Lessons

arancini

One of my first meals in Italy, an arancini

daniele

With our Resident Director Daniele! He was so awesome.

My first day studying abroad started with loads of anxiety and culture shock. When my plane first arrived to the Catania airport, I quickly exited the plane. After looking at the time, I realized I was late and no longer made the cut to be transported by API. Needless to say, I was panicking. I followed the crowd to the baggage claim and waited. I waited some more. Eventually, I realized I was one of three people still huddled around the electronic loop. My bag was nowhere to be found. Only speaking minimal Italian, I hesitantly pumped myself up to contact one of the employees. “Parla inglese?” I mumbled uncertainly. “Un po,” responded the airport employee. I explained that my bag was nowhere to be found. Although there was a significant language barrier, my distressed face and obvious exhaustion were conveyed. He politely directed me towards an alternative claim where my bag was rounding corners like the Daytona 500. Now I felt like I needed to pop a bottle of champagne or something.

The victory was short-lived once I realized I’d need to take a taxi or bus to Taormina, about one hour away. I exited the airport. Faintly in the distance, I recognized my name on a small piece of paper being carried like a beacon in the night overhead a tall man. To my relief, my resident director had waited an extra hour for me to arrive. He greeted me with a cheery “Ciao!” and asked if I was hungry. At this moment, I knew I liked Italy already.

What this experience taught me:
1. No matter where you go, there will always be barriers in communication. This may be physical, lingual, cultural, or social. Regardless of these roadblocks, as humans, we share countless commonalities. For instance, my non-verbal cues were easy for the employee to understand. It’s also important to remember that most people are innately good. This man didn’t know me, my name, or quite understand me, yet he went out of his way to help me in a time of need. There are always good people wherever you go.

2. Time is more of suggestion rather than a priority in Sicily. This is fabulous for a person (me) who is chronically late. It was important for my resident director to wait for me, so he made the necessary changes to make it happen. In the big picture, sometimes we get so caught up having schedules and being punctual that we forget what we’re doing it for. Sometimes it’s worth it to take those extra five minutes to meander and actually experience your surroundings rather that rush and arrive in a flustered state. Take your time.

3. Sicilians take great pleasure in feeding you and creating experiences around food. This would be my first encounter with what I call the “Sicily Stuff.” They truly want you to experience food, enjoy it, and take pleasure in your reaction. If you desire more—or as they say, you’re a “buona forchetta”—it’s all the more rewarding to them. And dinner is never casually eating a Banquet microwave meal in front of the television. It’s typically a lengthy process, lasting hours around the table with multiple courses, lots of sharing, family, and friends. I may gain about ten pounds here from all the exquisite food and good company, but at least I’ll be fat and happy.

Buon appetito,

Ellen

Ellen Barrett is a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and an official API Blogger. Ellen is studying abroad with API in Taormina, Italy.

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