For this semester, I am staying in a homestay with an Italian family in the town bordering Sorrento. I am living in an apartment building, located on a street directly off the main road leading to the piazzas. The area I live in is relatively quiet, except for the sound of speeding motorinos and smart cars on the street below. The view from my balcony is absolutely stunning; to the left I see the snow-topped Vesuvius and straight ahead are the rolling Sorrentine hills that include the towns of Vico Equense and Piano di Sorrento.
My host family is so welcoming, and I feel extremely grateful to be staying with them. My host mom speaks only Italian, and she encourages me when I feel trapped in my words, or lost in translation. She is also a world-renowned cook (in my eyes, at least) and a feisty Italian at heart. My host-sister is 25 years old and is studying to be a lawyer—which in Italy is an even more extraordinary task than in the U.S. due to the obscurity and pure length of all of the laws—so she is constantly studying. My host-brother is 34 years old, and I barely see him because he is always out working or out in town.
Aside from my three family members I have the pleasure of having two “host-cats.” One is named Cleo, and the other is Nio. Cleo loves to sneak in my room and sit on my lap, and is clearly one who loves attention. Nio, on the other hand, runs away from me every time I step near him. I also live with another American student, Sam, who is studying at the same school as me. We both have our own rooms, which came as an unexpected surprise. It’s nice to have an American friend overseas, and it has helped me cope with some culture shock and misunderstandings.
Living in a home-stay has definitely proved to be more beneficial than I could have imagined. My host mother provides me with breakfast every morning, which is usually a piece of Panettone or a cookie with tea or espresso, and a Sorrento orange. She also cooks me and Sam dinner every night, and since she wants us to get the full Italian experience, she cooks a different meal every night! Everything from lentil soup and gnocchi, to eggplant parmesan and broccoli with sausage and fresh bread—every night is an adventure for my taste buds. When I first experienced these meals, I could not finish half of them, because it was so much food. There are usually three or more courses: the first plate of pasta or soup, a second plate of meat—sometimes with a vegetable—and finally if you have room, there is the third plate of salad, cheese, vegetable, and/or fruit. Thankfully, I have a 30 minute walk to school every day to counteract some of the effects of me eating my way through this new, cultural experience.
As you can see, I do not cook in my home-stay, nor do I do the dishes, or even do my own laundry. My host mom is kind enough to do my laundry, dry on the drying racks (since there are no dryers in Italy), and iron my clothes for me; in fact, I am turned down every time I ask if I can help. This is the biggest difference between home and staying here because I am used to being able to do all of these things myself, so this was certainly an adjustment. Another big difference is that Italians eat much later at night than I am used to. Aside from this, the differences lie mainly in the small, daily cultural differences which have thus far only enriched my experience and led to become closer to living the Italian way of life.