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American girls at the gym

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

The locker room at the gym is quite small, about 15 feet wide and 20 feet long. There are lockers all around the walls and two benches in the middle. Today there were four American girls getting dressed at opposite ends of the locker room and talking to each other over everyone's heads. I bowed my head and hoped they wouldn't notice my American deoderant or get a glimpse of me and ask me if I was American. I don't normally stand out as an American even in the States, but I was so embarrassed by how loud they were that I just quickly got into my gym clothes and ran out.

Most people in the locker room here are quite discreet; we usually do no more than greet each other on the way in and on the way out and barely give each other eye contact.

I don't like feeling like the "foreigner" here and I like to pass unsuspected if possible. Here in Italy, I want to integrate, to learn more about the Italians and to find out things about myself. They, on the other hand, are so free with speaking English to everyone. I saw a few of them talk to the woman at the counter and one of the instructors in English. I wonder what they find out about the Italians by always being the foreigner and not really getting close to any of them.

As I was on the treadmill running, I watched the American girls flip their hair before exiting the gym together. I realize that by keeping a close contact with each other theya re staying in familiar territory, they are saving themselves from the hardships of fully embracing the experience of living abroad.

I know it is difficult to live in a foreign country when you barely know the language and don't know anyone. I've done it a handful of times and in the beginning it was the most difficult experience I have ever lived through. I lived in Lyon, France for my Junior Year Abroad when I was attending U.C. Davis. I arrived when I was 20 and lived with a French family. All the other American students lived together and wouldn't have anything to do with me because I told them that I didn't want to hang out with them. I remember living through moments of sheer loneliness and despair. It's hard to know what to do when you just don't fit in, you have no friends, and you feel truly alone in your new world.

Living in Florence now is even easier for me this time: one, because Dave is with me and two, because I've lived here before.

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