Reflecting on My Biggest Challenges in Florence Prior to COVID-19

Ciao amici, it has almost been a month since I got back to the United States because of the corona virus. My last week in Florence was a whirl wind trying to find a flight home while on spring break, packing up my belongings, and saying goodbye to my friends. I am very sad that my semester was cut short and I had to come home, but I am extremely grateful for the time I had in Florence. I was able to learn a lot in the seven weeks I was abroad. I was able to live like a Florentine, explore many new places, learn some Italian, and learn how to work through difficult situations. Thinking about my in-country experience prior to COVID-19, I would say my biggest challenge was the language barrier.

Prior to studying abroad, I did not know any Italian or much about the city of Florence. I took Spanish for many years, but I was really interested in travelling through Italy and learning about the culture. While I was in Florence, I was taking Italian (I am continuing to take Italian online now) but learning a language takes time. I learned a lot in my Italian class, but there was still a lot I needed to learn to have conversation with someone in Italian. A lot of Italians know English, but their level of speaking English varies. Some people are fluent in English whereas, other people only know a little. At times, it was frustrating to not be able to communicate with people because of the language barrier. It can make a simple task a lot harder. 

For instance, during my first week in Florence, I had difficulties communicating with the lady at the post office when I was turning in my permit of stay to live in Italy. All the signs were in Italian and I did not know what line to stand in. I was very intimidated. I asked for help from people waiting in line, and they told me what to do and what line to stand in. When I was getting assisted, the women helping me only knew a very little bit of English and was very rude to me. This document was extremely important and I wanted to make sure everything was taken care of, but the language barrier made it a lot harder. I just tried to stay calm in the situation and try to not get frustrated with her being rude to me. She was bothered by me not knowing Italian. Most Italians are nice about you not knowing Italian, but she was very irritated.  Due to the language barrier, it took me almost 30 minutes to take care of the document. Even though I was frustrated, I tried to look at it as a learning lesson on how to problem solve. This situation also motivated me to learn and practice Italian more so I wouldn’t have to deal with these problems. 

From this experience, I learned the importance of being patient and not getting frustrated. Problem solving is much easier when you stay calm instead of being angry about the situation. I also kept telling myself that learning a language and adapting to a new environment is a process. 

Many study abroad students experience challenges regarding language barriers. From my experiences. I learned it is best to practice the language daily beyond the classroom. People appreciate it when you try to speak their native language even if it isn’t the best. Also, it is important to know that you are not the only one experiencing these problems and your friends more than likely experience similar problems. Other ways to overcome language barrier include pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, become involved in the community to practice the language and learn about the culture, travel in your country, and to understand that adapting to a new culture takes time. By doing these things, I was able to feel more comfortable speaking Italian and I had fewer challenges with the language barrier. Even though dealing with language barriers is challenging and often frustrating, it is ultimately a rewarding experience that allows you to learn a lot about a new culture, the language, and yourself.