When I first arrived at our residence, I was greeted immediately by Mama Pola.
“I know who you are! You must be Sara Ma.”
I think she secretly gets enjoyment from saying my name because she repeats it (in her deep voice probably aged from numerous cigarettes) every time I pass the lobby. Mama Pola hands me a spare to my room and asks me if I would like to join my class at the restaurant or stay in my room for the night. I choose to attend the dinner and she pulls out a map and instructs me to go to metro station and wait for my professor at P. Genova station.
Oh boy. That’s where it began. I had enough trouble getting from Malpensa airport to Centrale Station to our residence by myself with my nonexistent Italian. I finally found people who at least recognized my name and now I’m being sent out into the streets of Milan alone armed only with a prepaid metro ticket, a map to the P. Genova station and the address of the pizzeria my professor was supposed to walk me to.
So I began making my way to the nearest metro stop, getting a tad lost on the way but finding my path again when I spot a city map. Then figuring out which side of the station was a struggle too. It took me a while to figure out that il treno is not a metro stop but literally meant the train. I eventually made my way to P. Genova metro station and waited just outside the ticket barriers. I thought it would make sense to meet in the station since the likelihood of spotting my professor outside the station was significantly lower since there are so many exits to the street. I waited for a good twenty minutes before looking at the city map and finding that the pizzeria was on a relatively short street nearby the station.
“I can totally walk there by myself,” I thought to myself.
I tried drawing a map of the nearby streets on my palm. When that failed, I attempted to draw it on the back of the metro map. Note to self, I will never be able to make it as a cartographer.
Then I remembered the phrase: take a photo, it’ll last longer. Of course it would, it would be far more accurate than any hand-drawn map and last much longer than ink on my sweaty palms.
I made my way to the Pizzeria alone, taking my time to admire the svelte, fashionable couple in front of me, the locals enjoying dinner al fresco, and the canal that I had to cross. My plan was to walk into the pizzeria and asking if there is or was a large group of Americans. As I was about to walk in, a number of young adults poured out and I followed my gut instinct and asked if they were from Harvard summer school. Ding ding ding! I was right. My timing could not have been more perfect.
I quickly introduced myself to all the of the students that already arrived and I reverted back to my quiet-in-large-groups-of-people self. It’s a constant struggle for me to find something worthy of saying when speaking to strangers; it’s even harder when I am in a group of Harvard students and I am not a Harvard student. I’m learning so much about Harvard culture, but I’m about ready to move on from talking about the events they attended to in the past year. Harvard students like to talk about Harvard, go figure. I was probably most at peace when I was walking to the pizzeria alone and admiring the scenery than feeling anxious that I’m not talking enough but also thinking I have nothing of importance to contribute to the conversation.
We headed to a nearby gelato place where I order the most delicious rose flavored gelato and divine stracciatella (milk with chocolate chips) gelato.
This morning, a few of my classmates and I got SIM cards, weekday metro card passes and groceries. It feels so embarrassing having no ability to speak Italian and being so blatantly foreign. It was a struggle ordering food, asking for directions, doing paperwork at the metro station, etc. I cannot wait to start taking Italian language class so my Italian won’t be limited to ciao, grazie, si, and no.