By Kalina Davis
“Do you mind if I smoke out here?” she asked my roommate, Sarah, and me.
“No, not at all!” I said as I sat on the bench outside of the gelateria, enjoying my frozen treat.
The young woman who had joined us outside for a smoke was named Sofia. She worked at this gelateria that my friends and I frequented. As study abroad students in Rome who had quickly grown fond of gelato, we appreciated the close proximity to our apartment and the good prices this gelateria offered. Sofia worked almost every time we stopped by for our gelato, so we had started to become familiar with each other. In past visits, we had a few short and general conversations with her. She was always kind, and she always tried her best to understand our English.
Sarah and I were the last ones to order gelato, leaving just the three of us at the shop. After she had finished her cigarette, Sofia came over and sat on the bench across from us.
“So how do you like Rome so far?” she asked us with a laugh.
“We love it!” Sarah said. “It’s an amazing city.”
“I don’t think it’s that great,” Sofia said. “It gets old after a while. My dream is to go to New York City.”
We began to discuss places we had been to and places we would still love to visit. We talked about what we were studying and what we hoped to do in the future. We learned that Sofia had lived in Rome all her life. She had studied in England for a year, and that is where she had learned most of her English. She had been working in the gelateria for three years, and wanted to find a job in the traveling industry, but it was hard to find the kind of job she wanted without knowing better English. She told us about fun bars and clubs that we should go to while we were in Rome.
Before I knew it, the next hour had come and gone, and we were still talking. At times it was difficult to understand one another, and we had to substitute words and make suggestions in order to make what we were saying clear. Miriam seemed a little embarrassed by her English. Yet she kept talking to us, and kept trying to learn more about us. I was inspired by her boldness and determination.
That conversation led into a friendship with Sofia. My roommates and I began to look forward to visits to the gelateria not only for the gelato, but also for talking with our new friend. We were all very impressed by her, and we appreciated the opportunity to connect with a local. It seemed to make our transition to living in Rome a little easier. We got to know her better and better with each visit. Soon she was offering to take us to her favorite places in Rome, connecting us with a few other locals, and we began making plans for her to come over to our apartment so she could make us some authentic spaghetti alla carbonara. Sofia had become a good friend by the end of our semester in Rome, and she was the last person to say goodbye to us as we prepared to go back to America. We still stay in touch to this day.
As my semester in Rome went by, I realized how significant Sofia’s friendship was. Connecting with her made my experience in Rome more meaningful and memorable. She inspired me in many ways, and I learned a lot from her. Her boldness in approaching us with friendship encouraged me to seek out people even in the presence of language barriers, and to go out of my comfort zone. Her kindness and openness despite our differences challenged me to treat others the same way. Her initiative to live in England to pursue her desire of learning English inspired me to chase after my dreams and make them realities.
There is something special about human connection. When we choose to engage with the people in our environment, much can be gained. A great way to make meaningful connections with others is to travel. Traveling becomes more significant when we connect with others. Engaging with those we meet along the way can allow us to learn from each other, and these lessons are invaluable. Our eyes can be opened in new ways, expanding our worldviews and changing our perspectives. Meeting new people, especially those from the native culture, can open so many doors that would otherwise remain closed.
When you travel, choose to engage with the people you come across. Learn what you can from those you encounter. What you can gain from doing so is priceless.
Go Travel, and Travel Fearless.
Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel
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