One aspect about studying abroad that stood out to me the most was language learning.
I had read articles in the past about people learning a foreign language in just a few months by immersing themselves in the culture and making learning a part of their daily lives. So, when I got the opportunity to participate in the Arcadia Rome program, I was excited to start studying, hoping that I could achieve the same.
If only I had known how difficult this would really be.
I remember talking to one of the staff members, Lorenza, on my first day in Rome. Despite my studying, I struggled to say and understand even the most basic Italian sentences.
If my appearance didn’t give me away as a foreigner, my puzzled looks and fumbling over words surely did. In hindsight I should not have been surprised by the difficulties I was having. I quickly discovered that learning a language is more than memorizing vocabulary and practicing grammar exercises, it is a skill that must be practiced through countless hours of exposure. I was just at the beginning of my Italian journey and there was still a disconnect between my English-speaking brain and my new Italian-speaking world.
As I tried to connect to the community around me, a program at Casetta Rossa, a local restaurant and community center, was brought to my attention.
An English language coach held a biweekly language exchange for Italians who wanted to learn English, and anyone was welcome to join. It seemed like a great experience for me to meet new people, engage with the community, and to learn more about language learning itself; I was all-in.
What I found at the first meeting was a group of diverse backgrounds and interests, all joined together with a common interest of languages. Some wanted to learn English for business, others for travel, and one mother wanted to understand what her kids were saying to each other after they learned it in school. Regardless of these differences, the group was full of lively conversation, sharing stories or talking about current events in the area.
After spending a few weeks in Rome, it had felt like my world existed in a foreign language. It made me feel like an outsider, an intruder to this Italian environment that had existed for centuries.
Hearing English spoken outside of the Arcadia program started to shake those feelings away. I was able to connect with people around me without barriers blocking our communication. That, to me, highlighted the power of languages and the importance of learning them.
By learning a new language, we gain the power to communicate and connect with others, expanding our understanding of cultures around the world.
A quote by Nelson Mandela stood out to me during all of this, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
This program had gone to my heart, the importance of which I will not soon forget. My experiences here have only heightened my desire to learn Italian, to be able to speak to someone’s heart, just as they did mine.