This winter break, I was lucky to have my mom, dad and sister come visit me in Italy. We were in the Tuscan countryside for Christmas, spent New Year’s in Rome and then enjoyed a week in Florence, my summertime stomping grounds. A couple things became very clear to me on this trip. One of them being that my role had changed on this family vacation from just a kid to an official translator. This became evident when I had to translate between two grown men: my dad and an Italian store clerk who was sincerely trying to converse with him, despite the language barrier. I translated back and forth, which was a bit exhausting, but it was nice to see them understand almost everything the other was trying to say. I guess I must have impressed the clerk at the end because he complimented me on my Italian and tried setting me up with his nephew, a true sign of a job well done.
The other thing that became painfully clear to me was that even though I have my permesso di soggiorno (resident’s permit) and year-long Italian visa, I am not a European. It’s kind of a weird thing because after living here for eight months, I feel more European than American. Unfortunately, what I “felt like” didn’t translate to legal documentation when I was trying to get a student discount rate ticket to the Colosseum and I proudly ordered three regular tickets for my family and one European student ticket for myself. The cranky man behind the window asked for my EU card, so I showed him my resident’s permit and European university student card, to which he quickly glanced down and informed me that it’s not valid because I’m not actually European. I don’t know what it was about hearing those words that made me angry. It wasn’t about not getting a discounted rate; it was his blatant way of saying it. Maybe it’s because I am in an immersion program and have spent so much time learning the culture, language and way of life here that it’s a bit off-putting when you realize that no matter what, you are still a foreigner and will be treated as such. It’s definitely an eye-opening experience to be treated like an outsider in a country that you feel like you are a part of, even in the most trivial of situations, like buying a ticket for the Colosseum.
Living in another country has taught me to be more reflective about cultural differences and that one of the most important reasons for traveling is to force yourself to adapt to a new environment. Not being comfortable all the time makes your mode of thinking intrinsically more open. Being abroad challenges you to deal with the constant mix of emotions — of being happy and sad about being far away from home — and forces you to realize that even though you may be missing out on things back home, there’s no where else in the world that feels more right than where you are right now.