Living in Italy as an American
Study Abroad in Italy
Living in Italy as an American was one of the most exhilarating parts of the entire trip. You are in all senses of the phrase in a whole new world. At first I thought it would be intimidating and that the Italians would dislike us. I was afraid I would insult them with one of my customs or with my lack of skill in the Italian language. But this proved unproblematic. I can honestly say I did not have a single incident in which someone mistreated me or I felt like the odd man out. The Italians were open and welcoming.
The most interaction I had with locals was at the shops, restaurants and markets. To my surprise, almost all of them spoke enough English that I could communicate. Nonetheless, I highly recommend that any student visiting a foreign country learn the language. It comes in handy for reading signs and getting the inside scoop on the best places to eat and shop. And if you don't know the language, at least try your best. I learned a few words and key phrases before departing and I took two traveler's books with me that had translations and pronunciation. I tried my best to speak to the locals and once they noticed me struggling they'd jump in with some English and we were sure to figure it out.
It's also helpful to learn some cultural tips—like that you don't put your feet on the bus or train seats, and you enter and exit through specific doors on the bus. Before we left for Italy, our professors went over many of these with us, and I think that prevented many uncomfortable altercations. Of course, sometimes you forget you're not in America and get a little loud, but our professors were sure to remind us we were walking through the streets of Rome, not Miami. Even in a hectic city like Rome, people are quite poised, particularly on Sundays, and it is considered rude to yell. So after a while we learned to contain our excitement to socially acceptable levels. But this was truly no big deal. In time, I felt like Italy was my second home. Yes, the cobblestone streets and ancient monuments reminded me I was a long way from America, but all in all I felt at ease.
One little mistake I did make was in my choice of wardrobe. Since I’m from Miami, I am used to shorts, flip-flops, and tanks. I knew that inside churches, this is not allowed, but I thought that for my free days this would be okay. After a few awkward stares I learned otherwise. I did use shorts a few times because the weather can get just as hot as back home, but I opted to wear my longer pair. And I replaced my tank tops with T-shirts so my shoulders remained covered. In places by the water, like Sorrento, I brought them back out without a problem, but in the main cities I remained conservative. At the opera one night I thought I was dressed perfectly for the occasion and then I noticed a few people (mainly older women) looking down at my feet. I was truly confused. My cousin who lives in Rome later told me that women in Rome don't tend to wear open high heels, especially if it's not a bar or club scene. I quickly replaced my Miami heels with a pair of closed black flats. No one ever said anything to me or gave me a “nasty” look, but I found it best to not have the word tourist flashing from my forehead with neon lights. A good way to avoid that is by dressing appropriately.
Other articles in this series:
- Studying Abroad in Italy: Social Culture
- Studying Abroad in Italy: Accommodations and Food
- Studying Abroad in Italy: Academics
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