La Bella Vita


I am not the same person.

After wedging and packing my life into three bags, I left for ten months in Verona, Italy and it changed me.

Despite my Italian descent, I didn’t speak a word of the language.

Not one word.


Even though I was raised to appreciate other cultures my entire life, I had never lived outside of Bloomfield.

I’d traveled before and was a great tourist, but I wanted to become a native.

Selecting a place was easy. With my long Italian name and my authentic curly black hair I knew Italy was the place.

Meeting my host family, awkward greetings were exchanged. Half English half Italian.

In that moment I knew I had a choice.

Either I would step up to the challenge and fully submerge myself into my ancestor’s culture or I would live in silence.

It wasn’t easy.

Being submerged in an entirely foreign culture and language can be very discouraging.

Time and and time again I remember sitting and listening to whole conversations and not actually understanding a single word.


I could read people’s body language and catch the occasional word but I could never express my own thoughts.

I developed a mission. Studying Italian became my sole focus and The Big Green Book of Italian Verbs became my guiding mentor.

Accompanying my new mentor came his friends patience, and concentration. This trio formed the foundation for both my speaking skills and my social life.

Until I learned how to communicate I couldn’t make plans to go out. My Italian book was my Bible and I studied it every day like a monk in his monastery. When I wasn’t reading, I was listening. Slowly, month by month, the occasional word became an occasional phrase, the occasional phrase a full conversation and three months after I arrived I was ringing up friends, participating in class and discovering a whole new Italy.

I still had a long way to go, but the Italian I had picked up already made me feel as if I had been reborn.

My life before had felt black and white and now it was bursting with color.

Walking down the street, I understood children counting as they played nascondino (hide and seek), calls for better pay from striking autisti (bus drivers) and the local vecchi (old men) debating politics. These were the colors on a canvas that at one time I was too inept to even unpackage, let alone draw upon.

Every day, I had to adjust to Italian cultural norms. I was living with a new family. I was attending a foreign school. Twenty-four hours a day I was in a whole new world and I was doing it alone.

Over time the strange became normal. Soon I was speaking in Italian and it felt natural, as if it had been that way my whole life.

No longer was I only an American, but I was Italian as well.

Realistically, I had always been. I had the blood and a passport but it wasn’t until I took the risk of leaving my friends, family, and everything familiar behind that I could consider myself worthy of the Italian brand.

Was I nervous? Of course.

Did I have my doubts? Almost daily.

But without risk there is no reward.

Those ten months gave me more than I could ever put into words. Not a day has passed since my return that I don’t think about Italy and the knowledge it gave me. Knowledge and skills that could never be learned in any classroom.

Waking up each day in a foreign country thousands of miles away from home taught me that in order to succeed there are always risks and challenges to face but backing down is not an option. I know that not everyone is as lucky as I am to go abroad, but we all have our own shells to breakout of and everyone can and should in whatever way they can. And out from this protective shell lives independence and personal responsibility that feels so good to own.

For me it was trip to the setting of Shakespeare’s love story. But my ending wasn’t tragic. In fact, the experience fundamentally changed who I was making me into a stronger, more confident person than I was one year ago.

In fair Verona is where I laid my scene. Where will yours take you?