Locked in and Ready to Go… Abroad

By Lily Sokolowski, API Florence Peer Mentor.

If I were to sum up the situation in one word, it would be ridiculous. My first month in Italy was scattered with experiences one could safely term “common mistakes.” All of them forged a memory and taught me something about myself or my host country. However, in this particular instance, my mistake wasn’t so common; I’m almost positive I stand alone. It all began with a slow start; and judging from the way things went, I guess my mind just decided to follow suit.

It was already a quarter past one when I decided to go buy groceries at the local mercato centrale. Given that I only planned to pick up a couple things, I didn’t think it would be much of a problem that the market closed at two. Yet, when I was finished shopping, I just couldn’t leave. Was it because the food was so enticing, or that the people were so warm and friendly? Or perhaps the whole idea of a local market was so fascinating and exciting that I just couldn’t tear myself away? These are all viable reasons, and as much as I would love to answer yes, this wasn’t the case. I literally could not leave! All of the front exists and gates in the back had been closed and locked shut. “No worries” I thought, “this place is huge, a door has to be open somewhere.” Spotting a couple with a day’s worth of shopping in their hands, I decided to follow them hoping they would lead me to the exit, only to realize they were still shopping. At this point my thought changed to “man, this place is huge! Where on earth is the exit?” To my great relief, (and embarrassment), a worker at the market passed by at that exact instant. I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that I was locked inside an open market and that the pending conversation was going to be an interesting one. (At least I got one thing right that day, because interesting it was)!

Still new to the Italian language scene, I wouldn’t say I stumbled over the words; crashed and burned might be a better description. “Dove oo-she, oo-chi…?” I paused and put my finger up to signal that I was thinking. Of course, this elicited a huge smile and burst of laughter on his part. “Dove uccidere? Aspetta. Oh, no, no, no!!…Come uscire..?” Translation: gibberish, nonsense, “where to kill,” horrified exclamation trying to retract the last statement, and finally a hesitant and questioning “how to exit?” After a good deal of shared laughter I was eventually escorted to the exit; a half open gate at the very back corner of the market. Free at last!

Besides the gift of an embarrassing moment eternally ingrained in my memory, I did get a couple of lessons out of this mishap circumstance.

Lesson one: wake up early and carpe diem!

Lesson two: verb conjugations. Learn them!

Investing a little extra time to learn new words, conquer irregular verbs, and come to a clear understanding of two words that appear similar to you really pays off. (BIG difference between killing and exiting)!

Learning the language of your host city really enhances the study abroad experience. It adds a dynamic that allows you to connect with people on a deeper level. Lesson three: ask for help! If you’re having trouble adjusting, either to the language or cultural norms, don’t hesitate to ask. People were always happy and eager to lend a hand. For me, these personal interactions were the most effective form of learning and had the greatest impact on me during my time abroad. Lesson four: just go with it! Unexpected events are bound to happen. The best thing to do is to keep a positive attitude and stay flexible. Remember that no matter how ridiculous the situation may seem, there’s always a solution and way out!

Lily studied with API in Florence and majors in kinesiology at Texas Woman’s University.

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