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Fall Edition
Volume 99, Number 2



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Dressing for cultural adjustment

Italian grocery shopping and one student's search for confidence

What on earth do you wear to meet the parents and four younger siblings of your boyfriend of merely five months?  This question became more crucial when, due to poor driving skills and even worse night vision, while his family was on vacation in California, I backed my decrepit green Lumina into their basketball hoop and left it irreparably dented (with not a scratch, however, to my own car).

Well, I thought to myself, slowly perusing the remaining clean articles of clothing jumbled in my wardrobe, it can’t be

Katie poses with the Orvieto sign along the road to town

Photo courtesy of Katie Ness '08

Mackenzie Martin '08 enjoyed the close community students formed in Orvieto. She became much closer to her fellow Messiah students, like art major Katie Ness '08, who is posing with the Orvieto street sign along the road into town.

worse than that first grocery shopping trip in Italy. That day, Laura, the cousin of our Italian teacher, kindly offered to escort us to the nearest grocery store, Sidis, and lead us through our first attempts to speak Italian. Of the 15 students she brought there, however, only one had learned a single word of Italian. After all, we arrived in Italy only three days before, and hadn’t even recovered from jetlag. Because of the language barrier and the impatient grocer, I cried after asking for cheese at the deli counter. If crying in public lowered my self-perception while in the U.S., crying in a grocery store in a foreign country caused it to plunge down a mineshaft. 

And it can’t be worse than that first tutoring session with Alessandro. Also a tear-inducing circumstance, my first Italian tutoring session lasted two and a half hours. I remember those hours—fighting jetlag to stay awake and attempting to memorize every word that my tutor spoke—as the most overwhelming of my time in Orvieto.

“OK, what do we want to eat?” My friends Katie, Elena, Jeff and I stood in the middle of Sidis several weeks after our first trip there with Laura, grocery shopping for what we call “family dinners.” A month into the semester, our residence at Istituto San Ludovico, one of the convents in Orvieto, had become comfortable and familiar. The convent kitchen, once made strange by the mere fact that it existed in a convent metamorphosed into the site of the most profoundly home-like and affirming experiences I’ve ever shared. We immersed ourselves in making dinner every night, taking two or three hours, profoundly enjoying the preparation and cooking activities as well as the actual eating. Now that we had the hang of grocery shopping as well as cooking in the small convent kitchen, we displayed decisiveness in the store and settled on fish, roasted vegetables, and garlic-toast-with-cheese as our ideal Tuesday night dinner. Elena volunteered to take care of the fish, and Katie and Jeff volunteered to get vegetables and spices. “Mackenzie,” Katie said, “would you get us some cheese for the toast? You’re good at picking out cheeses.”

 

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