When students travel abroad, they often decide to choose a country different from their family’s origin. Their whole life has most likely been exhausted hearing stories about the homeland, and perhaps they have even visited before. However, for me it was first important that I experienced the country of my family before residing in someone else’s culture. Although I had relatives abroad, I had never been to Italy before. It had always been cheaper for our cousins to come to America. We hosted them for weeks of the summer, being summoned in the early hours of the morning to entertain and help to prepare the meals of the day. Needless to say, I was grateful that I was finally going to be the guest and the “foreign cousin,” wanting them to return the favor for all of those years.
I hadn’t seen my family in 5 years. My mother has two cousins, Lucy and Philomena, who were born in the United States. Along with my mother’s siblings, they shared a 3 family house with their grandparents and lived together for 13 years. One day, my mother’s uncle and the father of Lucy and Philomena, announced that they were returning to Italy. This was a shock to the children, who had only learned the Napolitano dialect rather than the proper Italian language. Nevertheless, they moved back to Italy, only returning in their twenties to work in America for the summers. My “aunts” found husbands in Italy and had children at the same time as their cousins in America. Because Zia Lucy and Zia Philomena were born in the U.S., they had their children attain their citizenship.
I was always jealous of the fact that these cousins were so in-tune with the other side of their heritage. Not only were they citizens and had visited the U.S. several times, but they spoke great English and were planning to move to New York after college. I however had never been to Europe and spoke in broken Italian.
I spent a great deal of time with my relatives while I was abroad. I spent the day with a cousin studying at the Università di Venezia twice. I visited Napoli for a weekend to live the Italian college life with 3 other cousins. I stayed with my aunts and uncles for a week in the mountains outside of Napoli. Most importantly, I was able to visit with my grandmother’s sisters, who showed me where my grandparents were born. I was overwhelmed by all of their generosity. In the most classic Italian-relative fashion, they took it upon themselves to stuff me with food and show me off to all of their friends.
Not everyone is as fortunate as me to have family abroad; therefore I consider this to be a part of my semester that was particularly unique. There was something comforting about knowing that I had relatives just a few hours away, willing to take me in and spoil me, sobbing when I both arrived and departed. While this was a magical part of the experience, it was also bittersweet. Saying goodbye to them is not like saying goodbye to abroad classmates. We can’t promise to see each other soon, making last minute arrangements to meet up in the states during the summer. When I leave them I am left with a feeling of uncertainty. I never know when I will speak to their faces again, eat with them around the dinner table, or listen to stories of our shared ancestors. Yet, when I said goodbye, I tried to conceal this sentiment. I told them we will only say see you later, ci vediamo dopo.