Saturday October 1, 2016

Host Family In Italy

By Alexandria Erin

My second day in Civitavecchia Italy, I participated in a program called “local family lunch and exchange.” Early in the morning a bunch of SAS students and I got up and headed to a local high school in Civitavecchia. After arriving at the high school we were paired up with students who showed us around their school and then we all went into a lecture hall style room and discussed the differences between American students Italian Students. We found there were many differences, but also similarities.

One of the differences between American high schools and Italian high schools is that Italian high schools are 5 years where as American high schools are generally 4 years. It was also interesting for me to hear about all the diversity even in the United States (USA) due to all of the SAS students being from different parts of the United States. We were also able to give the Italian students insight into what it meant to be a student in the USA. We found that by explaining what it was like to be an American for each of us we broke many stereotypes that were placed on us by the Italian students.

After this we paired off with the students we each were assigned to and went to their homes for an Italian meal. My host student’s name was Alessandro. Their house was a 2-minute walk from school up on a little hill. They had just moved so everything was still being unpacked. I felt I was able to really see what the house looked like because everything was very simple with a few boxes here and there. Alessandro spoke English pretty well so I was able to understand him and he translated for his mother so I was able to understand her. Alessandro’s sister spoke better Spanish than English so I mostly spoke to her in basic Spanish.

We ate lunch up on their second level outside with the sunshine and the view of the city. The walls were a peachy pink color and the tile was a warm yellow. We had lasagna and it was amazing! After finishing lunch, Alessandro’s mother taught me how to make espresso on their stove. It was an amazing experience. With the help of Alessandro I was able to learn about Italian espresso from her and the different ways to drink it and make it. I had no idea there were so many different ways. I was also shocked that espresso was not only drank from in an espresso cup with a little plate under it but there are also tiny glass cups that look like tiny water glasses that Italians drink espresso from. We then talked about soccer, futbol in Italian, because I love soccer and so does Alessandro.

I brought Alessandro and his family huckleberry taffy from Jackson Hole Wyoming and they loved it. Alessandro said, “this is my new drug.” The taffy was a bit melted but they put it in the refrigerator and walah in half an hour it was better to eat!

The family let me take photos of them and the mom and I, while waiting for Alessandro and his friends, took a bunch of selfies and danced around her living room. Alessandro later told me that his mother loved hearing my voice and how much I talked about my family. He said this is very important for a woman of my age to have a nice voice and to love her family.

We then got in the car and Alessandro’s mother dropped off Alessandro’s friends and sister and then we proceeded to be dropped off in the middle of the town to meet up with the other SAS students and students from the high school. As I was leaving Alessandro’s mother gave me a big hug and squeezed me, she whispered something in my ear. I am not sure what she whispered but it was followed with a huge smile so I am guessing it was something kind and loving!

This experience was eye opening. I grew up in a very tight knit Italian family in upstate NY, so there was not much culture shock for me. But I felt like I was home, I felt like I was somewhere where I was understood in this country I was from but had never been to. I will never forget the moment of making espresso with Alessandro’s mom and both of us not able to understand the sounds we made but communicated with hand gestures and just knowing. Somehow I just knew what she was trying to tell me with out her even saying anything, just by her smile, just by her slight touch on my shoulder I was able to understand that I was welcomed into their family and I was automatically loved. I know this will not be the last time I see them as I plan to keep in contact with them and visit the next time I am in Italy.

I am blessed for this experience and I highly suggest that if anyone every gets the opportunity whether with Semester at Sea or not, to try and integrate yourself into what life is like even for a few hours or half a day. Be open to who they are and know that you are there starting from scratch. Leave all your interpretations, judgments, understanding of who they are from media or stories and let yourself start from knowing “nothing” and let them write the story. Let them tell you their story by you listening and watching. Everyone is different so don’t assume that just because someone is a certain culture they are a certain way. When we do not allow ourselves to learn about each person as a single entity that has depth and their own genetic map, we single story people. Don’t single story people, take time to learn about each person you interact with because we as humans are all different, we all have something to offer, we all have our own story that is layered beneath what we choose to share and what we cannot share but show in our actions. Learn to love. For love is important when interacting with anyone. Love with out expecting anything in return and you will learn more than you intended to. With any experience that involves what I have explained above you will learn to understand people, and that is how world peace begins.

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