In this week's post, Emily talks about the benefits and joys of living with her Italian host family, as well as some of the challenges that go along with chooing to stay in a home stay when you study abroad.
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A lot of people have asked me what it’s like to live with an Italian family.
And I respond, as is the case for just about the entirety of my journey so far, that it is difficult but incredibly rewarding. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
My host family is composed of eight members: Sergio (Babo) Cristina, (Mamma), Margarita (Nonna), Marzia (10 years old), Gaia (7 years old), and three honorary international American students: Courtney, Nicole (who just so happens to be a Trojan, and so inter-collegiate animosity is high), and myself.
PHOTO: My fellow international roommates and I enjoying some gelato on the steps of the Duomo
(from left to right: Alice, who returned to England shortly after I arrived in Florence, myself, Courtney, Nicole)
Living in a homestay is a unique opportunity to become a part of something very special. In choosing to live in a homestay, you are not only directly inserting yourself into a microcosm of the culture of your host country, but you’re also joining an individualized familial unit, forming bonds and building relationships that will last a lifetime: I showed up to Italy with a suitcase, a backpack, and a lot of expectations, and I’ll be leaving with—among other things, including a giant block of Parmesan cheese, a bottle of Chianti wine, a greatly increased multilingual vocabulary, and a whole lot of memories—a babo, a mamma, a nonna, and due sorelline (two little sisters).
As with anything, there certainly comes with it pros and cons, pleasures and discomforts, triumphs and trials.
One struggle has definitely been the language barrier: not only the inability to freely engage in discourse with my host parents—to philosophize at length on politics and religion and all of the controversial topics that make a conversation interesting (or even such modest addresses as a simple ‘How was your day?’)—but the more pressing issue of miscommunications and misunderstandings.
All families abide by rules: without such, sheer anarchy would be unleashed upon the world. And that would be no buono for anybody.
Along with the rather obvious rules written out on the back of my door (e.g. don’t dirty walls, avoid making noise after 11 pm, etc.), there are some less explicit rules that I’ve come to pick up on, with a few minor bumps along the way. Prime among these being the inconvenience of eating times.
As something of an independent adult, I am accustomed to having the luxury of eating pretty much as I like. Wake up late? Go for brunch. Particularly hungry one evening? Dine a little early. But within the constraints of family life—and particularly as a guest in a foreigner’s home—this is impossible.
My host mother sets out breakfast each morning from about 6 or 7 am (I’m never up early enough to know for sure—not the morningest of people) until 9:30-10. Or so I had thought she told me one of the first days of my stay here when I stumbled into the kitchen around 10, looking for some grub to find the table cleared of all things edible. And so I had it timed to something of a science—with my earliest class not until 10:15, I pretty much have the mornings at my leisure: wake up at 9, give myself a few minutes to ease away the sleep, and then continue merrily onto the kitchen for my toast/yogurt/croissant/cookies. But just the other morning, I proceeded to the kitchen at my usual 9:15ish, to find the table again cleared and my host mom, slightly disquieted, trying to explain to me her inability to keep breakfast on the table past a certain time. I couldn’t do much more than nod and say ‘va bene, va bene.’
Dinner poses perhaps even more of an inconvenience.
Now, I like to consider myself something of a social being. But it is very difficult to maintain a social life when living in a homestay. You’re already disadvantaged by the fact that nearly everyone else in the program lives together in apartments. And then there’s the added constraint of dinner: we dine very late by American standards—anywhere between the hours of 7:30 and 9:30—and I have to be here for the entirety of that window, plus some. So evening engagements are almost impossible to maintain.
But then again, it’s hard to complain: the food is pretty sensational. (Italian mammas know how to cook.)
Despite all of this, the rewards far outweigh any of these difficulties: I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience life as a member of an Italian family. I’ve spent countless hours playing with the kids (from soccer to cards to board games to skateboarding to dance parties), my host mother sometimes cuts me pieces of fruit or cheese and leaves me plates of chips in my room because I casually mentioned during dinner ‘mi piace!,’ my host father compliments me on my Italian as I steadily become more confident and more competent in conversing, Nonna says ‘buonanotte, amore!’ to me every night…And I can’t imagine anything so amazing as this.