still made me uncomfortable to ask for anything. I was 21 years old and someone was doing my laundry for me again.
- On the subject of laundry, I did NOT pack enough clothes for four months. Again, the opposite mistake of most American girls that go abroad. A friend brought two giant rolling suitcases, a backpack, a purse, and a duffel bag. This was fine on the journey there, when her father and brother helped her with her bags. At the end of the trip, it meant dragging heavy bags through the cobblestone streets of Rome. It made it impossible to use public transportation. I, however, made the opposite mistake. One time, I needed my jeans washed so badly and yet couldn’t give them up to the clothes hamper. Because clothes are hung to air dry in Italy, they would have taken too long to dry before I needed them again. So, in an effort to be self-sufficient, I tried to wash my jeans by myself. No knowledge of Italian could have helped me figure out that damn washing machine. I tried and tried, but my clothes were in an endless washing cycle that I couldn’t stop. The washing machine door was locked and I couldn’t do anything to cover up my mistake. So when my host mom came home, I had to admit that I had gone behind her back and used her washing machine (a downright felony in an Italian home). This all could have been avoided if I had communicated what I needed.
- I put so much pressure on myself to blend in, which was ridiculous and futile. According to Ivan, you can tell from a kilometer away that I’m American: “si vede da un chilometro che sei Americana”. I wanted so badly to be mistaken for a local, which is hilarious to me now. I would love to be able to go back in time to tell 2012 Christine to chill, everyone knows you’re not Italian. It really doesn’t matter! You can be your authentic self and there’s nothing wrong with that. Besides, you’re not fooling anyone.
My last day in Siena, I sat in the main piazza thinking, I’m not done with Italy yet. I’ll never forget where I sat and how I felt that day. That semester abroad was such an intense learning experience for me and it changed my life. Maybe I wouldn’t be here in Florence today if it weren’t for such a positive study abroad experience. So I want to say a long overdue thanks to my program, Siena Italian Studies. I cannot recommend it enough.
What are your study abroad regrets? Any stories? Let me know in the comments!
If you liked reading about my unsavvy study abroad, read about The UN-glamorous ADULT Life Abroad: We’re Not Study Abroad Students Anymore! and 5 Things I do that Piss off the Italians