‘Come ti trovi qui?’ my beautician in Florence asked me, as she casually continued plucking at my brows. A look of what would soon become all-too-familiar-confusion began to cloud my eyes, and I suddenly realized that this was just the tip of the iceberg to understanding how little I knew of the Italian language.

I had learnt how to say my name, to ask how are you, to direct you right, left or straight ahead, and of course, to count to 100… what I thought to be all of the language essentials for everyday living. But this question, I had not considered, yet even heard.

My mind began to race around in circles, wondering if I had ever learnt this phrase in my weekly two-hour class leading up to my trip.

Soon realising the look of fear and confusion on my face, my beautician then proceeded to re-ask me the question in broken English – “How do… you find here?”

Relief.

Before I fully immersed myself into Italian culture, I thought that I spoke “a fair bit” of Italian and that I truly understood Italian culture through watching silly little films and speaking about it in my weekly Italian class. But really, nothing can truly prepare you for the beautiful, whimsical culture shock that is, living abroad in a non-English speaking country.

I moved to Italy with a basic knowledge of the Italian language, a bucket load of savings and an optimistic attitude – what I still believe to be the essentials for anyone wanting to move abroad. While the thought of living in a non-English speaking country may be a little scary, it’s something that I urge you to try at least once in your life. Not only does it open your mind up to a whole new culture, but also enriches you in so many other ways too. After that day, I soon began intensive Italian lessons, and in a matter of weeks I began to notice my Italian improving significantly.

The flame began to flicker again, and I saw hope.

Two years on and many mistakes later (such as trying to comment on someone who naps too often and instead saying, you’re often a little willy) I began to notice some changes between the pre-Italy girl and the post-Italy ragazza. Living in a non-English speaking country left a lasting impression on me. Here are five ways it did that.

Moving abroad to a non-English speaking country, can be hard work, but once you learnt the language everything changes and you benefit in these five ways.

1. I began to integrate with the locals

Once I was able to hold a 10-minute conversation in Italian, I soon watched as my whole world began to open up. I could hear it in their words; ideas, outlooks, beliefs, all in the way they had been taught to express them. Not translated in to the only words I have ever known (English), not re-spoken and adapted through the words of someone else who is bilingual, but in the sweet, melodic words of Italian.

I find this to be such a raw, fascinating experience, to truly hear someone’s outlook and opinions in their mother tongue, and actually understand what they were saying.

2. Understand and engage with a diverse community

Living in a country that doesn’t speak your mother tongue often means that a whole diverse culture comes with it. Here I began to really learn how Italy works. From full doctors appointments in Italian (drafting what I had to say prior), planning my days around the shops closing over lunch, or supermarket cashiers speaking at me (you don’t know how long it took me to be able to understand the question “Do you want a bag?” They would somehow always manage to catch me off guard when I was either busy placing my items on the conveyor belt or getting my change ready, and even if I did have a bag, they would still ask me! Oh the confusion!).

You also begin to learn new jokes and different figures of speech and start to realize that some words are completely non-translatable, which is all part of the many beautiful aspects of learning a new language.

Moving abroad to a non-English speaking country, can be hard work, but once you learnt the language everything changes and you benefit in these five ways.

3. Overcome your own barriers

As you begin to learn a new language and progress, you open your mind up to how much bigger the world is than just where you live. This turned in to a whole new belief, influencing me towards how I could overcome barriers, that I’d otherwise never imagined. What I once may have believed to be impossible, then started to become reality, so when I took this attitude home with me – that alone was a great progression.

4. Get a better understanding of the world

I could finally hear the voices of those living an absolutely adverse lifestyle to me, like meeting people who had never left their city, or speaking to an elderly Italian woman in the supermarket as she waited for her son to do her shopping. It’s moments like those that make it all worthwhile and you really start to see the world for much more than it is.

 

Moving abroad to a non-English speaking country, can be hard work, but once you learnt the language everything changes and you benefit in these five ways.

5. Put yourself in their shoes

We are often too quick to judge those who speak broken English, however living in a non-English speaking country teaches you what it feels like to be out of your depth. You develop further empathy for those who don’t speak English fluently and realize that there is more to communication than just words.

You begin to realize that you have all of these thoughts and ideas in your head, and can’t always express them as you wish, due to not knowing the word, but learn to embellish and explain things in a different way. Finally, you no longer look at those who don’t speak your language as unfamiliar and confusing, yet are now on the same page as them because you’ve been there before.

Moving abroad to a non-English speaking country, can be hard work, but once you learnt the language everything changes and you benefit in these five ways.

If anything, living abroad in a non-English speaking country opened my mind and soul up to others in a way I never could have imagined, allowing me to engage with people on another level. I grew more empathy and understanding towards new cultures and realised that everyone is living in what they believe to be, the best way they can. Put yourself in the shoes of someone else, and experience the world outside the comforts that you’re used to.

So if you’re considering moving abroad, I hope this is the little nudge that you needed to help you just go!


This is a guest post by Cherise Joelle.

Moving abroad to a non-English speaking country, can be hard work, but once you learnt the language everything changes and you benefit in these five ways. Cherise Joelle is an Australian wanderer; gluten free foodie and self-confessed travel addict. Previously living in Italy for two years to follow her dream of learning Italian and embracing her Italian roots, this trip ignited her fascination for new cultures and adventure. Follow Cherise’s journey through her Instagram @cherisejoelle or travel blog Four Seasons of Travel.