When I first got off the plane, I realized there was no ramp to get off like I was used to at the
Fort Lauderdale airport. We all had to walk down twenty steep stairs to board a shuttle that would take
us to the right gate. I plopped my suitcase down stair by stair in front of me and took tiny steps. I know
it’s easy for me to fall when my legs are tired. I was almost all the way down when the man in front of
me fell three stairs and slammed his head on the concrete. Unfortunately, I had to walk past him as the
shuttle started up. I pretended what I saw didn’t bother me as employees rushed over to help him.
I was born with a genetic condition called myotonic dystrophy. This condition causes the
muscles in my body to weaken and waste away. I experience pain, chronic fatigue, and mental health
challenges because of my condition. On my first week of class, I walked about 20 miles. This distance is
difficult for me. The city of Rome is organized around able-bodied people just like cities in the United
States. With so many sites to see in Rome, “making the most” of your study abroad experience is
emphasized. My professors said these sites had to be seen in person. I often wish I was a different
person. The body I was born with is tired, sore, and frozen sometimes.
Before I left, I gave my friend Jude a copy of Audre Lorde’s, Your Silence Will not Protect you. I
was thinking about the passages before I left but I’ve been reflecting on them even more now. The
following passage felt most relevant.
- What are the words you do not have yet?
- What do you need to say?
- What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will
sicken and die of them, still in silence?
- If we have been “socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and
definition” ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?
“What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own until you will sicken of
them and die still in silence?” In my first two weeks, I think I swallowed every stair, uphill walk, and
uneven paving in honor of the ancient city.
I made this collage about the architectural images of Rome that have dominated my experience so far. I want to make clear to disabled students that Europe is not a monolith. Due to the historic and topographic nature of Rome in particular, navigating with mobility limitations can be incredibly challenging. It is so important that the layout and accessibility of a city is made clear to disabled
students before they make decisions about studying abroad. Throughout my post, I hope to create a guide that gives future students a clear idea of these challenges, and how we can work through them.
Race in Italy
On September 20th we had our first event entitled “Race in Italy”. Gaylor from the Afro-Italian community and Angel from the Asian-Italian community shared their experience of growing up in Italy as immigrants. They both cited community as a turning point. Once they had a group of people with shared experiences, they began to feel at home here. At the end of the presentations, there was a Q&A session. Shreya asked if they felt like the model minority stereotype existed in Italy, as it does in the U.S.. Angel and Gaylor were not familiar with the term and, at first, said it was not a thing. After some talking amongst the group, they came to the consensus that this stereotype did exist in Italy. Apparently, the term for this concept just didn’t exist in the Italian language yet. I left feeling like there were missing pieces from the story. Not in experience but in the way it was described. At our post-event discussion, we talked about the myth of an idyllic, monolithic Europe. We also discussed the differences between the English and Italian languages that created a feeling of limitation. I thought back to Your Silence Will Not Protect You “What are the words you do not have yet?”. I thought about Angel and Gaylor finding community. To find these words we need community, connection, and as Lorde explains, to prioritize the need for language and definition over fear.