Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Siclian Emersion: Part 1

      What would you say if I were to tell you that I lived in a region beside an active volcano? How hungry would you get if I were to tell you that everything that I ate abroad was fresh from the garden behind my house? Would you be afraid to adapt to a society where English is nearly non-existent? These are merely three of the hundreds of realizations that I had while studying abroad in Taormina, Sicily.

     My name is John Gage and I am a current International Business student in my senior year at Bryant University. I was lucky enough to find out about the opportunity to go to Sicily through the study abroad department last year. Not only did I study abroad in Italy, I even had an internship that bettered my language skills at the same time. Now there are so many different directions that I could go in to describe my experience in Sicily, but I wanted to instead think back to the questions I had before going there and how they got answered.

    The one thing that was imprinted in my mind from the moment that I learned about study abroad was the fact that I had the opportunity to not only live in Europe, but better my Italian. The question that I'd like to address in this first blog was my question of whether or not I would really improve my language to the point of complete fluency. Now, no one will ever be completely fluent but you understand what I want to say. Sure I wanted to travel, party and have the time of my life, but what I REALLY wanted was immersion. The thought of fitting in to a completely different environment and culture was my first real challenge as an adult. I had been to Italy in the past and conversed with the locals but not at great lengths. From the second that I arrived in Sicily, I knew that I got what I wanted.... and then some!

    To give you an idea of what I was up against, I had just gotten off an international flight and had the task of finding a house that I've never been to. I succeeded in correctly explaining where I needed to go and things seemed to be going smoothly. The family that I stayed with spoke literally no English, when I say no English I mean none. I woke up every morning knowing that English was not an option. Slowly but surely I started to be more social and by week 3 I felt like the king of the world. I had countless interactions with my family and the citizens of the city that I lived in. This was an amazing foundation for my fluency. The real test was yet to come.

    As the weeks passed by, I began my internship. My job was to translate several things from English to Italian or vice versa. As the Festival got closer I did more and more public events. I had to give tours, publicize the event, and give information to tourists. You never really know what someone will want to ask you, this was where I got really, really good. You cannot plan an answer to a question that you do not know, this is not something in a text book. Not only did I learn a lot from this, but I also started to pick up on one of the many dialects, Sicilian. As my knowledge of the language grew, the happier I was with my choice to study in Sicily.

    The icing on the cake came when I had weeks of vacation to travel wherever I wanted. I had the opportunity to essentially backpack up the boot of Italy and test my knowledge. I was exposed to so many dialects and I am proud to say that I held my own in all areas except one... Naples. I could communicate but my understanding was slightly lower here. Aside from that I had no issues. I even had a taxi driver ask me where I came from in Sicily! He had no idea that I was American, and laughed so hard when I explained that I was from the States. He made me speak English to prove it!

    The only real improvements that you can make to your understanding of the language can come from complete immersion and dependence on the language. There is no time to be shy or timid. You have to find a way to communicate and be a functioning member of the community. In the beginning it is a daunting task, but as the weeks go by it gets easier and easier. Now, I dream about returning to Sicily one day soon showing off my language ability. I would have never gotten this unique experience anywhere else. My success and happiness came from the fact that I jumped out of my comfort zone and created an entirely new comfort zone in my own way. It was an incredibly formative experience for me and I strongly recommend it for those serious about their language.

    I hope to continue to write more about my experiences but I would love to know what you guys would like to know about it. I could hit on several different aspects but this was the most important for me. Shoot me an email at if you want to see me post something specific! Thanks and Saluti!!!


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