I was recently sitting in class, and with the semester rapidly nearing an end, we were having a discussion (or at least trying to given that we were only permitted to speak in Italian) regarding our time in Perugia. This included things like how we’ve adjusted to life in a foreign country, how much of the language we have (or haven’t) learned, and our attitudes towards those around us compared to how we felt upon arrival.
My professor caught my eye, and in an attempt to bring me back from daydreaming about the hot barista I had seen at the café before class, asked me a question. “How do you think people in Perugia treat tourists? Do you feel like a tourist?” to which I replied without hesitation, “Addesso? No.” Now? No.
While this answer seemed instinctive and I didn’t give it much thought in the moment, the question stuck with me for the rest of the day. When was it, along the crazy path of nerves, excitement, and immersion that I stopped associating with ‘them’ and felt like a member of ‘us’?
I can honestly say that I no longer feel like a tourist, and while I might not be anywhere close to a native, I do feel that Perugia has become somewhat of a home for me and my peers. Although my first week in Perugia was a bit of a blur (due to sleep deprivation, jet-lag, and creating friendships over bottles of wine), I remember being so nervous that I would get lost, say the wrong thing, and completely embarrass myself before learning the unspoken social rules of my new location, and I’m surprised at how much has changed in such a short period of time.
Recently, a friend of mine from Colorado visited, and I gave her a tour of Perugia as if I had always lived here. I know which grocery store has the best produce, various short-cuts for when I am (of course) running late for class, and most importantly where to purchase pastries at 3am on my way home from a night out.
In my time abroad, I was fortunate to only experience short spurts of homesickness. Culture shock, or feelings of homesickness, struck me in small ways. I missed car rides with my dad when The Who played over the voices of the crowd in a bar. My roommates and I missed our favorite brunch places on Sunday mornings, and we even occasionally missed seeing guys wear pants that weren’t as tight at ours (alright, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but there were instances where Italian men did dress like Americans and we felt tiny pangs of nostalgia). However, these instances of missing Denver were few and far between and I am beginning to get nervous for my reaction when I return to Colorado. Will I be ‘homesick’ for a city that isn’t my own?
As a notoriously directionally challenged individual, I still surprise myself when I find my way to my apartment from my friends’ across the center of town, and earlier today I was corrected by the owner of my favorite sandwich shop about misunderstanding his question. This being said, despite the cultural and linguistic barriers, a small environment and city like Perugia is one that is especially easy to call home.
I’ll miss the live music that plays as my friends and I walk around the piazza, I’ll miss watching the sunset and from the highest point in the city, and I’ll miss laughing with my friends over aperitivo at our attempts to order in Italian. The end of an experience like this is nothing but bittersweet, and while I am excited to see what the future holds, I know that there will always be a part of me that calls Perugia, Italy home.