We were without our interpreter at the base of Saturday morning’s market.
“Ready?” Lauresa said.
“Um, sure,” I replied, uneasy about how we would be able to manage trying to speak in Italian.
I had no idea how our interviews with families would fare that chilly morning. First of all, I did not think any families would be out at the market. It was not particularly great weather, and it was still early.
Spotted: Around the corner from the fake leather bags and scratchy scarves was our first family.
It was a dad with three of his children who all looked between the ages of 4 and 7.
“They’re all yours,” I told Lauresa.
“Ok, here it goes.”
I thought to myself, “Oh, thank goodness.” I did not want to make the first move since my Italian is somewhere between horrible and embarrassing.
Phew. The man spoke English. We were saved.
Source 1: check.
We walked to the playground area as slowly as possible. We did not want to look creepy, but neither of us wanted to initiate the conversation with the Italian mother standing by the swings.
“Crap, I can’t do this. This is so embarrassing,” I told Lauresa.
I do not know what it was. It may have been the cool wind, the smell of crescia or the giggling little girl on the swing. I went for it. I actually spoke in Italian, and the woman understood me. No blank stares and no turned backs. Success.
Source 2: check.
We were in the piazza basically stalking a man and his adorable daughter.
“She is so cute, we need to interview him,” I said to Lauresa.
“All right, well it seems like you have the whole Italian thing down. Go for it.”
I walked directly up to the father and stood about three steps away. He moved closer. I find most Italians like to speak very close to the other person. They like to move inside that invisible box I usually draw around myself.
I moved closer.
I noticed this is the way Italians like to talk; face-to-face, almost invading the other person’s invisible box.
Of course he would let us take their picture! I was on a roll.
Source 3: check.
I finally surpassed that barrier. I worked through the anxiety I had been experiencing the whole trip.
I remember I wrote in my field journal on the way to Pesaro the first weekend:
“I am beginning to understand that things that we think are barriers in Italy are ‘bridges to other worlds.’—I need to stop looking at all the things stopping me, I need to get past the language barrier.”
Language barrier: check.
Not only did I learn to overcome the language barrier, but I learned to travel on my own. I blogged about how I was not confident in my ability to find my way in unfamiliar territory.
“I used to envy those who had the will to find their way through Europe and who could travel long distances by themselves. I have never traveled father than Detroit by myself.”
It was 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon, July 23, my birthday. I had slept for 2.5 hours and found myself with my head down on the computer lab table. I was planning on going to Rome that afternoon, but I did not think I was far enough along with my video to leave the lab.
My phone started vibrating in my hand. It was my mom. She did not even wish me a happy birthday before saying:
“You e-mailed me at 3 a.m. your time. What the hell are you doing over there?”
I explained the situation to her; that I could not go to Rome because I had too much to do. After two minutes of conversation, costing me nearly four dollars, I was persuaded to get off my butt, pack a bag and head to Roma—even though I would be traveling alone.
I did it. I traveled by myself to Rome, not knowing when or if I would have others accompanying me. It was my birthday and I took it upon myself to find entertainment. I walked down to the bar and got myself a beer, read my book and fell asleep.
Experienced traveler: check.
Our month in Urbino is almost complete and I feel as though I have a new home. I learned more about myself than I would have living in Boston for the summer. I learned that some cultural customs are regional, even if they seem insignificant. For example, you can see Italian families going to Sunday Mass, drinking wine with dinner, chatting over an ice cream, going to the beach on a hot day, and playing at the playground just like Americans.
However, I did learn a whole new set of customs and rituals while living in Italy. They are almost habitual now. I have cappuccinos in the morning, afternoon, and evening and gelatos whenever I want. I do not sleep with covers, I constantly am applying mosquito repellent, I drink one Orange San Pellegrino a day and I sit on a bench overlooking the Ducal Palace to read.
What do I worry about the most? I worry that when I leave, I will have a hard time adjusting to the atmosphere at home. I worry I will have a hard time switching back to my old routine and cultural patterns.
By coming to Urbino I learned about another culture, but also I learned more about my own. It’s like the saying “You don’t know where you are going until you get there.”
I had no idea what opportunities and experiences Urbino would present me. Now, after a month, I can run up Via Raffaelo without panting and I can speak more than three words of Italian, all because I charged through the cultural barriers I feared the the most upon my arrival.
From my first blog:
“Although I continue to practice activities that are habitual for me in America, I think it is important to engage in new Italian activities—indulge in the culture.”
Observer to full-fledged participant: Check.