The past week was long. Between two presentations, a final exam, and worrying about my little sister in Boston, I’ve been feeling a bit stressed and homesick. However, thinking about my family and Madison has helped me remember a few myths about Italy and studying abroad in general. I would like to debunk them now.
1. “There is no peanut butter here!”
…Is what I told my roommate when we went grocery shopping the first day in my apartment. In my stunted Italian, I tried to explain what peanut butter was. Poor Europeans, hearing for the first time of such an exotic delicacy! When we got home, she pulled her jar of peanut butter out of the refrigerator, and I looked like an idiot.
While Italians may have peanut butter, most apartments do not have a dryer or a living room. This leads to charming moments when I get to hang my sheets from the clothesline on my balcony, and less charming moments when I have to use a roommate’s blow-dryer on my socks. My apartment in particular has neither a toaster nor a microwave. We do, however, have a bidet.
2. “Europeans drink alcohol, but only one glass of wine with dinner.”
Tell this to the drunk Italian girl who fell unconscious onto the concrete in Piazza Verde (a popular college student gathering point) last Friday night. Of course, alcohol consumption varies from person to person just as it does in the US. For example, my roommates tend to drink very little, and only at parties or bars once a week or so. Usually, Italian parties involve food in addition to alcohol (often wine or beer), which is right up my alley.
It’s also important to realize that at University of Bologna the student age range is huge. My roommates are relatively young (19-23), but some of my American friends live with students who are 29. Furthermore, the University of Bologna hosts some 100,000 students so it’s difficult to say someone is or is not “typical”.
You know the movie: Liam Neeson, 2008, “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” The thought of being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery is pretty terrifying. And to think it could happen immediately after stepping off the tarmac onto European soil!
Lucky for my dad (who does not have that particular set of skills), since arriving in Bologna I have always felt safe. There is very little violent crime here; just lots of pick pocketing. Even travelling in Spain, where I didn’t speak the language, I found people incredibly trusting and trustworthy. When my bus from Spain to Portugal hadn’t arrived, I befriended two Brazilian women also waiting for the bus to Lisbon. They spoke Spanish and Portuguese, so at one point while trying to find the missing bus they left me alone with their two giant suitcases even though we had only met minutes before. If that isn’t trust, I don’t know what is.
4. “After like, two weeks I was totally fluent.”
That’s a lie. Regardless of the fact that I live with Italians and have been speaking Italian every day for the past three months, I am not even close to fluent. I constantly make mistakes, and though I can communicate conversationally, it’s really hard. I have to hang out with my American friends often, just so I can have a break from thinking about every word that exits my mouth.
5. “Study Abroad is soooo fun and easy! I partied every day!”
I don’t know what program these people are attending, but my study abroad experience is far from it. Although I wouldn’t consider the academics as taxing as those at UW, combine a full course load with not speaking the language, living far from friends and family, and constantly adjusting to a different culture. In the end, I often feel more stressed here in Italy than I do in Madison.
The strange thing about studying abroad is that even though I am stress-spooning Nutella into my mouth every other day, I am so excited to be here. The advice is to learn something new every day, but in Bologna I learn at least five new things a day. For every evening that I need to sit and watch an American movie, there are countless times when I learn a card game from my roommates, or try making a new Italian dish (or eat a new candy bar if I’m feeling lazy). Studying abroad is a constant adventure, and while that can be exhausting, it is also exhilarating. I feel so lucky to enjoy such a fantastic semester, but I would never demean it by calling it easy.