GW Expat: Taking baby steps across the Atlantic

Junior Amanda Limmer, a double major in English and journalism, is spending the spring semester studying at Syracuse University’s campus in Florence, Italy. A few times this semester she, along with other students spread out across the globe, will share her experiences and observations abroad as one of The Hatchet’s “GW expats.”

I told myself that I wouldn’t have any expectations before leaving for Italy. I knew if I became too excited, I would feel let down if Florence didn’t meet them. So, I guess you could say that I went abroad cold turkey; I had never been to Europe before and I left my home town in New York thinking I would just go with the flow.

I knew that the flow would primarily consist of adjusting to my new Italian family. Most of my friends thought I was crazy at first when I mentioned that the Syracuse in Florence program requires all of their students to live with families, but I didn’t let their skepticism bother me.

I have been in Florence for about two weeks and I’m not going to lie and say that everything is perfect and absolutely amazing. The city is gorgeous, the people are beautiful and the gelato is delicious, but adjusting to a new city (and a new family) takes time.

Luckily, I’ve had some help so far – at orientation we were given a booklet: “How to Live with an Italian Family.” At first, some of the things in it caught me off guard, to say the least.

No. 1 – “Beware, everything in Europe is smaller.” And so far that tip is true: your bed is smaller, the washing machine is smaller and, maybe most importantly, the shower is smaller. For Americans, who live by the adage “the bigger, the better,” that takes a little getting used to. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that dryers do not exist here in Italy, so your laundry, bras, underwear and all, is hung on the family clothes line with the rest of their stuff.

Okay, so my laundry will hang on a line along the back of my apartment. I can deal with that. But this next rule was a little bit more of an issue for me. My handy-dandy booklet also told me about conserving water. As a person who likes to take a shower every day, the second I read that “families do not like students to shower every day because they conserve water,” I began to sweat. Hell, I actually needed a shower.

Luckily for me, I happen to be living with a great home stay family. My roommate, another girl from GW and I, live with our host mother, a widow named Mimosa, and her 34-year-old daughter. We all have to share a bathroom. You’d think with four women sharing a bathroom we’d have some major traffic jams, but it’s never a problem.

This next part may be harder to believe. It was at least for me. Mimosa doesn’t speak a word of English. At dinner, my roommate and I are forced to use the little Italian that we know at the table to communicate like human beings. Right now, you can be sure that every other word out of my mouth is either “si,” “grazie,” or “ciao.” Without hand gestures and facial expressions, I would be lost.

While there is definitely a language barrier, Mimosa has been hosting students for 24 years and has picked up some phrases along the way. My cute little Italian mama likes to blast American music and sing along to it while cleaning the apartment and ironing shirts.

One morning I walked out of my room to Mimosa cleaning the kitchen and humming to the Black Eyed Peas song “Where is the Love.” She has also learned the important phrase “oh my god,” and at dinner a few nights ago, she hilariously imitated one of her past students who always used to sit on the phone and scream the very American phrase: “oh my god, oh my god.”

Although it feels strange to live in someone else’s home, over time, my living situation is becoming more comfortable. Mimosa is a warm and loving host mother who has this whole exchange student thing down to a science. She washes our clothes on Tuesdays, cleans the apartment on Wednesdays and has dinner ready for my roommate and I every night at exactly 8 p.m.

Looking back at my anxiety during orientation the first week, I have to laugh at myself. I can say that I am definitely feeling some culture shock here in Florence, but luckily Mimosa has made my transition easier by letting me still shower everyday (though you can be sure that I jump in and out as fast as possible so she can’t yell at me for wasting water). At least I’m trying to adjust to the local culture. Baby steps.

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