I noticed almost immediately (and by immediately, I mean before the plane even took off from Charlotte) how little consideration I had given to learning Italian prior to my trip.

After slinging my stuff through the narrow aisle and locating my way-in-the-back window seat, I edged past my temporary travel companions eager to settle in with my playlist after the rush to reach my connection. As my heart rate returned to normal, the man in the seat next to me introduced himself as Fr. Ozzy. With his strong Columbian accent and my ill-trained ear, our communication was not extensive but what he said struck me. Upon learning about my upcoming studies of art history in Rome, he proceeded to ask me how many languages I know. I, somewhat embarrassed, told him the truth: I only know English. Once an art student himself, the reverend insisted I learn Latin and French to get the most out of my education. After further talk of our respective travel plans, I found out that Father Ozzy could speak eight languages! Eight! As I contemplated the state of my unpreparedness, the plane took off down the runway and suddenly I was on the way to an unfamiliar continent relying on a singular method of communication and a newly discovered abundance of nerves.

Fr. Ozzy may have been a bit exceptional in terms of his linguistic abilities but upon interacting with many Romans, it was commonplace for one to know at least two or three languages. At first fearful of my own lack of exposure and perceived inadequacy, my perspective shifted to one of excitement as I quickly began to pick up on key phrases and basic greetings.

Obviously, I did not master Italian like a native during my two-week stay, but I was able to order a cappuccino and a pastry without resorting to pointing, so that was something I was proud of. I learned that, while communication was possible by staying in the narrow lane of my capabilities, stepping outside of your comfort zone is the only way to achieve a deeper understanding. I encourage anyone thinking of studying abroad to take the time to get acquainted with the language before getting on the plane and to foster the humility to use what you learned and to mess up frequently.