When you are from a small town, you essentially grow up in this little sphere filled with your family, your friends, and the community members that co-inhabit this bubble with you. This is your ‘normal’; your accepted version of what life is, what friends are, and what family means. It’s not until you step out of this bubble that you learn life is filled with infinite bubbles that, in fact, are very welcoming and meant to be discovered.
I found my way to Italy during a semester abroad. I chose Italy because of my family heritage. I had recently lost my grandmother, whose ancestors were southern Italian; however, she was adopted and left no direct trace of her Italian ties. Coming here was my chance to learn about this side of my family, little-known by the rest of my relatives. In hindsight, based on my own previous idea of what Italy was, I believe that Italian culture is something that’s widely misunderstood. My experience living here has given me a new perspective on Italy.
Leaving my family was nerve-wracking; I was 19, spoke minimal Italian and knew no one. My first day in Rome I became lost (actually standing in front of Café Settimiano, basically right next to the entrance of the Guarini campus) until I met a degree-seeking student who kindly interrupted her own coffee break to accompany me around Trastevere in search of my destination. Looking back, I find it difficult to tally the total number of times a complete stranger has offered me a helping hand, an unexpected compliment, or taken me graciously into their company without even thinking twice.
Two years ago, while I was a study abroad student, I was invited to stay with the family of friends in Sicily, in a beautiful little town called Taormina. This experience was a mix of cultural discovery and festivity; our time spent in Sicily also perfectly coincided with the celebration of Carnevale. Our long weekend was filled with masked celebrations in the streets, home-cooked meals, and lovingly narrated trips to several surrounding cities.
More recently, I have been able to meet some distant relatives on the opposite end of my family tree, maternal relatives as opposed to my paternal Italian grandmother. I was taken in and utterly spoiled with love and acceptance. It was a summer spent in Tuscany learning about the dynamics of my Polish-American-Italian-Mexican relatives complete with warm dinners hosted by my “new” cousins and celebrations of friendship and family. They taught me what it means to be family here; and how pure and sincere humankind is capable of being to a stranger when given the chance.
Throughout my time in Italy I have experienced what family means in several unique situations; I have been hosted, loved, and cherished by friends’ families and distant relatives. I treasure the memories and experiences I have made and gone through during my time abroad. Stepping outside of your bubble and accepting that ticket for a new adventure opens your eyes to a world filled with endless connections.
Shelby Leigh Bradley
Class of 2016
Hometown: Clinton, New York, USA