Dressing for cultural adjustment
“OK,” I replied. After that first disastrous grocery-shopping trip, I discovered a love for investigating new cheeses, and was unofficially designated ‘in charge’ of anything requiring a trip to the deli counter. On this Tuesday afternoon, the elderly man who owned Sidis stood behind the rows of cheese and prosciutto (a type of smoked ham, an Orvieto specialty). Good, I thought. He’s nice. And not only nice, but he understood my accent, so I obtained the cheese without problems: asiago, our proven favorite, and bel paese (the name literally means “beautiful country”), a favorite of Laura’s.
At the very end of our stay in Italy, leaving Orvieto and the beautiful country for the last time, Katie and I waited impatiently
Photo by Katie Ness '08
|Students celebrated my roommate (Alexis's) birthday with a picnic along the cliffside. We ran along this path, and loved to look out over the Italian countryside, particularly at sunset.
for our train, eating one-euro pizza and sipping European Coke (made with sugar, not corn syrup, we delightedly discovered). “Questo treno ha un fermato a roma?” I asked the conductor as a train pulled into track two: “Does this train have a stop at Rome?” By this time we felt confident reading the Italian train schedules, but on our numerous trips we learned that it never hurts to ensure that the train stops where you need it to stop.
“Si,” the conductor replied, and helped Katie and I pile our four massive suitcases onto the briefly stopped train. Finally, on our last train ride, headed toward Rome and our flights back into the United States, home a solid shape looming before us, we felt unsure, not quite ready. Would we take back our new jokes, our love of new Italian cheeses, our new friends, our new proficiencies?
Looking through my closet, preparing myself for yet another strange and potentially awkward experience (How am I going to explain that basketball hoop?), I realize that I did bring one small proficiency back home with me — thanks to my time in Orvieto, I no longer fear presenting myself to strangers, whether they stand behind a deli counter or are related to my boyfriend. Because the foreign, the absurd, and the uncomfortable manifested themselves almost daily as we came to grips with Italian culture and our identities outside our own, I learned to put a bold face towards the unknown. In addition to making academic strides, such as learning to love Renaissance fresco cycles, finding a way to express myself through woodblock printing, and learning to intelligently discuss the part the Virgin Mary might play in re-imagining our perception of women in the church, our closely-bonded community of Orvieto students and our Italian conversation partners taught me that if I walk into strange situations with straight shoulders and purposeful openness, even if I speak brokenly in a foreign language, worthwhile conversation, friendship, and certainly fun will result.