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