Overlooking Reggio di Calabria, Italia, April 2017.
Erasmus, it would be fun they said, an experience, well at least for the first few weeks this certainly lived up to be true. ‘I was pushed out of my comfort zone’ is not enough to describe just how it was, and simply too cliché to summarise the whole time I spent there. If I am honest, it was not all full of good, highs and laughs all the time. Before leaving Norwich to transfer universities, I only thought about sunny Italy and how much of a tan I would get whilst studying Photography, and having the opportunity to take images in a new environment. That’s pretty much all the preparation I had, also whilst taking comfort in the fact everybody speaks English in Italy ‘apparently’. ‘You shouldn’t worry Jordan.’
I arrived in Reggio Calabria (Southern Italy) where I was studying, this is also where the luxury of finding English speakers came to an end. My Landlord (who I had to communicate via Google translate face-to-face on the first day), the teachers, most students, shop staff, cafés and locals didn’t speak any English. This was incredibly difficult to communicate as neither party understood one word. Not being able to speak to anybody and having never learnt another language before, I began to quickly realise this was not going to be an easy couple of months.
The university I was sent to was also in my opinion, not a university and should not be an Erasmus institution. It is classed as an ‘Academy’ which I thought was more of a college. It was awful. Ugly in fact. But on the other hand, you could say ‘What were you expecting Jordan?’ but I seriously didn’t know what to expect. NUA is a beautiful and fantastic place to study a creative subject. Until I left I did not realise in the slightest just how lucky I am to be studying there, and how I took it all for granted even when I previously thought I didn’t.
I’m not going to learn anything here. Why didn’t I just stay in Norwich.
I thought about this heavily in the first few weeks of my term abroad. I was not happy, especially with the little progression I felt I was going to make in comparison to studying in Norwich. I made phone calls to my family and friends saying that I may come home early. This was until my new found Italian friend Fabio, who was part of an ex-Erasmus group and spoke great English, said to me, why don’t you learn Italian at another university here, it’s free for Erasmus students.
So, the first day of language university came and I didn’t understand a word. The teachers would ask me questions like ‘Di dove sei?’ (Where are you from?) and I would repeat the question back at them in such a confused manor. ‘Pick up the book’ and I would look at them expressionless not knowing what they wanted me to do. I felt like a baby that was being spoken to in a pram and they don’t reply, just cry. This was me.
However, a few weeks in, this university and a little perseverance changed it all for me. I met someone who was soon to become my older sister, a great group of friends and also a Brazilian summer romance. It made the experience a lot more welcoming. I decided to challenge myself hard and to study the language every day. 9-12 I studied Italian and then after that I would explore, take photos, spend time with friends, sunbathe, maybe take a siesta (a Spanish term however very common in Italy called Riposo) and enjoy the beautiful small, strong coffee which I now miss so much.
I started to accept the things I thought were weird and bizarre. Instead, I looked at them as a difference in culture and a way of living.
I travelled a lot around Scilly and Italy with the close friends I met there; Nikos, Reneta and documented the travels with my camera. I also stayed in hostels for the first time. The food was amazing especially the ice cream which can be served with a brioche, my new favourite sandwich! My food belly is evidence of how well I ate out there. I was part of a close group of friends that were mostly other Erasmus students made up of Spanish, Brazilians, Italians and a Greek. We would spend nights together drinking and singing.
Travelling alone was also new and is now a new-found love, peace, quiet and only having yourself to care about is great. I’m a social person but travelling is where I like to be alone armed with a laptop, phone and headphones, I’m pretty much all set.
Overall, it’s sure been an experience, times where I was close to giving up on many occasions and times where the persistence paid off which rewarded me with many good times to remember. I grew to love the place, the people and the differences. While the progress I may have missed staying at home studying, I spent the time instead growing as an individual, progressing in other areas and ignited a new love to explore the world.
Published article in Storehouse Magazine, Issue 15, 2018.