Qyarah De Jesus

In the Summer of 2019, I had the opportunity to study abroad through my school and it was life changing. On the 28th of May, I boarded a plane and got ready for an eight-hour flight. I was so scared because the longest I had been on a plane had only been around three hours. As we started to board, my anxiety started kicking in. I was biting my nails and overthinking all the possible situations that could happen on the plane. These thoughts included the plane crashing down or experiencing an extreme amount of turbulence. Most of the plane ride went fine because I slept through it but, an hour away from our destination, the pilot announced that we were experiencing turbulence. This immediately caused my stomach to turn; my heart began to race, and my breathing became noticeably faster. I was shaking my legs and tightly clenching my hands, hoping that the turbulence would end quickly. By the time we got off the plane, I had nail marks indented on the palm of my hands, but I was glad we landed safe and soundly. Slightly after landing, we met with our chaperones from the American University at Rome and we split into different cars to head to our apartments.

When we got to our apartments, we met our roommates and our housemates and looked around our apartment, where we would be spending the next two weeks. While looking around our apartment, I noticed many posters of the States. One poster that specifically caught my eye was a picture of New York City. This made me feel warm inside and closer to home, even though I was so many miles away. We had a nice glass door that led right onto the balcony of our apartment. It was beautiful. As I stood on the balcony, absorbing the nice fresh air, I could smell the fresh aroma of pastries from the bakery across the street. I could see colorful buildings in the distance, smaller than the one I was in. I could see the grocery store, and the bus stop. I later learned that this bus stop would take us right to the front of our school in the morning.

After settling in for a couple of hours, we joined the rest of our class for a walk around Rome. On our walk we saw some beautiful things. One of the views that I saw that will forever be in my mind is how the city of Rome looks from the top of the hill. The scenery was amazing; from the top of that hill, we could see the Colosseum, the wedding cake, and all the trees surrounding it, and we could smell all the comforting smells of nature. Standing there absorbing everything around me, I felt as if I were on top of the world. Deep inside I felt warm as I thought about all of these things that I would slowly be seeing up close as our adventures in Rome continued. We continued our walk, and then we stopped at a gelateria that our professor said was the best in the area. He taught us how to say piccola (small), media (medium), and grande (large), so that we could all order our ice creams. The shop was very small, full of people, and the workers were extremely nice to us. I had an ice cream scoop that was extremely creamy and sweet, which I loved.

After a long day, we headed home as a group up to a certain point and then had to split and go our separate ways. Since we were in a new country and had no internet access, Google Maps was not an option. We just had to rely on our memory to get us home. We started walking the correct direction by remembering certain things that we had seen, but we eventually ended up getting lost, with no way to contact the others on our trip. Our only option now was to ask strangers for help. At first, I was skeptical of doing so, because I was always taught “stranger danger,” but my housemates thought this would be the only way for us to get home. An old lady walked by us and we all approached her to ask for directions. She knew no English, so she was speaking very fast Italian, and we were all confused. Although we struggled to communicate at first, we told her the address and she was able to explain how to get there with a bunch of pointing. Fifteen minutes later we finally arrived home. What a life saver!

It was on the first day when we were walking with our professor that he told us that in Italy, the people speak to each other very loudly. I did not believe it until I was on the bus one morning on my way to class at the American University in Rome. This bus was full of students heading to school, since it was a Thursday morning. I was standing towards the front of the bus when a young lady, probably in her twenties, walked onto the bus. It appeared that she knew the bus driver, so she started talking to him. At first, the conversation was at a normal tone, but then it got louder, and I was stunned. To me, it sounded as though they were in some sort of argument. The lady was moving her arms a lot as she talked, and being from NYC, this scared me. When arguing happens on a bus in New York, it usually leads to fights or ugly words being said to one another. So I thought that in this situation, something along those lines was also going to happen. However, when I heard the two of them laughing, I realized that it was like my professor said, “Italians just being Italians.” This made me think of Spanish people who are also incredibly loud in their conversations. In my household, my mother is always yelling at me and my sisters across the room to stop arguing when in reality, we are just having a normal conversation.

Staying in Italy for a month helped me see their culture and how it connected to my own culture and to American culture. The first way that I saw culture was through language. Language in Italy is viewed differently than it is here in America. When in Italy, I noticed that every restaurant we went to had the menu in both Italian and English. This is because in Italy, they teach students to be fluent in more than one language, unlike here, where we are only taught the basics. Not only was Italian a language that people knew fluently; but Spanish was also one of the things that greatly helped me during my trip to Italy. The first time I noticed how my language helped me navigate Italy was when it came to some of the street signs. Some of the words were so similar that I understood the gist of the entire message. Being able to do this made me feel more comfortable in Italy country because although I didn’t speak the language, I now had two languages that I could communicate with.

One of my favorite language memories that I have from Italy was when I was in a nail salon. Sadly, a couple of weeks into my time in Italy, my nail broke, so when I had some free time, my friends and I went to this nice nail salon in Rome. When we got there, we spoke to the lady who owned the salon and I told her what I wanted. She did not understand English, but she did not want me to leave, so she pulled out her phone and she pulled out google translate. Although we had google translate, communicating was still hard, because google is not always the most reliable source. When she was doing my nails, she asked me something and I answered ‘gracias’ instead of ‘gracie.’ This led her to ask me if I spoke Spanish, and when I said yes, we both laughed and started to talk. I told her all this time we both knew Spanish and here we were struggling. The nail tech lady then proceeded to tell me about her life and how she ended up moving from Spain to Italy. She also told me that her twenty-one-year-old son knows five languages that he learned through the Italy school system. Finding someone who spoke the same language as I did abroad made me feel so buoyant. Since the time difference was so large between America and Italy, I did not get to talk to my family much, so being able to speak to someone in Spanish brought a spark of joy into the rest of my day. Spanish has always been something that is close to home, since it was my first language and all of my family speaks it, so it makes me feel comfortable and understood.

Overall, my experience in Italy was one that will never be forgotten. All the churches we entered had beautiful paintings on all sides and remarkable arches in the walkways. You can look up at these paintings and see so much detail: all of the emotion in the faces of the people drawn. You see all the history that these artists preserved for so many years. I remember the beautiful views from the top of the seven hills: the ones where you can see all of the buildings and their significant locations to the water in the river that splits the city. I made great connections with those on my trip and with locals in Italy, such as the lady who said good morning to me every day in front of my building on my way to class, and the people who owned a gelato shop who got a smile every time we all walked in. Italy is an amazing place with so many experiences and so much culture to share with all and I cannot wait to someday be able to go back.

    My name is Qyarah De Jesus and I graduated from Geneseo with a Sociomedical Sciences major and a minor in Mathematics in Spring 2021. I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m from the Big Apple; specifically, The Bronx. In Summer 2019, I studied abroad in Italy with a Humanities program run through Geneseo. I enjoyed this program immensely and would definitely recommend the study abroad experience to anyone interested! Photo credit: Qyarah De Jesus