The sun is barely skimming the rooftops, coloring them the way the cold breeze tints my cheeks. I walk briskly, noticing my footsteps resounding on the cobblestone, and I occasionally push my glasses up back onto the bridge of my nose. My nose itches just as my glasses slip yet again, causing me to produce a peculiar expression on my face, prompting a man (whom I hadn’t even seen) to accuse me as I pass him by: “che te guardi?” (“what are you looking at?”). I arrive at the bus stop, on my way to the Villa La Pietra (campus) for the first time. I’m proud to have made it thus far without having to check my phone for directions. I’m trying my hardest to look as Italian and as at ease as possible, although it shouldn’t be something I should be exactly worried about. I am, in fact, Italian, despite how others in Italy might feel about me and the fact that I’ve spent half my life abroad, in New York. As I wait for the bus, I watch a large group of teenagers arrive with their suitcases and crowd around me. I move further down the street, so as not to miss my bus. Shortly thereafter, a group of kids of about 13 year olds pass me by, headed by a chaperone. They joke as they pass me by, and gossip about their neighbors. Tears that I can’t explain threaten to well up in my eyes. As their group passes me by, a hole fills up in me.
A few minutes later and a loud group of 9-10 year olds follow the same sidewalk up the hill. They’re all over the place - laughing or talking intensely, pointing and yelling or looking down at their feet.
And in a single moment, I stopped feeling like an observer. I was as much creating this moment as they were - and I felt at peace. It felt ok that I didn’t experience much of school in Italy, because in the few seconds it took for these kids to pass by, the voids left in me for not having had their experiences disappeared. In fact, I had had their experiences, and even the added advantage of not having to take oral exams!
Later in the day I met a girl from Brazil. We spoke Portuguese the whole way back from campus to downtown Florence (a feat I didn’t know I was capable of). I felt lucky in a way I can’t explain, to be able to do that.
Orientation was over and I found myself talking to an American girl who spoke such perfect (Roman) Italian she could have fooled anyone. She wanted to forget the US, much like many Italians would like to forget Italy and make the seemingly impossible jump to life in the States, and for the first time I found myself defending my status as half-American. I couldn’t forget it, and I never will want to. Finally being allowed to live here without having to leave, I realize that my leaving Italy and discovering a reality in Miami, and then New York, hard as it may have been - I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
They say the grass is greener on the other side, but I belong to both gardens, and I plant seeds on both sides.