Sunday, June 21, 2015

Settling In

by Lisa Becker
Day by day, my Italian improves. Just like riding a bike, I slowly remember words, conjugations, and phrases I haven't uttered in almost a decade. I can pick out many words as they are spoken, but I am initially shy to test my own skills. I often converse with myself in my head or even speak softly under my breath in an attempt to regain my confidence and awaken a sleeping part of my brain. Despite my desire to engage the Cagliesi, my lack of confidence creates barriers to intercultural communication in my activities. With only 4 days left in the class, I finally feel my intercultural competence kicking in. My motivation grows each day as my language skills improve. Now I see that most Italians appreciate my efforts to communicate, regardless of my poor grammar or mispronunciation.

Cultural immersion can be an emotional rollercoaster. The highs and lows come at me from every side and can happen at any moment. The frustration from forgetting a specific word or conjugation can quickly turn to elation when a shopkeeper or waiter finally understands the question I am trying to ask. The next day, a moment of mental paralysis releases a deep fear inside which tries to convince me that I will NEVER find my way back to Cagli from the nearby town of Gubbio because I don’t know what time the bus leaves. What would be a simple question back home feels like a complex problem to solve when traveling abroad. The nearby bar owner, a stranger by all definitions of the word, offers to call first the bus company and then the Cagli bus station to find out the schedule. A stranger becomes a friend, a jumble of words and gestures turns into an Italian-English conversation, and my catastrophic failure transforms into an inspiring success in intercultural communication.