Sharing Bologna with Wisconsin

Students preparing to study abroad learn a lot of information through orientations and handbooks but no one ever tells you how to respond to the ubiquitous statement: “I am SO jealous of you!” The nurse giving preparatory shots, the mail woman sending off my passport to the Italian consulate, even the orientation leader tells me how they are green with envy. How can I respond to that? “Sorry?” “Yes, I’m really lucky!” “Thanks?” It’s an uncomfortable position. I know that in their shoes I’d be jealous too, but instead I’m terrified (Okay, also a little excited, but let’s focus on the terrified). I’m about to embark on a very expensive journey to a strange land (Italia!) where nothing will be familiar.

My trip to Bologna, Italy is fast approaching and when I think of all that will be happening in a few short weeks I am terrified. I will speak only Italian for 6 months, attend school with Italian students at University of Bologna, and live across the ocean from a city where I’ve spent my entire life. I was born in Madison, attended Madison West High school, and moved to a dorm two miles away from my house to attend UW- Madison. Now, I’ll be living 6 time zones apart from my family in a country where I only have rudimentary knowledge of the language.

In the past few months I’ve been doing everything I can to prepare for the trip: applying for scholarships, watching Italian movies, and meeting with a fellow undergrad who’s fluent in Italian to practice my conversation skills. I try to speak more bravely in class, and I flip through vocabulary flashcards in my spare time. But even with all my practice, I know the trip will be difficult, especially at first. Students in the Bologna Consortial Studies Program (BCSP) are expected to find their own housing (can you imagine house hunting in a foreign language? I’ll tell you how it goes…), attend at least one class at University of Bologna, and as my worried grandma simplified it “are basically on their own”.  Of course, this is what I want. I want to be challenged, to find myself fully immersed in a foreign language. I want the “real” Italian experience, I want to explore Bologna in a way a tour group never could—the way a tourist never could.

Everyone I talk to has something to say about my trip. My grandpa wants me to keep a journal solely of the wine that I drink, and my great aunt presented me with a pack of beautiful stationary to send letters back across the Atlantic. I hope that through this blog I can take everyone who expressed his or her jealousy along on the trip with me. I want to capture both the amazing and frightening parts of this crazy journey and share them with everyone I can’t take with me. In the meantime, I’ll start making my packing list and keep working on my conversation skills.