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Lauren Cooke Headshot

My Italian Root

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I'm not the extremely religious type, but there are moments in my life that must of come by some grace of God. Little did I know getting phased out of the French program at my school and having the Italian program taking me in like a stray dog would be a miracle in and of itself.

As much as I complain about learning new languages, I love it. I love being able to know how to read, write, speak and just overall understand in another way. For five years I took French -- I even made it up to the AP level and was expected to complete the six-year program during my senior year. Senior year arrived several months ago, and French wasn't on my schedule. It wouldn't fit. I tried my best to make it work through independent study, but due to lack of options I was phased out. I was a senior with no language and too many free periods by my standards. After a month of hope and weighing my options, my parents got desperate for me and asked if there was any other class I could enroll in during my extra free period without too much stress. My guidance counselor perked right up and said there was an intensive Italian class scheduled during my extra free period -- I would just have to personally ask the teacher if I could enroll a month late. The next day I introduced myself to the Italian teacher, he told me to speak slower because his English wasn't too good (lie), handed me a piece of candy and told me I could start that day until he realized it was Friday and then shooed me away to start Monday.

As a senior in the intensive Italian program, I am expected to learn three years worth of Italian in one year. With this responsibility, comes the advantage of being able to participate in the foreign exchange program. At first, I was hesitant to sign up. My mom's birthday was during the trip and it would be my first foreign trip (also without my parents). After much pushing from my parents and friends, I signed up and later got a spot on the trip. In December I hosted Federica, and I'm currently writing this post while on the plane back from staying at her house these past several days.

When Fedo first arrived in New York I was absolutely terrified she would hate me, America, my house, my family and not speak enough English to compensate for my lack of Italian skills. Well, she spoke enough English for the both of us -- I only had to translate a few idioms that were very difficult to grasp. Once we figured out she loved crime shows, shopping and cooking, she instantly gelled with the family. My 14-year-old brother even considers Fedo his "other sister."

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The trip to Italy was a little tougher for both of us. Fedo constantly had to translate for me. Despite my guilt she explained she understood why I didn't know so much, but said no matter what, I deserved to be on the trip. Despite my limited knowledge of Italian, I made up for it with French, English, hand gestures and Google translate. I slowly adjusted to the fast-paced life in Italy, with a few hiccups. You have not seen a city that never sleeps until you've been to Italy, and this is coming from a New Yorker. I tried a different gelato flavor every day and had a full three-hour Italian dinner.

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When Fedo left New York, I wrote her a letter saying that I was grateful for her, this experience and her patience. I also said that I am not one for goodbyes, but more of a "see you later" type of person. I don't like to be permanent and definite. With my April trip in the near future, that softened the blow. Now that there is no trip on the horizon it feels more like a permeant "see you later," and that hurts. There are pages that I could write about how she has become the closest I will get to having a sister, but it could all be summed up with how she turned to me and asked if I would try to make it back for her "Sweet 18" this October and I told her I would try my damnedest.

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A version of this article was used as a speech to support the continuation of Italian and the foreign exchange program at my high school.