It’s hard to imagine before you have done it what is like to leave your entire life behind, hop on a plane to a place you don’t know, and make that place your new home. This is exactly what we do when we choose to go on exchange. Before leaving, I tried to prepare myself as much as possible, I tried my best to study Italian, I read articles and watched videos on exchange, I carefully thought out everything I would need for the next 10 months and packed it all into two suitcases. But of course, there is no way to be completely prepared for what you will find. I remember distinctly that when I arrived in Italy, I said to my host family, in Italian, “I like your house”, probably the most complicated sentence I had ever said. That was a very proud moment for me.

Yeah, so basically I knew nothing.

And so, the adventure began. Learning a language is a roller-coaster of frustration and joy. There are days when you feel like you are back to square one, and there are days when you think to yourself “I’m practically fluent!”. But what makes it worth it are the small moments, when you realize that you’ve been carrying on a philosophical debate with your host brother for over half an hour, or that you just ordered a pizza without any confused “whats” or “sorry but could you repeat that”, or when you see someone for the first time in a couple months and you remember how you spoke the last time you saw them. The moments when you realize that all you hard work has been worth it, and how much you have learned and changed through the months.

If there was one piece of advice I could give to exchange students, it would be to just speak, even if you are self-conscious of your accent or you don’t know the right word, remember that you are learning a new language! So there is nothing to be ashamed of, because the fact that you trying to learn is already better that never trying at all. For me learning Italian has been the “key” to my exchange. I arrived here knowing practically nothing and as I’ve learned I’ve been able to connect with people better, form bonds and express myself. I do truly feel now that Italy, or more specifically Cagliari, where I live, is my second home, and my host family a second family. And now that I’m nearing the end of my exchange its hard for me to imagine what it will be like to return to my family, friends, and life in America.

Though at times it has been hard, and I know I will miss this place very much when I return to America, the places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, and the food I’ve tasted will all be experiences that I will treasure forever, and even though I haven’t left yet, I’m already excited for the day when I can return to Italy.

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