I found that one of the most important things for me to get the best experience while studying abroad is to push myself out of my comfort zone. This may sound obvious, but it is important because it is where I learn the most about me and where I am. No experience in Italy is the same as it is at home, even buying stamps and ordering cappuccinos was hard and awkward at first (honestly they still are sometimes). But eventually these things become more normal and comfortable, then there is room to try something new again.
I have been pushing myself to try new things and now I have found myself a part of a kick boxing training group. Making the 1.2 mile walk up the hill to the Parco Romani Biodistretto was nerve racking for the first couple of classes. Ana and I didn’t know if we would be able to understand what was going on or if the group would be open to two inexperienced American girls crashing their training. It turned out that both instructors, Gabriele and Emanuele, spoke amazing English and were willing to help two struggling girls try to learn good form for a jab (I think… I’m still new at this).
Every Tuesday and Thursday, in addition to learning something new physically and mentally, I have been able to just be an observer rather than the observed.
Usually moving around as a group of fourteen American girls in Italy we become a spectacle and tend to dominate a space. Going to kick boxing class has been one of the only spaces where I have been able to feel like a part of something where people are focused on a common goal instead of us. It is one of the only places I have been able to observe people living their normal life and participate without totally disrupting it. Don’t get me wrong, we still don’t make it easy on them: our Italian is sub-par, and they have to explain a lot of things for us in English, but we are learning. I have learned a lot of new words and phrases. I don’t know where I would have learned things like “pancia terra” (on your stomach) and “cambio!” (change) without this experience.
The best advice I can give from my experience here so far is to keep pushing yourself once you realize that you feel comfortable. Also, while here, push yourself at some point to do something alone or with one or two others, so you can really see how people live their lives without everybody around. It could be acquainting yourself with somebody at the market, becoming a regular at a coffee shop, or sitting in the piazza to watch people in their normal lives.
Who knows what my next step to push myself will be. Maybe it will be to actually speak some Italian when I go to class. Maybe it will be to tell Gabriele and Emanuele how much Ana and I appreciate all the extra work they do to help us amateurs, feel included in the class. Maybe it will be to go to the produce shop where I have to speak to the shop owner instead of going to the grocery and picking out my own food. Whatever it is I’m ready for it and I encourage you to be too.