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Believing in the Power of Language Barriers

April 12, 2013
by CEA CAPA Content Creator
“You will be challenged in many ways that you aren’t aware of yet.” Grayson Splane, our wonderful Florence CEA Program Director, cautioned me as we talked about the choice of living with a host family. I presume that this comment stuck with me because I didn’t believe her. The first month in Firenze felt like a dream. 

Food tasted better, my eyes saw clearer, I slept like a baby, I completed everything I began, even my tattered copy of Eat Pray Love for a 5th time. I developed a holistic respect for the life and body I lived in every day. I also felt more at home than I ever had. My spirit came to an understanding that wherever the heart is comfortable, a home is made.

It has been almost three months. Sunday, I felt terribly homesick for the first time. I had returned from my favorite trip so far to Naples, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, and Procida. Due to the constant urge to take advantage of “being abroad”, leaving and returning each weekend eventually catches up with one's mental and physical health. Upon my arrival to Italy in January, I knew zero Italian. I entered an Italian world fascinated by the culture and easily getting by with gesticulations. As time goes on, you only hope that the Italian language will effortlessly strengthen its friendship with your tongue.

I was called to dinner Sunday after sleeping all day, and couldn’t speak or understand anything that was being said. I would blankly stare at Daniela when she asked me simple questions about my trip. My appetite dwindled, as well as my self-esteem. I walked back to my room and felt as tiny as a pebble. I missed my friends, my English-speaking mother, the sunlight on my skin, and sharing my feelings in English.

I decided to light a candle and listen to Fleet Foxes- melodies that understand my heart’s language. Sometimes the only reliable and immediate escape we have from our commonly fleeting sorrowful minds is music. 

An exhausting challenge exists when living with a parent who communicates in a foreign language. You have to trust the way you live because if you do something wrong or offensive, it’s difficult to reprimand or discuss. I have developed a sense of respect for not only myself, but also my environment. The disadvantage is verbal miscommunication, yes, but embracing this barrier and sharing moments of fluent comprehension are worth it. The day feels good because you trusted in your power and willingness to achieve something that you desire and love. Maybe the best part: a night of perfect sleep always follows these days.

As a person who is constantly talking and sharing my feelings, you can imagine how humbled I have become. I want to communicate to Daniela that I am embracing Europe and these four short months that I have in this culturally rich continent before returning to “reality”. I want to talk to her about all the ways in which I’ve blossomed and appreciated her love and cozy home. I have no choice but to rely on my actions. Cleaning my dishes, keeping my room tidy, putting the cap back on my toothpaste, bringing home flowers, and offering to make dinner. These actions compensate for these conversations that can only happen in good time. 

This past Sunday night was pivotal. It has been three days since, and both nights I have been an Italian-speaking chatterbox. I have devoted this week to my Italian textbook and time after class for help each morning. Each day, I’ve noticed my automatic response to hearing English is translating the phrases in Italian. Something positive sprung from my feelings of incompetency. 

My hope for these blog posts is that you can read about my experiences and understand that life isn’t all butterflies and rainbows when you have the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in a wonderful country like Italy. But the suffering, apathetic times are completely worth every penny of happiness that occurs throughout your golden lifetime. 

Another note on a recent language barrier; I met a Brazilian woman in Pompeii this weekend. She barely spoke English but I understood that Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius were her dreams. She made me take pictures of her all day and hoped that I would upload them to Facebook. It was her first time seeing or touching snow.

She sent me a Facebook message after I posted the pictures. The message was difficult to understand; however, her gratitude strongly came across. She said that while she was on Mount Vesuvius, holding the snow, it felt like she was in Heaven. All I could do was smile while reading this message. My photography captured a surreal, unforgettable moment for someone who I knew for a single day.
Anna Freundl was a Spring '13 CEA MOJO in Florence, Italy

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