I pound on the door, knuckles slamming against the hard wood. I wanted to call out for help, but other guests in the hotel were sleeping. Pressing my head to the door, I jiggled the handle and felt my heart fall as it jerked to a stop with a solid clunk –I was locked in.
Traveling outside the United States I had a long list of worries: losing the group, being pickpocketed, having to go to a hospital, failing at Italian, and ending up exploring alone. Being locked in my own hotel room did not quite make the list. However, after my roommate opened the door, I had to laugh –only I could manage to lock myself into my own hotel room. That takes some serious skill. Still, despite the fact that I was trapped, I remained completely calm. I was comfortable being alone. I thought my lack of trust in myself would lead to a failure to experience Italy; on the contrary I formed a lasting sense of self-sufficiency –the Italian people’s loquaciousness nourishing my growing confidence.
In Amelia, my host family lived five minutes from Eurolinks School. I enjoyed immense freedom as I could walk anywhere. However, walking to school on the first day by myself, I ran into a few snags. I had forgotten the road leading to the parking lot –the landmark my mind gripped like a life raft. I couldn’t ask my host family for help because only the Nonna, who spoke zero English, was home. Watching the cars whiz by stop signs, I finally asked for help.
“Scusa,” I said to a small woman on the side of the road. “Where is Eurolinks school?”
She frowned, shooting a dart into my sinking heart. No English. School started in ten minutes, but I was afraid of looking like an imbecile if I spoke broken Italian. But she had stopped –this gave me the courage to try talking. She may not understand, but she cared to help. I tried again using some Spanish.
“Escuela de Eurolinks?” She shook her head.
“Che scuola? No lo so. Mi dispiace.”
“Grazie.” I smiled. I was proud I could communicate, but frustrated that I was still lost. New tactic –I decided to use my instinct to guide me. This was the land of my ancestors; there must be some navigation system embedded in my blood. Following my gut, along with the signs marked with a giant white P, I found the parking lot and the school. I survived my first lone trek in a foreign city and my first encounter with a native Italian stranger. Even though I struggled to communicate, she was willing to listen. In the U.S it would take me multiple tries to convince someone to stop, and if I couldn’t speak English, I would be waved away. Her patience encouraged me to attempt to speak Italian, and I relished a new sense of capability.
I trusted myself to explore on my own –something I thought was impossible, because of my shy nature. This newfound independence saved me in Florence when I found myself, by myself.
Sitting in the hotel lobby with only a bust to talk to, I was torn. The other students were gone or napping. I could nap too, but I would regret it. I was in Florence. One of the most historical and beautiful cities in the world. I flinched at the thought of returning home and saying ‘well, in Florence I stayed in the hotel.’ Although Florence was a bit more intimidating than Amelia, my sense of regret trumped every anxiety.
Wandering through the crowded streets, I realized I could visit all the places I wanted to see, including a small stand that sold masks. As I admired the glittering faces, the seller came up to me. Normally I would just leave with a hurried ‘grazie’, but not this time.
This time I chatted with the vendor. He eagerly engaged me in conversation and kept his own phrases simple. I was even able to say small phrases, like the masks were ‘bella’ and distinguishing them by color –‘azzurro.’ Though I didn’t buy anything, the vendor still wished me a great time in Florence. His enthusiasm for connecting with other people made me comfortable enough to talk with him and not shrink away timidly –my trademark move.
The Italians’ easy manners and acceptance of foreigners opened up my shell. Their compassion lent me confidence to carry back to America. These were basic conversations, but they impacted my view of my own agency. Italians have such expressiveness that they draw it out in others; it was time to embrace my Italian side and let out my own expressiveness. And if I see someone lost on a street –maybe think about stopping to help.
About the Author: I’m Lindsey Fischer and I am going into my junior year at Allegheny College, as an English major, and History and Latin double minor. Originally I am from Ohio, where all the members of the Italian side of my family live, and eat, and talk and talk…I love reading writing, swing dancing, and now, travelling! Find me on Facebook.