My first day I walked 20 minutes across town to meet up for my service event, I was slightly tired, and worried about what I would be doing. I stopped at a few stands before I finally found the stand I belonged to. I even asked in Italian for directions. When I arrived there were three women, and a man. They were just getting started and unloading a van full of Christmas flowers. At first I was intimidated I said hello, and quickly realized that they spoke only Italian. I was beginning to become even more nervous knowing I was not going to be able to speak English. At the same time I kept thinking, just smile and listen, eventually you will pick up on what they are saying. However my fears of the first day were squashed almost immediately. The women introduced themselves and made me feel very welcome.
I spent most of the first day listening intently to their conversations, asking questions, and being corrected on my poor grammar. They never made me feel bad about my language abilities, and were always patient and helpful. I began to use my dictionary more than I thought I would. I was pulling it out almost every ten minutes just to understand one simple word in conversation.
The day continued to go by slowly as conversations continued and I began to know more about the people I was working with. The women talked freely about everyday affairs, politics, and of course the American they were working with. I found it very funny every time a person came up to me to buy a flower, and they would add the side note that I was American and I was helping their organization for the next few days. I actually would like to say they were proud to have me there.
I then started to realize that they were treating me like a daughter. They would kiss me, hug me, and ask me about my school and my day. They even helped me with my homework. They checked over every page I turned to in my Italian book, and corrected my errors. Sometimes they told me the Florentine way of saying a word. I found that very interesting.
At some point I was allowed to leave for lunch. When I returned I took over the stand with one volunteer while the others went and had their lunch, a simple but productive method. This volunteer was not one of the three friends. She was older I would say in her 80’s. She was kind and oddly she spoke a lot more English then the other three women. However she insisted I only speak Italian, and ignored any attempt at English. She then invited me to her home for a café. I ended up walking her home, and found myself in a real Italian apartment, something I had never before seen. I wandered around the house looking at old photos, memorabilia, and old military relics. The house was amazing. I found out about her two daughters and one son. I also talked with her about her husband who had just recently been hospitalized because he had a fall. When I asked what she used to do for work she told me she was the mother of the house. That’s it.
She was a very interesting elder woman, and I very much enjoyed her company. I feel that this made me think very differently of the elder people in Italy.
The next day I showed up very ill, and was sent home after they help me retrieve medicine, have hot milk, and some food in my stomach. I came the next day to make sure that I had spent enough time at my service event but some part of me felt like I wanted to just because they were so kind to me. They were happy to see me! We spent the day selling flowers to passerby’s. We the day concluded I asked if I could write them and retrieved all of their addresses. It was a bitter goodbye, and I hope to hear from them soon. I think that I will try to stay in touch, and use this as an excuse to continue Italian in the USA. Either way, this experience was rewarding and very comfortable for me.
Krista Hove is studying abroad at Florence University of the Arts in Florence, Italy.