Diving into the Local Culture

This summer, I’m writing a series on being a teen TCK for Denizen, an awesome online magazine for TCKs! Here’s part of my second article on getting involved in your new culture…

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{my wonderful Italian friends!}

The bright Italian sunshine bounced off a jagged piece of metal, catching my eye. My feet pounded on the warm concrete as I ran to investigate. I squatted down and shielded my eyes to get a better look. Victory. Another beer bottle cap, bringing my total to twenty-two and also putting me in the lead against my brother.

Call me crazy, but somehow, when I pictured living in Florence, Italy, scrounging for beer bottle caps on a large slab of concrete before the Pitti Palace did not come to mind. But here I was, in my first week living in the great Renaissance city, doing exactly that. My mom sat close by, reading a book, probably trying to cram a few more Italian words into her head.

“Courtney, look! Birra Moretti!” My brother shoved a yellow cap in my face, featuring a green-suited man looking suspicious and strange. Maybe he too was sentenced to finding beer bottle caps in the heat of the day.

We laughed about his funny name and kept looking. When the sun began to sink and the air was laced with an autumnal chill, our mom finally got up and called us. We followed her like ducklings through the narrow cobble-stone streets of the ancient city.

When my parents first told us we might move to Italy, I wanted to go. Even though I had lived in Austin, Texas my whole ten years of life, adventure pulsed in my veins. I was ready to board that plane to a completely different life.

Our first year in Florence was certainly a change from life in Austin, but most of it was spent in our sunny, yellow house homeschooling. Every day was the same. My brother and I worked on school, then language tutoring, then we would trudge to the local library, or biblioteca, in the chill of evening so my mom could check her email, our one link to our old life.

Our slow integration into the Italian culture was perfect for the fall, but after Christmas, life seemed to drag a little. I began to wonder, what next? What’s going to happen for the next four years while we’re here? I missed the interaction that school and sports had provided me back home.

Not being plugged in to the local culture greatly hindered my knowledge of the language and prevented “real” life from happening. Though getting involved in activities in a new country may seem daunting, it is crucial to being able to best enjoy and profit from your time overseas. To each his own level of cultural immersion, but I would encourage you to venture out of your comfort zone. There are countless ways to live with the locals instead of just in their country, but I think three of the easiest ones are through school, sports, and neighborhoods. Allow me to explain…

Read the rest on Denizen!

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On Dance and Sacrifice.

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{not me}

I was talking with a someone recently who hopes to be a missionary when she’s older and she mentioned how many sacrifices people who choose that life have to make. It made me pause, because I don’t usually think of the word sacrifice when I think about my time overseas. But the more I think about it, there are so many sacrifices involved in flying across the world and scattering your heart along the way.

This past weekend, I was in a dance recital for my school. I needed a fine arts credit to graduate so I chose dance. Even though I haven’t danced in forever, the teacher let me skip Dance 1 (which is just a PE credit) to Dance 2. While I’ve overall enjoyed the class, it’s been rough. And I wasn’t so sure about this required recital we had to be in. But as the day drew nearer, I was ok with it…not super excited, not dreading it. It would be fine.

On the day of, I got to school early with everyone else in my class and we did our hair and makeup. And it was even kinda fun. I hadn’t gotten to get ready for a game or meet or recital in years and it was fun to feel those flutters of excitement and nervousness again.

Before the show started, everyone had to watch the drill team perform (our show was just high school and middle school dance classes…the ‘real’ show was that night) their opening number. And they are good. So good. I was so sad to miss their show.

As the lights dimmed though and they started to dance, a familiar feeling crept into my heart. What if. What if we hadn’t moved…would I be on that stage with them? Would I be on some other sports team? What could I have done if I hadn’t moved? Oh so familiar tears filled my eyes as the dancers on the stage blurred under the bright lights. Every football game. Every dance show. Every school dance. Every homecoming. Those tears. Sacrifice.

The actual show was great. No one messed up and it was fun to finally perform the dance we’d practiced so long. The feeling of “what if” faded, like it always does. But it lingers in the back of my mind – the constant struggle to accept that God’s plan for me overseas was better than my dreams of having a “normal” high school life.

But, honestly, if I had the chance to go back and do it all again…I’d still choose Italy. I’d still choose the long hours in an Italian classroom. I’d still choose the loneliness. I’d still choose the house that was freezing in the winter and dizzingly hot in the summer. Because with those moments came meeting my Italian friends. Learning the language. Seeing places I only dreamed of visiting. Finding community with other MKs. Starting Not of this World. Seeing the world with a different set of eyes. High school is only four years of my life and in a few years, it will be a distant memory. But Italy. That’s a forever memory. And it was worth the sacrifice.

Bologna Travel Diaries // Volleyball Memories

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My sister and I have loved playing on an Italian volleyball team! Our teammate Arianna invited us to her birthday party; I was so thrilled to finally have plans! It was last Saturday night, at a community center near the gym. Our dad took us by bus, and hung out nearby while we partied. I was shocked to see boys there; I had just expected it to be the team! But most of her friends were from school, they were so sweet.  I love meeting new people, so we walked around and introduced ourselves.

(“Hi, I am Kelsey” “Kaelsaeeyy?” “Sure. And this is my sister Katie” “Katia?” “Okay, si”) More of our teammates arrived and we hung out with them. The Italian culture is so affectionate; we were greeted with cheek kisses several times.

At the beginning, the party had a middle school dance vibe, the guys on one side by choice and the girls on the other. Then that one couple together in the corner. We pigged out on potato chips till her mom brought the pizza.  My sister, Katie, and I walked around and met all 40 kids in the room. They were sooo welcoming, and their faces lit up when they realized we were from America. Even if we couldn’t really communicate very well, we tried to make conversation in English by talking slow and using small words.

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I laughed a lot and I suppose sometimes you can have more fun without talking.  After a meal of pizza on plastic plates, the music started, lights went off, and the disco ball shone. One Direction and Ke$ha songs filled the room. It was crazy to me, how they knew every lyric but had no idea what the words meant. We had fun dancing to the extent of the fist pump. I taught ’em how we get down in America. I  am such a terrible dancer!  Illaria called me “Pazza” (which means crazy in Italian).  Creamy gelato cake was served and they sang the birthday song in Italian. I talked to a girl about Jesus, explaining that I was okay with being single because I have Jesus! She told me, or google translate told me, “I do not love God, but I believe in Him.” It hit me that one cannot love God, if they do not truly know Him. This was the first time I’d shared my faith to our new friends. Please pray that I can be bold!

I had a really good time at this party. It’s so good to just be away from the American culture, where I feel the pressure to be cool, and I always try to please people. The Italian culture is one where Americans are cool and few, facebook stalking is a compliment, and I don’t care what they think because I know I am only here temporarily.

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I was myself. This party was probably the first time I didn’t worry about what people thought of me. (I mean we could barely understand each other anyways!)  But it was a beautiful thing. Pure joy, I suppose. The freedom to be me, to actually smile and laugh.

I had such a good night and am happy to have a new memory with my teammates!

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I asked Kelsey to keep us updated on her amazing opportunity to live in Italy this semester through this “Bologna Travel Diaries!” For more on her European adventures, read her personal blog here.