I knew I wanted to study and live abroad in Italy since the first time I traveled there during high school. I chose a full year program, hoping to improve my language skills and really experience the culture outside of the American study abroad bubble. The best choice I made throughout this entire process was the decision to stay with a host family for the entirety of my trip. I was extremely excited up until the point I actually arrived on my host’s doorstep, lugging four suitcases behind me and trying to stay awake through my hideous jet lag. Prior to my departure I was told that I would be living with a single woman in a tiny apartment who may or may not have one or two cats…and that was the extent of what I knew. I stood on the doorstep for a few more moments, repeating over and over again in my head what I would say in Italian as soon as she opened the door.
The entire experience turned out to be much stranger and better then I could have imagined. It was just me and my host mom, and we did live in a tiny, vintage roman apartment with a fountain in the courtyard, and the one or two cats turned into a sweet canine named Tatto who arrived every weekend to stay with us along with my host mother’s boyfriend. Coming home every night to a warm meal and someone to listen to all my daily triumphs and struggles was incredibly helpful in dealing with homesickness and the stress that sometimes came with trying to interact daily in a language I wasn’t fluent in. She would even speak to me in her broken English sometimes, incoherently, to try and make me feel better on especially rough days. I was able to spend the holidays with her family, learn invaluable secrets to cooking authentic roman food, and gain insight from her stories on life, love, and everything in between.
Of course there were a few awkward moments in the beginning, stemming from trying to act natural and normal while learning to live in a complete stranger’s house. I’ll never forget the time her boyfriend accidentally walked in on me in the bathroom, or when I completely melted a spatula on the stove and I had to tell her what happened. Sometimes even the little things were exemplified into embarrassment, but the feeling slowly drifted as we both learned how to live with each other. My host family experience was the best aspect of my entire year abroad, and I will always remember it fondly.
Jillian Neilson, OIE Peer Advisor