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   Date: 2/19/09

JYA Journal—A Year in Florence

An occasional series from students spending the year in Florence, Italy.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

Naomi Dolin-Aubertin strolls through the Piazza San Marco, Venice.

See JYA Journal: Tina Jackson

By Naomi Dolin-Aubertin ’10
I think the most satisfying thing about living abroad in a country where the language is not my own is being able to understand what is going on around me.

Most Italians speak to me in English, a positively unavoidable fact in such a tourist hotspot as Florence. However, as my tongue has become more comfortable with the suono, or music, of the Italian language, I have found that randomly encountered people are more willing to embrace my efforts by responding to me in Italian.

At first I was overwhelmed by the crazy, overlapping sounds of conversations heard on buses, but more so by the idea that I had signed myself up for a year of Smith academics, in Italian. 
But I have come to embrace that. I can now read the daily free paper in Italian (with a dictionary ever ready). But I still cannot understand the rapid-fire of Italians’ conversations or the quick-step speech of people on television.

Dolin-Aubertin (on right) poses with fellow JYA-er Lauren Folk ’10 in Val d'Occia.

However, that is perfectly okay. The essence of my study abroad, after all, is one of self-discovery. I would never have thought myself capable of taking a train to Austria alone or of the possibility that my Italian skills could help me communicate there. I never actually considered the physical exertion it takes to live bilingually. I have to think a lot before I speak, often to say very simple things—which is not a bad way to learn that particular life lesson.

Living abroad in a second language means that I am rediscovering my own voice and getting to know the person that voice speaks for.

I was talking to a Florentine friend the other day and he said to me: “I think you know Florence better than I do.”

I asked what he meant, but really, I already knew. For me, every day here is one of discovery. I am living with all my senses completely open to my surroundings. I walk through the city like a child, like a sponge, and try to see and absorb everything: the smells of chestnuts burning and waffles cooking, the bright store displays and the worn stone adornments on the sides of the buildings, the winter rain on my umbrella, and most of all, the suono of Italian that catches everything up in the magic of its sounds and allows me to discover this new voice and this new person.


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