When I was in high school, I participated in a very unique cultural exchange program. For ten days students from Chiari, Italy came to America, staying with host families from my school and exploring California- going to San Francisco, Berkeley, etc. I participated in this exchange three out of my four years of high school. My first year doing it as a sophomore I hosted a student named Elisa in September and then at beginning of summer, I went to Italy with about 20 other students and adult chaperones, including my mom. This was both my first time ever in Europe, as well as hers. I stayed with my Italian student and her family while my mom stayed with one of high school teachers and her family. The following year we hosted another student in the fall named Giada and then my senior year another student named Jessica. My senior year I went to Italy and stayed with Jessica and her family. On these trips to Italy, we visited Milan, Venice and Lake Iseo.
This weekend I returned to Italy.
I flew into Milan where I was welcomed with a warm embrace by Alberto, a friend I made during the exchange my senior year who I’ve consistently managed to keep contact with. It was incredible because although we had communicated multiple times throughout my process of deciding to study abroad and about my return to Italy, it never seemed real until I was actually standing there, in Milan, right in front of him. 3 years is a long time, but Italy was worth the wait.
We didn’t arrive at his home until about 1 in the morning and had to wake up at 5 the next morning to go to Florence. I had never been to Florence and I was amazed at its beauty. During our visit we walked across the Pointe Vecchio, entered the Galleria degli Uffizi, explored the Boboli gardens and climbed to the top of the Duomo(photographed). We stayed the night in the heart of the city and left in the afternoon the next day.
When we came back, I met Alberto’s family, whom were friendly and so nice to me, but of course spoke very little English. I wanted so badly to be able to fluently speak this language I had studied for over a year and was very disappointed in myself for the lack of practice that had led me to my inadequacy. I did in fact find myself understanding a lot of what was spoken to me and around me and although I could not find the words to respond, I didn’t feel too alien in a room with people speaking a different language. Ultimately even with the language barrier, I very much enjoyed the hospitality and time spent with Alberto’s family.
That night, we went out to the disco where I met and partied with Alberto’s coworkers. The club was filled with people and most importantly filled with American music, which healed a bit of the homesickness I’d been feeling since I arrived in Europe three weeks ago.
Saturday we spent much of our day sleeping in and recovering from the night before. We also went to Lake Garda which was grand and beautiful. I felt very at peace there, but I also became overwhelmed with the nearness of my departure.
On my last day, we met with Jessica at a popular breakfast place. Like I mentioned earlier, Jessica was the Italian student that I had hosted my senior year and had stayed with during my last visit in Italy. We had not managed to keep very good contact in the years between but seeing her made it feel like not a day had passed. She was still Jessica, the same person i got along with so well with my senior year – full of energy, funny and sweet. We caught up and spoke about Prague, university and other simplicities as we ate the delicious croissants, macarons and other sweets at our table. Upon our arrival at the busy restaurant we were greeted by Miriam, another Italian student who participated in the exchange my senior year. It was so nice seeing familiar faces and it made me even more sad knowing I had to say goodbye to this place.
Besides the sad and final moments spent at the airport before my departure, my last moments consisted of a delicious family lunch, eating what could only be the best ravioli’s I’ve ever had (sorry Trader Joe’s). I left the dining table feeling adequately stuffed and apreciative of the experience, unfortunately accepting the reality of my leaving.
In total, I have now accumulated about 25 days spent in Italy in my lifetime. The people, the language, the food all has begun to feel familiar to me. Italy will forever hold a special place in my heart, and am happy to know I have a home very far away from my home.