Rising junior women's soccer player Annalie Buscarino '21 spent the spring semester in Italy and writes about her experience from Milan, a city in Northern Italy. Here is her experience.
By Annalie Buscarino '21
If you want to test your willpower as an individual, you study abroad.
If you want to test your willpower as an athlete, you study abroad in Italy.
In a city, Milan, where every meal involves at least seven courses (il aperitivo, l'insalata, il primo piatto and il secondo piatto, il dolce, and il caffè), and every gym is €400 and up, it proved quite difficult to find the context and the space to work out routinely. Doing push-ups and footwork in the cramped foyer of my apartment, it wasn't until I found a field one month into my experience (the only one in Milan that you don't have to pay to use) that I finally felt comfortable in the city I would spend half of my academic year in.
Despite its near inaccessibility to play, soccer is a way of life in Milan, as it is the way of life in any given city in Europe. It wasn't unusual to share the metro with boys clad in bright orange uniforms, their matching cleats swinging from their hands. Train platforms came alive on game days, the tunnels swelling with the warmth of song, the only sound that could bring people together in this otherwise individualistic city. People who turn away when their neighbor is being pickpocketed in front of them on the subway hold hands and cheer and cry in front of the television under the hope of their new national icon, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, city pride came before national pride and people were fierce in defense of their local teams. Derbies were national holidays. There is little less invigorating than the stadium-wide battle cries of Inter vs AC fans, willing their teams on to success. Soccer is what drives them. Soccer is what empowers them.
It doesn't empower everybody though. The Italians know about the existence of women's soccer (I think), but you would never know, not even after living in the country for four months. There were no girls sharing the field with you at the Pagano Metro stop, no friendly smiles when you held the ball under your feet on the train, no mention of the Women's World Cup just a country away (in France). In a land where soccer was the one of the only forces to unify its people, you received looks of disgust or smirks of doubt from anyone who saw you putting your cleats on. As an athlete, you did it anyways. You had to. You just hoped you could change some people's minds while you did.
Milan is a difficult city to live in as a foreigner. With a strict code of fashion, and an even stricter code of interaction, locals were quick to recognize you as an alien and treat you as one. Countless times was I stared at for my uncertainty, admonished for my clothing, laughed at for my awkwardness, and taken advantage of for my naïveté. However, with a little persistence, and a little knowledge of the Italian language, people began to open up.
Nobody expects you to speak their dialect when you're an American in their country. Privileged as we are, we usually assume that everyone everywhere can speak English, and we rely on that assumption when we travel the world. It's the reason merchants tend to take advantage of us, why locals tend to dislike us. However, when you approach someone and the words that come out of your mouth are "posso comprare un biglietto per il treno alle sei e mezzo?" instead of "can I buy a train ticket for 6:30?", their disapproving scowl turns up into a smile and they nod encouragingly as they collect your change. Knowing the language landed me many free tours of monuments, many free drinks from waiters, many new friends. When you understood their dialect, people began inviting you into their country instead of reacting to you in it. They began opening up. When they did, the experience became beautiful.
Milan is in an ideal position for traveling. Sitting on the Alps and regarded for its unparalleled Italian modernity, the city made it easy to travel to others. Names and places and people blurred as the weeks went by - Bergamo, Venice, Budapest, Bologna, Madrid, Como, Rome, London, Athens, Pompeii, Sicily, Florence, Berlin, Dublin, Genoa, Nice, Garda and many others mixing in a canvas of culture. After diving into the history of the Mafia and debating the solutions of Roman law cases during the week, we were setting off to a new geography, a new religion, a new world during the weekend. Newness was everywhere- you couldn't get away from it. Familiarity was an ocean away. Weeks were spent in classrooms with individuals from Canada, Argentina, Lithuania, Iran, Korea, and Australia. You could choose to be intimidated by the colors or you could choose to be inspired by them, but you could certainly never escape them. The labrynth of diversity prompted a hyper awareness of your own identity - why are you here and how did you make it this far? What are you meant to be? Who are you?
As it was impossible to escape culture, it was impossible to escape yourself. You had to face the question of identity with every decision, every interaction - every time you raised your hand in class, you had to define where you came from; every time you walked the lamplit streets alone at night, you had to define who you were; every time you were mapping out a new adventure, you had to define who you wanted to be. Culture pulsed across borders like blood through veins and you breathed in the lives of different people, different places, and they became a part of you. Every moment was one of global exploration and self-exploration, and that is an experience I am unlikely to have again.
Coming back, things seem pleasantly the same - I have a loving family waiting for me with dinner at the table, a rambunctious team who brightens my every day, and a steady confidence in my education. Such things, however, are now all different because I am different. I am different in the way the melodies of language shift over borders and the way people come to recognize themselves in others. I have changed as cultures change, as societies change. My footsteps have intersected the footsteps of faces I've never seen, cultures I've never lived, of histories I've never explored, but they are all written into my memories the way borders are inked across maps. I have lived a life that belongs to different cities and different faces but has been mine all along. I have changed and there is no going back. If I had the choice, I never would.
I wouldn't change it for the world.