Well, I’ve been in Bologna for a week now, all alone and with meagre Italian. The actual travelling here, the flying, was a piece of cake. I forgot to take my watch off and got beeped as I went through the detectors, then my bags got searched, but I didn’t feel maligned in any way. I enjoy spaces that are dedicated specifically to travel, like airports, because different cultures, languages, styles all coalesce and give you something to look at and eavesdrop into. It’s an interesting space.
I got through the travelling seamlessly, the plane journeys themselves being spent goggling at mountain-like clouds and being flummoxed that this technology has been achieved by apes, or else sleeping. I landed in Bologna in due course and was welcomed by the foreign heat. As I was leaving the Bologna airport, so were these American girls who were on my plane, who smiled at me in that “we’re-not-weird-and-repressed-around-strangers” sort of way and I just sort of met their eyes in an “unfortunately-I-am” sort of way. The reason I bring this up is because I’m still kicking myself over not saying something to them. There they were, these friendly, student-aged English-speakers, the only other English-speakers I presently ‘knew’ in that red, red city, and I let awkwardness get the best of me. I didn’t even ask what they were doing in Bologna. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but as you’ll soon learn, I’m missing speaking a language fluently.
I took a fairly silent taxi ride to my hostel (which calls itself a hotel, but is really just a hostel) and got set up in a room that was better than I expected. Everything was going okay. I didn’t have the confidence to speak, but I could understand and reply enough to get by, so all seemed well for then.
Then comes daily living and my subsequent discovery that I am almost phobically afraid of speaking the Italian language to natives. It’s not a rational fear, I know it, but it’s there. I know that the worst that can come out of an exchange is awkward embarrassment, but I am particularly not a fan of awkwardness or embarrassment, and the fear that my sub-par Italian would cause that caused a few problems. I was afraid and hesitant to order food at places, but much worse, I was absolutely unable to phone people to inquire about accommodation.
A quick word on finding accommodation in Bologna. Just don’t. Don’t go to Bologna. Choose a different place. If you’re going to be an Erasmus student studying Italian, change your degree if need be. Do German or something, where they’ll probably very efficiently set accommodation up for you months prior to your arrival, or they will at least have an efficient-seeming process in place if you do arrive without permanent accommodation. In Bologna, you’re basically left to rifle through pieces of paper tacked onto bins and walls advertising available rooms, often only for girls. If your Italian and confidence is up to scratch, this might not be so bad, because you can just phone them, have conversations, and set up flat-viewings. If, however, you’re anything like me, you prefer email (because of your poor Italian) and a sense of officialness (because of your British upbringing). These are two things you won’t get searching for accommodation in Bologna as an Erasmus student. I did, however, find a way around it. They often provide their mobile numbers for contacting, and to get around speaking to them on the phone, I would text them. Italians don’t respond to email (nobody knows why), but they respond to texts in time. I eventually managed to secure some accommodation with some folk in their late 20s (older than me), which I’ll be moving into on Sunday. It’s a bit weird, moving in with these strangers, with no agents involved; it feels a bit clandestine. But they seem nice and the rent is dirt cheap. Year abroad, hey!
Anyway, I was speaking about language. It’s probably because my Italian is so mediocre, but I miss speaking English a lot. I’ve only ever been to Venice in Italy before, and in Venice, you don’t feel too foreign because everybody is foreign. I feel like I’m genuinely immersed in Italianness in Bologna, and I feel very weak and foreign. Mind you, this may just be because I’ve been feeling particularly frail because of the intense stress the accommodation search was inspiring within me. I’m very serious; if you intend to go to Bologna on your year abroad, find accommodation before you come or be good at Italian. This post is called the Hard Part because the pre-accommodation, hostel-stay period has been hard and has not inspired optimism in me about the general year. I haven’t been able to think about anything else apart from trying not to be homeless, and I’ve been doing it all on my own with nobody’s physical presence to help me through it. I have gotten through it, though, and that’s what matters. It can only go up from here.
My language is broken, I feel diffident, and my only companion is wine, but I’m still going to push through. I’m going to make it through this entire year to prove to myself the elasticity of a human soul. And also to not fail my degree. But also the first thing.