Such a rare and wonderful opportunity is using what you learned in class in real life. Last week, I did just that on my visit to Bologna, Italy, with the International Studies program. Our program – the International Studies Leadership Seminar – was sponsored by the Aronson Center for International Studies. We spent the week in Italy at the SAIS Bologna campus, meeting current faculty and receiving an absolutely fascinating one-off lecture from Dr. Erik Jones about European Affairs. We not only experienced the culture, but developed and refined our leadership skills.
This trip was particularly special for me because I just finished Intermediate Italian here at Hopkins, and it was my first time in Italy. My paternal grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1950’s and have been a point of inspiration for me for my entire life – I even wrote my Common App essay on them. Despite five full years of Italian classroom learning (all of high school and now my freshman year here at Hopkins), I was extremely apprehensive about using the language with real Italians. Shortly before I left Baltimore, I had coffee with my Italian professor and asked him about what I should see and do, since he was born and grew up near Rome. Between advice that the Colosseum is lame and that I should hit a few of his favorite restaurants, the thing he said that scared me most was that Italians will speak to me in English. Even if I respond in Italian, he said, they will still insist on using English.
I’m happy to report that he was mostly wrong. Italians were some of the most welcoming and kind people that I have ever met. They were all pleasantly surprised when I asked for still water (not sparkling, gross) and asked if they could make pasta without cheese or butter for one of the other participants who is vegan. When one of my friends and I stopped in the Gucci store – because we were in Italy, how could we not? – and I asked for a dinner recommendation, the extremely kind woman working the front brought me down two glasses of champagne to sip while we perused the€850 purses.
I used Italian in almost every interaction with an Italian, from ordering food to asking for a certain size of shoes (I could also write a post about the societal expectations of women and small feet – I’m a US size 9.5 and I sometimes couldn’t find shoes in my size in Italy). Probably the most important use of my Italian was when we visited the Parliament in Rome. We were very graciously introduced to a member of the Chamber of Deputies and we got to ask him and his aide (the self-described equivalent of Doug Stamper) some questions about Italian politics, including a Jobs Act written by a SAIS professor and an upcoming referendum concerning the Chamber’s political power.
Overall, it was a wonderfully exhausting week, and I am so grateful to Dr. Van Morgan, SAIS, the Aronson Center, and the JHU IS Program for choosing me to be a part of the Leadership Delegation.
I also can’t wait to return to Italy on Friday to stay for my summer program in Siena. More to follow…