LIFE/Kamillah Smith: in Italy with very few Italian words


This summer I kept on telling myself to take an online course and learn some Italian so I wouldn’t be totally lost going to Italy but of course like always, I felt a knot in my stomach. I thought it would just be too much to take on. So, the day before leaving for Italy, I got myself to learn a few basic phrases. “Ciao, Buongiorno, Per favore,Dove il bagno” Although it was not much, it helped ease my nerves a bit.

As my mom gave me one last hug goodbye, with tears starting to roll down my face, I said “Im going to be such a lost puppy in Italy. I know nothing!” Of course it did go some what like this but not at all what I expected. I guess I expected to look dumbfounded constantly and to be frustrated 24/7.

Arriving at Fiumicino airport was my first reaction with Italian language. Everyone up until arriving in the airport spoke english to me. I landed around 12:00 pm and still had 2 hours to wait for my transportation to arrive. Exhausted and in need of food, I walked straight to the food counter at the airport. I wanted spaghetti and a drink. Since I was at an international airport, I just foolishly assumed the waitress would speak english. When it was my turn to order, I asked for my food in english but the waitress just stared at me and shook her head, yelling over to the cook to translate. In that moment I really felt like I was not in america anymore. I felt uncomfortable. As there were other Italians in line staring at me. This was my first time visiting a country where I hardly knew the language. This interaction happened very quickly. The cook came over, translated what I wanted, I paid and then left. But to me, this was a very significant interaction that I won’t forget. It made me realize how frustrating it is to not understand another language. To have everyone around you understand each other yet I am the odd one out. To have others look at me impatiently because I don’t understand the language. And to feel an insane amount of pressure to be able to understand something.

Getting to Viterbo my first weekend was overwhelming, especially trying to communicate with local Italians. After moving into our new apartments the second day I got there, I was very much on my own. My second interaction with an Italian who did not speak english was when I went to the bar to order breakfast. I did not know how to order and I was not familiar the names of the food. I walked up to the counter and first asked if she spoke english. She said “no, dimmi.” I gave her a very blank stare. This has happened to me a lot since being here. The way I process the language is to 1) look for any familiar words and 2) try to put it in context and 3) I ask to them to repeat and this time there are usually a few hand motions included which helps to understand.

I then pointed to what I wanted. She smiled and told me to say “Vorrei un cornetto.” I said it back and she smiled. In this moment, I felt very pleased. I had learned a new, very useful phrase without speaking any english. This interaction gave me much more confidence about speaking my very rusty, Italian around the town.

Ciao! Mi chiamo Kamillah. I am studying at Universita della Tuscia this semester in Viterbo, Italy. I am from Northampton, Massachusetts in the United States. I go to school at Goucher College in Maryland. I am studying sociology. I am not sure what I would like to do with my career at the moment. Possibly, I would like to go into real estate or international relations. This year is my final year in school. I also run track and field at my college. I have been running on a team for 8 years and I really enjoy it. I run the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4 by 1 relay. I chose to go to Viterbo Italy for a couple reasons. I am very interested in how different cultures interact with each other, whether its cultural or political comparisons. Italy has a very interesting history with the United states as there have been years where Italy and United States have been very distance and periods where both countries influenced each other very much. The Usac program in Viterbo offers classes where I am able to closely study this relationship. Viterbo is also a smaller,authentic city as compared to Turin or Rome. I felt like Viterbo would give me more of an Italian feel and I would be able to observe the Italian way of life better. (Which is true) So far, I am really enjoying living in Viterbo.