Around the second week of the BCSP (Bologna Consortial Studies Program), I went to revisit the first apartment I saw in Bologna. “If you like it you should take it because someone else might,” the landlord warned me on my first visit. Sure enough, Kirk, another student in BCSP, was interested and had seen it directly after me on my first visit. The morning before I revisited the apartment I asked Kirk what he thought of the place. “I think I’m going to take it, I’m going to call tomorrow to see if I can see it again,” he responded, not exactly the response I hoped for. I told him I also planned on taking the apartment and that I already had an appointment to revisit it. He said in that case he would back off. I felt like a 10-year-old on the playground claiming “finders keepers” but the competition of searching for a home will do that to you.
I remember trotting down the spiral staircase, my steps echoing off the stone, click-flop click-flop. The sole of my left shoe had come partially undone and flopped around like an extended tongue when I went up or down stairs and tripped me up on cobblestone roads. I reached the bottom of those treacherous steps, opened the weathered wooden doors, and there he was again, Kirk. “They called me and asked if I could come back so they could get to know me better,” he explained. I gritted my teeth and wished him the best of luck. The meeting I just had with potential roommates had been an interview and I didn’t even realize it! I came prepared with questions and thought that it was them in the hot seat, but the opposite turned out to be true.
I spent the next couple of hours in the serene “Giardini Margherita” awaiting their decision. I replayed the meeting over and over in my head, scrutinizing my every move. The three of us sat around the cramped kitchen table, a small overhead lamp hung above us. Salvo, whom I met the first time I saw the apartment, sat to my right, and Francesca, whom I was meeting for the first time sat to my left. Electronic music buzzed from behind a cracked bedroom door. “Do you mind the smoke?” Francesca asked as she finished rolling a cigarette. “Not at all, it’s your house,” I carelessly responded. “Will the landlord fix the oven?” was the only question I managed to recall. “Eventually,” was their response. Francesca asked me if I liked Salvo’s music. I turned my ear to the shrills and squeaks that crept out from behind the cracked bedroom door. “Electronic music at 2pm is like showing up to a party 8 hours early,” would have been an honest response. Instead I said, “yes, very much.” After about a half hour of this kind of overly polite chitchat I took my leave. They said they’d give me a call around five.
Thankfully, Stephanie, another BSCP member, met me at the gardens to help distract me from my self-criticism. She had already found an apartment but worried about making new friends and fitting in. We strolled through the seemingly endless park until we reached the central lagoon, which we discovered is chalk full of turtles. We spent some time distracting ourselves by trying to catch a small turtle by hand.
This naturally drew attention to us as foreigners as it is not a common practice for Italians to try to catch turtles by hand in the gardens. Despite our overt “foreignness,” we were approached by a kind Italian man interested in our fruitless attempts. We chatted awhile and he suggested we buy a net. After what seemed like a lifetime in the gardens, I received the call I had been waiting for. “We choose you,” is what I could make out of their broken English. I cart wheeled from one side of the park to the other; I was so ecstatic! I now had a home in building 7 on Via Della Braina.
After a month of tripping over cobblestones, tripping over the language, and tripping over insecurities, I’ve learned to pick up my feet, pick up my tongue, and overcome some of them. That being said, I still feel isolated and like a fish out of water far from my native sea at times, but this is natural. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. You will feel like a foreigner because you are and it will make you feel insecure at times. Embrace it! Stephanie and I made a friend at the park that day because we were so obviously strange and out-of-place, I was lucky enough to find great roommates after looking at my first apartment, and Kirk found an accepting group of roommates just down the street. Embrace your “foreignness” and learn to pick up your feet. You will have more in common with the natives than you’d ever expect. I’m still on the hunt for that turtle but I’ve found friends and reassurance. And the Italian word of the day is “tartaruga” or turtle.