By Caroline Hunt
Giovanni (Gio) Rocco was born and raised in an Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He explains his neighborhood as one that most of the residents there were either immigrants or relatives of immigrants from southern Italy. Gio himself is a descendant of Italian on both his father and mothers’ sides of the family. He adds that he did not even realize until high school that the entire world did not grow up as he did. Gio attended high school in Manhattan and attributes his knowledge of diversity to that. As his family did not often bring attention to their roots, when Gio began to learn Italian in class, he looked to his father for help but was denied. This, however; did not hinder Gio from pursuing his interest in studying in Italy for a semester.
Gio came across the Spring Hill College Italy Center program, located here in Bologna at his college study abroad fair and after talking to the person manning the table, he was sold, making him very excited for the experience he would be partaking in coming up in the Spring of 2016. He explains that once he got off of the plane in Bologna, he became slightly culture shocked when he realized that he knew absolutely nothing about the city he just left his home to live in for four months.
Despite having studied Italian for a while before coming to Bologna and knowing the basics, Gio does not describe himself as having been a fluent speaker when he arrived here. Gio had previously visited different cities in Italy but never Bologna. He says his first impression of Bologna was not the best. He did not see much of the Italian architecture or history that he was expecting. “I really did not appreciate the beauty at that time,” he explains. In the coming weeks, he began to make friends and explore more of the city and slowly feel more at home in Bologna.
Gio’s sister bought him a private tour of the city as his Christmas gift because she knows that he has a strong interest in exploring places and getting to know their history. He expresses that he had his “moment of awe” when the tour guide brought him to San Pietro church and explained a little about the church’s history and how radical it was to have put the crest of Bologna with the words “freedom” written on the inside of the church. “I remember sitting there and thinking ‘wow’ I had chills run through my body and I thought, ‘this is a really unique and cool city’” he recalls. “All of a sudden, I felt at home in Bologna.” Once he began looking at the city through a different perspective he started to appreciate it more and more every day. This was also when he took initiative to explore the city a bit more and branch out from his regular places which only increased his appreciation for Bologna.
He recalls a memory from the end of his time studying here in Bologna in which he was hanging out at a park with some of his Italian friends. They were having gelato and making jokes, which he now knew the language well enough to pick up on and he says, “I remember thinking ‘this is awesome, I am just starting to make friends and understand the language, this is just starting to feel like my home’ and then, I had to leave.” The semester was over and it was time for him to return to his home in the United States. He loved his time here so much and always imagined he would come back but was still extremely sad to be leaving this city he had fallen so deeply in love with. “I cried when I left, maybe because it felt like unfinished business,” says Gio.
Upon leaving, he graduated from college and started a job back at his home in the US. He says that during this time he stopped speaking Italian completely because there was no need for him to use the language anymore. “I should say, I really love speaking Italian because it makes me feel like a different person,” he expresses. It was not until he came back to Bologna this year that he realized how upset he was to have not spoken the language in so long. He says that people keep asking him if it feels weird being back here and he keeps telling them the answer is yes.
Another aspect Gio has struggled with in coming back is the feeling of, “dating someone then not remembering them anymore; it’s like they feel familiar but you can’t seem to fully connect with them as you did before.” In order to get past these initial feelings, he spent hours on his first day here walking around and re-familiarizing himself with the city.
He looks forward to T-Days when Via Indipendenza is shut down. “One of my favorite things in the world is to walk up and down that on a Saturday or a Sunday,” he says. One of his closest friends today is someone that he met here in the program, this friend even sent him a laurel wreath once Gio graduated college as a gift that meant the world to him. Gio thinks it is an amazing opportunity to be able to come back to Bologna and see the people and places that mean so much to him. Gio concludes by saying, “I love Bologna and it will always have a special place in my heart, I hope that I can always come back and even if it is painful, I hope that I can always have this feeling that what I had here was great and it will always feel like my home.”