UCR Around the Globe: Italy

Courtesy of Andrew Whall

Name: Andrew Whall

Status: Senior

Major: Bioengineering

Country: Italy

So that moment finally arrives when I’m left standing alone in LAX with that “Oh my God, what did I get myself into?” feeling. It was then that it hit me: I’m going to be studying in Italy for the next five months without a single familiar face in sight. This will be the first time I ever leave America, my home. I boarded my flight somewhat reluctantly, but still anticipating the challenge that I knew lay ahead, for the time was now that my independence will be put to the test.

When I arrived at Pisa International Airport, I was greeted by a stranger who asked me a question in a language I had absolutely no knowledge about. It was at that instant that I had my very first important epiphany: “This must be exactly how non-English speaking foreigners feel in the United States!” I made my way to the information desk praying someone spoke English so I could catch a bus ride from Pisa to Florence. Luckily, I was able to make myself understood and soon was on my way. Coming from the United States, I feel like a lot of us are a bit indifferent — relaxed in our own little bubbles, at times even ignorant to the world around us.

Flash forward a bit and I was now on the doorstep of my Italian host family, extremely hesitant to ring the doorbell and with absolutely no idea of what to expect. I nervously raised my hand to press the button labeled Mugnaini-Massa and anxiously awaited an unknown person. I was greeted by Antonella, my host mother, and a yappy little Doberman Pinscher. I felt just a little awkward for the duration of our 15-minute face-to-face introduction, only because I was going to be living with her and her family for the next five months and I didn’t even know them. It isn’t long before I was introduced to Allessandro, my host father, and Andrea, their 11-year-old son, both of whom spokk only Italian — this should be good.

In retrospect, choosing to immerse myself in a homestay family was the best decision I made.  I will never forget all of the wonderful times and dinners and great conversations we shared throughout the semester! Challenging myself to speak Italian each and every day, I am grateful for the opportunities and doors homestay opened. They took me in and showed me the true Italian way: an experience and perspective I would not otherwise have been able to receive, so for that I thank them.

As the weeks progressed, so did my Italian. I could sustain simple conversations during dinner and make myself understood for daily common occurrences. I had never had this great of a desire to communicate and be understood as I had then: I would master this language or die trying! I enjoyed going to class and speaking with my Italian teacher, with the other students, but even more with locals. I would make so many mistakes at first, but the Italians were very friendly and appreciated the fact that I was trying to learn their language, so they helped me out a lot. I was well on my way to becoming a part of the community and it felt great.

Before leaving America, I never really followed soccer, or as the Italians call it, Calcio. However, I found myself growing attached to the local professional team ACF Fiorentina (which surprisingly did very well this year). During the games I would wear my jersey and feel a sense of pride for my team as they played on the field. Imagine a 50,000-seat stadium with a plethora of old Italian men screaming and swearing in Italian every time the referee blows the whistle. It’s a great feeling being part of it and knowing that there are diehard fans in every culture. I highly recommend going to a European League soccer match because it really is an entertaining atmosphere, even if you aren’t into soccer. However, now I will always have a European soccer team to root for back home.

As an engineering major, one of the reasons I decided to study in Florence was the fact that Galileo had lived here many years ago. As the father of modern science, Galileo Galilei once said, “We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.” It is with this advice I intended to take a journey of self-discovery and follow the basic physical principles that Galileo once experimented with centuries ago.

These past five months living abroad have been most fulfilling to say the least. From the beautiful, picturesque cliff cities of Cinque Terre to the crystal-clear waters of Sicily to the gondola-filled canals of Venice to the gorgeous vineyards of Tuscany — the taste of wine so vivid. I lived, laughed, loved, but most importantly, grew in every aspect of my life. I will never forget the memories created or the incredible people I’ve met. Living in a foreign country really opens your mind to differences in cultures and allows you to appreciate all the little things back home. It’s a really hard feeling to describe, but the city becomes your city, your home away from home, and you develop this sense of belonging. I will never forget “la Mia Citta Bella”: my beautiful city Firenze. And now I am left with a few parting words, all I can say is: “Italia… ci vediamo…” It’s not goodbye — simply until next time.

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