culture

Living in Another Language

I remember waking up to the sun creeping through the blinds. I opened my computer that was resting next to me on the bed. The small clock in the upper right hand corner of the screen read 5:00am. It was still set to Eastern Standard Time, so I added on 6 hours. It was 11:00 am. I never slept so late. I felt disoriented, everything was strange and foreign. The bed was not mine, this bright mediterranean sun was welcomed but unfamiliar, the room smelled freshly cleaned but far too sterile to be my home. In front of me, there was a giant painting of Jesus with the crown of thorns, blood dripped down his face, his eyelids were just slightly shut. This painting was definitely not mine. In fact, it scared me and I found the placement odd; the first thing anyone would see when waking up would be the face of a man who just died for the sins of the whole world (if you believe that). What a heavy thought first thing in the morning. I lay in bed staring at the oil painting, studying each brush stroke, for almost an hour as I listened to the sounds of my first Italian morning. I heard people outside talking quickly, in rather rhythmic harmonies. They seemed to speak quite loudly and passionately, but that didn’t mean I knew what they were saying nor did it help me understand. I lay there wondering, what I’d gotten into, and if this would ever feel like home.

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

Since this morning, three years have past, and I’m happy to say I no longer feel so out of place. A key element of building my life in Italy has been learning the language. It hasn’t been a simple task, and I still do not speak flawlessly but I understand and can be understood and this brings a great sense of comfort.

I’ve always been fascinated by languages, and studied French in high school and later in college. Learning in a classroom verse applying a language in real life are two very different things. I studied French for three years and was nowhere close to being fluent or understanding complex conversations. Whereas, I have never stepped foot into an Italian class. I’ve studied independently, asked tons of questions, and concentrated relentlessly to the conversations around me. There have been days that I’ve felt beyond mentally exhausted from trying to follow discussions. I’ve been frustrated a countless number of times; but thanks to the help of many kind people, and a strong sense of determination, I’ve gained a great skill and the knowledge of a new language.

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

Although I have made leaps in the language, I vaguely remember how terrifying it was when I began to learn. I was so embarrassed to be heard stringing together words not even as well as most Italian toddlers could. However, I knew it was a skill I needed and wanted, so I sucked up my pride and I worked really hard, but it’s never been easy. It continues to push me out of my comfort zone.

There have been some long days when I’ve come home and broken down into tears out of frustration. I’ve been teased and mocked for my accent and I’ve been misunderstood hundreds of time. I’ve struggled to express myself and find the words that come so naturally in my own language. Sometimes, I feel like I lose part of myself in Italian, my humor and wit often don’t shine through, and its disappointing. This has made me question my own intelligence, and I’ve often felt insecure. As time passes, this happens less and less, and I continue to learn and improve. Italian becomes more a part of me and speaking has finally begun to seem effortless. I’m no longer scared to answer the phone or ask for directions.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It is a sign of bravery.” – Amy Chau

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

It’s funny how so much has changed in three years. Now, I spend about 80 percent of my day speaking in Italian, even if it is spoken with an accent. I go to the store and speak in Italian, I order coffee in Italian, and I talk to my boss and several friends in Italian. There are moments when I think in Italian and can find it challenging to then relay the same information in English. Sometimes I struggle to flip back to my language and keep up a fast past conversation when I call my friends and family back home. During conversations expressions will pop into my head but not always in the right language for the situation. It is a strange feeling and sometimes rather confusing.

Often people ask what language I dream in and what language I speak at home with my husband (who speaks both English and Italian). To be honest, I just kind of go with the flow. My dreams are often woven with both languages, the only constant is that the people in my dreams speak the language they speak to me in real life, so generally Italians speak Italian and Americans speak English. At home we don’t really set a language. My husband will often tell me about his day in Italian and I will tell him about mine in English. We can flow between the languages rather seamlessly knowing that we understand one another regardless (the only constant is that when we argue it is always in our own native tongue).

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

Learning a language has been so rewarding and worth every struggle along the way. I’ve grown as a person more confident and self assured. Most of all, I have found a new sense of belonging in Italy.

This morning I woke up to my husband wiping the mess of hair from my face to kiss me goodbye before he left for work. I rolled over and groggily said “ciao”. Then, I lay there with the dog curled at my feet stealing a few more moments of sleep, and I listened as the early morning sounds of my Italian city began to enter through the walls and I thought of how lucky I am to finally feel at home.

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

Photo Credit Ashley Lax

Thanks for reading.

Un bacio,

Abby

This post features the beautiful photography of my amazing adventurous friend, Ashley Lax. Check out her Travel Instragram here.

9 Comments

  1. Beth

    March 16, 2017 at 12:35 PM

    Oh Abby! What a beautiful post! Your writing gets deeper and more descriptive and vivid by the day! So proud of your courage and determination! Love you to the moon and back xo

  2. Debbie McFalone

    March 16, 2017 at 7:03 PM

    Abby, your Mom shared this with me… I loved reading about your courage and insight! Every blessing in this wonderful phase of your life!
    –Debbie McFalone

    1. Abigail

      March 20, 2017 at 9:02 AM

      Thanks so much! 🙂 I’m so happy that the blog is getting shared.

  3. Kiara

    March 18, 2017 at 1:12 PM

    The post is so beautiful!!! I felt like I could relate to every word! I’m a Filipina who knows a few words in Spanish and studied French in University, but didn’t get to apply it a lot when I went to Paris. Haay. But either way, I’m moving to Madrid in a few months and not being able to enough Spanish freaks me out. Your post really encouraged me to stop being scared – so thank you! Plus, I’m taking this class with Benny Lewis where he teaches how to speak a certain language in a conversational way. So, I’m really hoping to learn a least a little more by the time I’m in Spain.

    -Kiara
    http://www.viaisabelle.com

    1. Abigail

      March 20, 2017 at 9:02 AM

      Kiara- Thanks so much for your comment, I am sure you’ll end up being fine in Spain! The good thing is that big cities people are generally very helpful and patient when they see you’re learning a new language. I’ll have to check out this class! Learning Spanish is my next mission because it is so important in today’s world.

      Good luck with everything x

  4. Brenda

    March 19, 2017 at 4:58 PM

    I can totally relate!

    I did my bachelors in foreign languages so I studied portuguese and italian because I was supposed to go either to Brazil or Italy. Life is funny and here I am in Spain, and even though Im a native Spanish speaker, I ended up in Catalonia with a whole new language to learn.

    Everyday I keep on learning something new from my new language and I try to get used to life while speaking it.

    Thanks Abby for such an amazing insight!

    1. Abigail

      March 20, 2017 at 9:05 AM

      Hey Brenda thanks for reading and sharing your comment. I really love hearing about other people with similar stories. It makes the world feel a bit smaller and reminds me that we are never alone in these situations. Good luck in Catalonia!!

  5. Marlee

    April 2, 2017 at 2:04 PM

    In awe of that anwrse! Really cool!

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