Before coming to Italy, I knew I wanted two things: a language-intensive program where I could really learn Italian and the opportunity to experience a host family. I was lucky enough to have been able to check off both from my wish list. However, things haven’t turned out how I had always imagined them to.
The host family
From what I had heard from friends and what I had worked up in my imagination, a host family was one of the best reasons to go abroad. In my mind there was a great emphasis on the family aspect because I had hoped that it would be like a home away from home.
If I gave every reason why I did not feel at home in my homestay, it would turn into a book. However, since I know that people will want to know the reason why I left, I will leave you with a story that I feel accurately depicts my life with this host family.
The weekend before my birthday, I decided to go to Amsterdam. (Classic Alana. Always looking for unique architecture and historically interesting cities, I know.) To get there I flew with Lufthansa from Bologna with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. I can go into my trip to Amsterdam and the other places I’ve been in a later post, but today we’re talking about the trip back home.
I had brought one small suitcase with me, which would typically fit in an overhead compartment, but the smaller plane I was flying in did not have enough space. All went well on the flights to The Netherlands, however the plane to Frankfurt was full. This means that anyone who had a bag that did not fit in the overhead compartments was forced to get it checked at the gate. “Anyone” that day unfortunately included me.
I was told that I might want to take out some important things out of my now-checked luggage before boarding the plane. So of course I took my passport, my phone and a small porcelain vase I had bought so it wouldn’t break. I told the people at the desk that rather than ending my trip in Frankfurt, I would be going to Bologna. I watched as they wrote the information down on the luggage tag and handed me my receipt.
A few hours later, around 8:30pm (20.30 for the Europeans), I landed in Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport. I followed the crowd of people to baggage claim and waited for my bag, which contained my wallet, laptop, Italian documents, and schoolwork (yes, I did homework in Amsterdam… I’ll explain later). After waiting for about 20 minutes and seeing the baggage claim area clear out and refill with the next flight’s passengers, I went to Baggage Assistance where I was told that my bag had remained in Amsterdam. It hadn’t even made it on the plane, 200 yards (182 meters) away from where I had checked it. They told me that the bag would be flown to Bologna the next day, then delivered to my host family’s house soon afterward.
So there I was, stranded at an airport in Bologna alone, without money and with a phone on 40%. Luckily, I had remembered that my “host sister” lives in Bologna, so I called her, hoping to stay a night at her house until I could figure out how to get back to Ferrara, a 30 minute drive away. But I had forgotten that she returns to Ferrara every weekend, so when I called she told me she was home and handed the phone to her mother. Great, maybe she’ll pick me up, I thought. After explaining what had happened, she asked why I didn’t take my wallet out and told me to call my program. I called my program director, who helped me find a hotel and lent me €50 the next day to get back to Ferrara.
Upon arriving at the house with only what I had left of the €50, the mother greeted me cheerfully, as if I had not been stranded in Bologna the night before. When I didn’t respond happily, she asked why I was upset. It might have had to do with not having any money and not being able to rely on the only “responsible adult” with whom I could be in direct contact since there are no representatives of my program anywhere near Bologna or Ferrara. Then, she proceeded to tell me that she and her daughter were going out for lunch, so I would have to go out as well. For the next 4 days, I was left to sort out the luggage situation by myself.
Not a particularly hospitable host family. After living with them for 3 months, it had finally gotten to the point when I decided that it was not worth the €750 rent to stay in a house where I was not allowed to have guests, not allowed to use the kitchen, had to stay on the first floor for Wifi, was constantly freezing and surrounded by cigarette smoke, and generally not happy.
Many American foreign exchange programs are heavily based around American-style classes hosted by the program. Middlebury College’s program, on the other hand, is focused on language acquisition and cultural immersion, which means that two of my courses are at the University of Ferrara with other Italian students and the third is one hosted by Middlebury, but taught completely in Italian. On top of this, for each university class I was taking, I was obligated to have a weekly “seminar” (individual tutoring session), for which I had to write an essay in Italian about the content of the class every week. The Middlebury course also assigned a mandatory essay each week. Therefore, for most of my time here so far I was forced to write three Italian essays a week. These essays would keep me up until late at night from Saturday to Thursday each week.
I would use all of my energy writing these essays and be left with none when I wanted to have time to enjoy my time in Italy or relax (or write a blog post). However, despite the amount of work I put into these papers, they were usually torn apart and essentially rewritten by my tutors whether it was for my grammar, content, or both. On the few occasions where I felt inspired to write something, I would be interrupted soon after starting other work I had to complete or by the stress of an issue in the never-ending list of problems I have faced since being in Italy. Even this post was started 3 weeks ago and has only just come into fruition now.
Only recently have the seminars, classes and exams ended, so I can finally have some time to myself without having 17hours of class/tutoring per week on top of homework.
It’s been difficult to keep up with my everyday life and almost impossible to update the blog. So there’s why I disappeared for a while, but seeing as I genuinely enjoy writing when I feel up for it, I have some ideas for the near future that might actually see the light of day soon. Stay tuned.