I spent a week in Italy in July of 2007-actually, I spent six days in Venice and one day riding a train to Trieste, looking around, having lunch, and coming back to Venice. It was absolutely amazing! To be in a foreign country alone, to be able to go anywhere, do anything, eat fabulous gelato, drink great espresso…..and all those amazing sights. Venice is truly a magical city-steeped in mystery, lore, and magic.
People ask me all the time, “How did you learn to speak Italian?” Well, it was really simple-one word at a time, practicing over and over. I bought CDs and listened to them while I drove to and from work. Actually, trying to learn another language kept my mind off of worries or anxieties surrounding my work as a special education teacher in a large, suburban high school. I also bought several books to go with the CDs and would read the dialogs, memorize the phrases, make flashcards……it was actually fun! I hadn’t attempted to learn another language since college. Back then, I was fluent in French and I had taken two years of Latin in high school, so there were a lot of links already in place in my brain. I actually used my knowledge of French and Latin to help me learn what I call “baby Italian.”
I could ask for food, get directions, buy things in a shop, order and send back wine, listen to the train announcements, and engage in basic conversation. People told me, “Everyone in Venice speaks English,” but my experience did not confirm that. There were many people who spoke a few words of English, enough to make a quick transaction. But if you wanted anything more, you needed to speak Italian. So I used to say, “Capisco bene, ma parlo come una raggazza piccola.” which means, “I understand pretty well, but I speak like a little girl.” That was pretty frustrating for someone who is articulate and enjoys writing and conversing as much as I do.
So what was the point? Why did I go alone and why would I bother to spend four or five months learning the basics of a language for such a short trip? Actually, going to Venice alone was about overcoming fear. See, I had never, ever gone to a foreign country before where I did not speak the language. I HAD to speak Italian if I wanted anything…..and it was really empowering to know I could navigate alone in a foreign country, find all the places I wanted to see-except the Biennalle Art exhibit-and spend about 90% of my daytrip to Trieste navigating in Italian. Yes, sir, if you can do that, you sure as heck can quit your job and start a business…..
Seriously, my “one tiny step” approach to learning and my success in venturing to Italy alone gave me a sense that I could succeed at pretty much anything I decided to focus on. This past year has been a year of major change-I lost about 15 pounds and two sizes, learned Italian, went to school in Ireland at Trinity College, and started my own business. My success with things in the physical world-like losing weight and speaking Italian-has given me the confidence to dare to succeed in other realms as well. And so far, so good. I am giving workshops, I have speaking engagements, and I will be presenting at the Maryland Writer’s Conference next May. Amazing….all I had to do was make a space….and that took all the courage I could muster. One line kept me going, “Leap and the net will appear.” So far, the leap is grand!
Next year…maybe a “Journal Journey” in Europe. Lets keep dreaming!