La Mia Famiglia Italiana

Italy has taught me more about myself in 3 months than America has in 21 years. The cause of this can be narrowed down to four major influences in Ortigia. I like to call them my Oritgia family. All of these people made me feel at home. They helped me make Ortigia a part of me and taught me lessons I can take forward in my life.

On the first Monday of classes we ventured out to get some lunch. We had heard many great things about the previous students’ experience at the so-called “sandwich guy”, so the group of us were excited to jump in and see what this sandwich shop was all about. The only sign on the outside of the shop was advertising prepackaged ice cream bars. There was no sign that had the actual name of the shop, but we were almost positive this was the place we were supposed to be. As I walked up the step into the shop there were chicken flavored chips to the left and a glass case with lots of meats and cheese to my right. Keep in mind, this was my first time seeing an Italian sandwich shop, so I was a smidge overwhelmed with how the meat and cheese looked. I was so used to everything being sliced and looking “normal” that I was a little taken back when we saw real prosciutto. There was an older woman who was leaning on the counter. She was wearing a pink striped shirt and had on blackish-blue glasses. She looked at us with a blank stare. Straight ahead was an older man wearing a blue jumpsuit and sitting down at one of the only chairs in shop. He looked anxious and ready to go somewhere. All of the sudden we heard a loud voice that said, “I do not speak English” that came from a man in between the two older people. He had on jeans, a  black shirt, and a white apron. I looked around to the other girls, making sure they were just as caught off guard as I was. My friend, Mallorie pushed me forward toward the counter and he gave me a blank stare with a slight smirk. I could feel my face starting to get hot and turn into a tomato red color. The man behind the counter stepped to the side so I could get a better look at him and said, “My name is Carrado and you are going to order your sandwich in Italian.” The abruptness in his voice and they way he worded this sentence got me anxious to try the Italian language for my first time. Corrado pointed to a loaf of bread and ask grande or piccolo? After deciding I wanted a piccolo of ciabatta bread, we played a game where I pointed to something and Carrado told me how to say it in Italian. I was thrilled to be able to say words other than “ciao” and “grazie”. Pomodoro, olio, sale, aregano, mozarella, and salami picante were the first set of words I learned here in Italy, but honestly I use them as frequently as I do  “ciao” so I was ok with that. Carrado is the brother figure of my Oritiga family. He was one of the first communication barriers I encountered in Ortigia and I felt that it went smoothly. Dealing with being independent and ordering for myself in another language helped me to break the communication barrier. Carrado taught me that messing up or making a mistake was ok and that taking chances is what life is all about.

Franca is a petite and fragile looking women, who turns out to be an outspoken fireball. I first met Franca at our welcome dinner on our first night in Ortigia. I remember arriving at the restaurant, excited to try Italian food and talk with some of our professors. Sitting down with Jadyn on my left and Mallorie on my right, I obviously grabbed for the wine first. Being polite I offered the wine to the sweet blonde sitting across and down the table from me. What came out of her mouth next was not what I expected. She proceeded to tell us in her cute Italian-english speaking voice of hers that she did not drink, otherwise she would be passed out under the table after one glass. I laughed and thought to myself that she reminded me of an Aunt. The next time I saw Franca was a couple of days later on the first day of classes. We entered the building and there she was sitting at her desk with a great grin on her face and welcoming us with a phrase that I did not learn until 2 months into the trip, “ciao raggazi”, which means “hey kids.”  Franca was the woman who taught us how to make loli, a type of pasta, and told us plenty of her family traditions along with funny stories. If you have not caught on yet, Franca is a very social and family-oriented person and she was one of the only people who got me to break out of my shell on this trip. Like I said above, Carrado taught me how to be comfortable speaking Italian, but Franca brought the comfort to the next level. After spending 4 or 5 weeks in Ortigia I felt like a local. Franca got me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. She taught us how to say the “naughty” words in Italian as well as served as someone we could talk to about any problems, questions, or concerns we were having. Aside from the numerous food recipes I will take a great lesson back to the states with me that I can attribute to Franca. She taught me that being upfront, outspoken, and goofy is ok. She taught me that you should never lose who you really are, no matter how old you are or what your situation is. Franca had been sick for 2 weeks and when she returned it was as if nothing changed. She kissed and hugged us as if we were her own. She still made us feel at home and poked fun at us as much as she could.  Therefore, Franca lived up to my expectations of her being an Aunt figure at my home away from home.

Susi and Lorenzo are the mother-son dynamic duo. They can answer, translate, or book anything you need them to. Susi is the mother of my Ortigia family while Lorenzo resembles a very close first cousin. Everyone knows who Susi is and she has connections that can hook any student up with anything we need and almost any location we want. I like to think of her as a magician behind her desk in the front office. Lorenzo is always up for playing games, helping us manage rowdy Italian children, and telling us about kids around our age in the Sicilian culture.

One thing that both of these individuals taught me was how to be a true Sicilian from two people who are not true Sicilians. Susi married into being Italian and Lorenzo is a product of that, so he is half italian. When we first got to Ortigia we were presented with lots of Sicilian traditions that mostly did not match our previous thoughts about the culture. One of the things that was different for me was that I thought every Italian was on time and proper about things. Little did I know that I was going to be proved wrong. Numerous times Susi arrived late, as well as Lorenzo, and whenever frantic Katie Kuck would show up with a task for her to do she never rushed into anything. Susi knew that life gives you time and you need to cherish that time without rushing through and filling it with useless nonsense just to make it go by faster. Taking this back to the states with me will be quite a change from my everyday routine, but I am excited to see how it works out for me; helping or hindering my personality.

Susi is a helper who likes to organize things. I learned this planning my first trip. I went to Susi hoping to go to Taormina and she shot me down, saying that Palermo would be a much better place and she would make arrangements. As I would do at home, I listened to “my mom” and let her handle everything. Just 3 short hours later I passed by her office and got great news. Susi nonchalantly told me that she had booked one room for me and Mallorie to share. She had the cost written down on the piece of paper and told me to tell the front desk man that we knew Susi and all would be well. I have never been to Europe before and was about to travel alone without any parental figures. It was a very nerve racking situation, but Susi made it seem like no big deal. She told us of the bus times and where to go and sent us on our way. Just as simple as that!

We were invited over to their country house for an Easter Monday lunch and soccer. This made me feel like I was back home in Council Bluffs celebrating with my family. At home I usually help in the kitchen on holiday’s as much as I can, so it was rightfully so that it was not any different this Easter. Although I was not make a turkey or ham, I did learn how to make bread and still found my being very useful in the kitchen and setting up of the eating area. Like I had said before, Lorenzo is comparable to a first cousin. This idea stuck with me through the Easter festivities. The second our group got there he was ready to play all sorts of yard games. Soccer, table tennis, archery, darts, and mostly anything that had competition Lorenzo was ready for us. Later on in the day he organized a game of soccer that was the Italians vs. the Americans. Taking responsibility like this reminded me of my cousins at home who always organize the outdoor festivities with good, healthy competition.

Susi and Lorenzo brought the aspect of my Ortigia family together. They made me feel at home and as comfortable as I could get being so far away from my friends and family. I will never forget the humbleness, generosity, and kindness that they gave me in my time here.

    The things that I learned while being in Italy are things that I will carry around in life forever. Making mistakes is ok to do sometimes, but not being afraid to fix and correct them is where your true Carrado will stand out. Franca taught me that being who I really am, loud and expressive, is encouraged when around people you don’t know so those people can get to really know you. Susi and Lorenzo have taught me my Italian roots and I will carry their traditions and humbleness along as I make my way back to the states.