The other day I was at the gym, completely absorbed in my own thoughts, when suddenly I heard something very surprising and wonderfully familiar. Two women nearby were talking to each other in Italian. My neighborhood is not a particularly Italian one, so I had never thought to meet Italians at my local gym. I stuffed any shyness I felt into the nearest locker and asked them, in Italian, where they were from.
We had been chatting for a few minutes when another voice piped up from the far side of the room, “Scusate, siete tutte italiane?” It turned out she was Italo-Australian. Before we went our separate ways, I told all of them about the Italian Professionals of Philadelphia, our local expat organization, because I know how hard it can be to find community. Sometimes you just need to be with other people who know the songs you listened to when you were a teenager, the cartoons you watched when you were a kid, the books you read in college, your favorite actors, authors… the list goes on.
Nevertheless, connections don’t have be based on shared cultural experience. For me, the greatest part of the story happened a couple of days later, the next time I was back at the gym. A woman I hadn’t spoken to before came up to me and said, “Excuse me, I just wanted to ask, what was that language you and those other women were speaking the other day? It was so beautiful.”
“Italian,” I told her, “and it is beautiful, isn’t it?”
In a moment, she had reminded me of the first time I’d heard Italian and the reason why I’d wanted to learn it in the first place. She didn’t speak Italian or have those Italian experiences to share, but it didn’t matter. We had both shared that moment of recognizing the same beautiful thing––and that, right there, was an experience in common. I felt more at home, suddenly, just for having shared it. It reminded me that I don’t have to go looking for community. It’s all around me, including in unexpected places––I just have to reach out and make myself a part of it. That is how any expat can make a home.
p.s. As usual, you can find this post on the PI-Philly Facebook page as well (see link above).