People may get very excited to meet you. You are someone new and different. People are naturally curious when meeting new people and they want to take the time to interact with you.
During part of my Fall Break, I decided to make the journey to Perugia in Umbria for the International Chocolate festival and some sightseeing. This journey ended up being full of random acts of kindness. On the train ride from Roma Termini to Perugia, I met an older Italian man. He didn’t speak a word of English, but as we passed a bunch of towns he would try and tell me about them. It really felt like all I could understand was him saying “bene” or “bella” or something about eating the food. I could tell he was passionate about whatever he was talking about because he kept trying to explain things with his hands, making wide gestures to explain what words could not. I didn’t really mind that we couldn’t fully understand one another, it felt nice that this man was trying to share a bit of his world with me.
There were people from all over when I finally made it to the top of Perugia (a lot of the towns in Umbria are actually on the tops of hills). As I meandered through the streets in the historic center, so many languages were bouncing around me. The main roads were decked out with huge white tents, each housing all different types of chocolate and chocolate creations that you could ever dream of. There are so many brands of chocolate, you feel like you have literally become like a kid in a candy store. This excitement and enthusiasm was vibrating off of everyone.
I stopped in front of some small tables of jewelry and artisans looking at some hair accessories. The older woman selling the pieces began asking me questions. I didn’t understand all of the things she was saying, but I think it was along the lines of do you know what you are looking for or if I wanted to try anything on. She seemed to notice that I was having trouble understanding her, and so she started talking slower and in shorter sentences to give me time to work out what she was saying. It doesn’t seem like much, but to someone who constantly gets confused and flustered when I don’t understand what people are saying to me, I meant a lot that she wanted to help me. For this woman to take the time to help me really made my afternoon and made me feel welcomed into the city. As she was helping me try on some fancy scarves, she started asking me about where I am from and if it was my first time in Perugia; I was happy to be able to actually make conversation in Italian on a level I was comfortable with.
This is just one of the examples of kindness that I encountered with strangers while I was traveling over the break. I found that people wanted to genuinely get to know me and find out what I thought of their city. People also love to talk about themselves, in a good way. Countless people wanted to tell me about the best places to eat or the best wine typical of the area or where the best views of the countryside are. Their suggestions ended up being very informative and helped make my experience more authentic and true to Umbria.
On my way back from Assisi a day later, I was on a tightly packed train during rush hour. There was a big group of people that sat in the same section of the train as me. We were stopped for a little bit between stops and one of the women of the group came around passing out minty candy to her companions, and the man across from me told her to offer one to me as well. At first, I had that voice in my head (which sounded strangely like my mother’s voice) saying not to accept candy from strangers, but I accepted it anyway. The group was talking all together, and at first, I thought they were speaking Italian, but I now think they were speaking Spanish. They were saying all these things to me, but I could not for the life of me understand them, but that didn’t seem to bother them. One of the women pulled a small bag out of her purse and pulled out a small magnet and handed it to me. Everyone was excitedly talking about the magnet, but the only thing I think I understood was this was from Columbia, from the city they are from. They told me to keep the magnet as a gift. I cannot for the life of me figure out why, other than it was just them being kind to a girl on the train.
Coincidentally, while I was away this week I was reading the book The Kindness of Strangers edited by Don George, which includes a variety of tales from all over the world revolving around people doing selfless acts for the sake of others. It was nice to see the parallels between their stories and my own experiences. I hope when you end up studying abroad that you take the time to talk with people because these interactions ended up being some of the funniest and awe-inspiring moments of my trip.