Strange in Italy

I am strange.

Leaving my school and my home and my country (I sound oh-so-very patriotic!), I embarked on a journey to learn more about the world and about myself. I chose Italy because duh, it’s Italy. I thought I was ready to be out of my element and I thought myself prepared for what it would feel like.

Mostly, I wasn’t.

One of the very first phrases we learned in Italian grammar class was “io sono straniera.”

“I am a foreigner.”

It seemed like a weird way to phrase it and the words even sounded like I was calling myself strange.

When you’re in a new place, you feel really strange. You can’t speak the language, you can’t make a joke, you can’t even order coffee correctly!

Being foreign in Italy was effortless. Our first day in Florence, we went to in centro and stood out like sore thumbs. One of our companions pointed out our tourist characteristics that made our American-ness obvious: “You’re wearing Sperrys? American. You’re carrying a water bottle? Dead giveaway. You’re smiling too much, stop it!”

My brother, Nicholas, really struggled when we first got here. He is so friendly, energetically greeting everyone he passes with a smile or hello. In Italy, that is not allowed. Greeting strangers is the mark of a creep (yet apparently, staring incessantly is okay, as most Italian men demonstrate daily). He had to dial back his friendliness because it wasn’t culturally acceptable. I, however, fit right in with my unapproachable aura and RBF.

I expected to feel out of place in the city but what I did not anticipate was feeling out of place in my school. In our small ACA group of 35 students, you could see cliques being formed immediately. One of the volunteers sheepishly shared the names the cliques had been dubbed: the Hispanics, the Asians, the “white girls”, and the twins (they thought Nicholas and I were twins!), to name a few.

The cliques, while strong at first, slowly faded and we do all hang out together. But other differences never changed.

When we first arrived, we went through mini interviews with the teachers of the school. The results of those interviews determined what grammar class we’d be put into. The students who knew more than one language already were put into class two or three while the Morrison siblings found themselves solidly in class one. We were assured that no, of course this isn’t the dumb class! You just go at a different pace! But again, here was another rift, another division I didn’t expect.

And then, there are the normal differences found between people: likes and dislikes. Nightlife in Florence is a fun time—for individuals who love dancing! I am not one of those people. Dancing is about as natural for me as a third arm; in fact, I’m pretty sure I look like I have a third arm when I dance, or at least I’m missing a leg. Definitely not attractive.

Another love of mine is coffee. For the first two weeks, some serious friendships were formed because of our coffee obsession. I found a few girls whose caffeine adoration rivaled mine and we hit up the closest coffee bar every single day. Some students who didn’t quite match my coffee enthusiasm and because of the missing opportunity, it took me longer to get to know them.

In observing the things in myself that separated me from others, it’s easy to feel alone sometimes. I feel come una staniera; I feel strange. But those subtle differences make up part of my identity, forming a piece of who I am. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed of those pieces and the fact that they don’t always fit, I’ve made the decision to sharpen them. I make the decision to hone my opinions, to develop my morals and character until I become exactly what I’ve always intended to be; because honestly, who really cares if I’m strange?

Katie is a senior studying Business Administration. She's currently studying abroad in Italy.