Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Way back one month ago when I was in summer school, I took a week-long seminar in the art education department here at OSU with the one and only Terry Barrett. Dr. Barrett wrote the books Criticizing Art and Criticizing Photographs, as well as others. The topic of the seminar I took was Creative Art Writing. We went over many types of writing, including autobiographical/biographical creative writing, poetry, and writing creatively about visual art. The final day of class, we shared and swapped zines, which was really fun in my opinion. My zine was about tomato sandwiches.

Now we've had all this time since the class ended to write for a final project, which is due today. It was pretty wide open to being anything we wanted that fit into any of the types of writing that we talked about in class. I decided to go with the autobiographical category and I wrote a series of short stories about encountering language barriers while studying abroad (three years ago in Italy). These are stories I have always had intentions of writing down so as not to forget them, and I finally have. For the next few days, I am going to share one story each day as well as pictures from my experience.

Welcome to my school, Istituto il David, in the heart of Florence, one of my favorite cities on earth. If anyone comes across this blog entry in a Google search about the Istituto il David, yes, you should go there, it's amazing and the people are so nice.

This was my classroom, during a break.

The view from my classroom window. And now for my story:


It was my first day at the Italian language school in Florence, and I quickly learned that in my class of fifteen, there were only two other American students besides me. I was delighted by this because I had been dreaming of feeling like a true international student, and being surrounded by other Americans at all times puts a bit of a damper on that. The class lasted four hours each day, and it was completely spoken in Italian. I loved every minute of it, but would grow tired around hour three, when the morning’s espresso would begin to wear off.

The first day, around this time, we were still learning to correctly speak basic Italian introductions and were in the process of going around the room sharing bits and pieces about our home countries. I suppose I may have zoned out for a few moments, and I should stress here that when having language lessons entirely in the language that is foreign to you, it is imperative to pay close attention with ears and eyes. Visual clues are necessary when trying to make up for a lack of vocabulary and grammar. There is no zoning out if you want to keep up. It is a constant game of deciphering what is being said.

I thought for sure that on this particular go around, we were sharing things which originated in Italy but which we enjoy in our home countries. And I even thought I was particularly clever when I recalled how American children are always told again and again the story of Pinocchio, which is Italian. I decided to go with that answer when it was my turn, and when that moment arrived, I blurted out assuredly, “Pinocchio!” There, I thought. None of the answers so far have been this good. I felt proud of myself for about, oh, a millisecond, before my teacher could not help but chuckle, then asked in Italian, “In America, you eat Pinocchio?” My face turned red as I realized that the topic of discussion had not been what Italian things we have in our home countries, but rather what Italian foods we have.

I laughed aloud at myself and shook my head to let everyone know that I wasn’t really that dense, then revised my answer at lightning speed, saying the first Italian food that came to mind that surely I could not mispronounce, “Pizza!” Having given a generic albeit acceptable answer, my teacher nodded approvingly and moved on. I forced a smile to counteract the amount of embarrassment I felt. If only I had paid more attention! Didn’t you realize everyone else was talking about food!? I lectured myself silently. No, I hadn’t. I just thought everyone was talking about spaghetti because they were unimaginative. Language class is not the time to daydream, I learned in that moment.


Erika Lee Sears said...

:) such an adventure. so random- jersey shore season is in florence and the cast get in a little scuffle with some local italians- and the hubs and i translated some of the words- and it was soo funny- the name calling because it wasn't like name calling in the US.

lots of luck on the language barrier- when i was in italy i just learned the basic for ordering- and just pointed at the menu with what i wanted. :)

Kristen said...

haha, Yes, I love learning strange idiomatic expressions! After trying to buy cabbage at the farmers' market (see today's story) I came across the expression "Che cavolo vuole!" which means literally, "What the cabbage is he thinking!?" and started using it all the time.

Pointing is always a good idea! That's the lesson in my final story which will be posted tomorrow. :)