A Life Within a Year

By Carlee Wright, ETA 2018–19

Upon leaving for an exchange opportunity, many say it is not a year within your life, but rather a life within a year. While seemingly trivial, this expression remains embedded in my mind. After graduating from high school in May of 2013, I embarked on a journey to Brescia, Italy to spend a year as an exchange student. I lived with a host family, attended a local high school, immersed myself in the culture and language (and almost quite literally engulfed myself in pasta at every meal). I studied Italian for at least three hours each day and received well-intended criticism from my host family if I could not understand their patois. Italians are very proud of their language, as they should be. I realized the best way to learn about the local and national cultures is through communication—only through the local language can one hear and feel the nuances that answer some of the most complicated and unexplainable cultural and societal questions. Slowly, with my growing knowledge of the language, I established deep friendships with people I still consider my best friends today regardless of distance.

Upon receiving the news that I was selected as a 2018–19 Fulbright Scholar, I was excited to create another tangent of my life. While I am currently only halfway through my grant year, I am indeed studying Korean daily and getting closer to a few my coworkers because of it. The art teacher at my second school and I spend time together at least twice a month, and we bond over our peculiar interest in quaint and traditional Korean towns, saunas, and unexpectedly, Italian art. Moreover, I knew my American life would eventually intersect with my Korean life, as happened in Italy when my parents visited, but it never occurred to me that my Italian and Korean lives could ever possibly mix. I suppose I saw it as a sort of Venn diagram: my American lifestyle was the large bubble in the middle and my Italian and Korean lives were attached at respective sides, but never touching.

During winter break, this misconception was shattered (and I am so pleased it was) when I found out the art teacher would be in Rome, Italy at the same time as me. She was traveling around the country with other teacher friends while I was visiting my partner. Having already formed a friendship with her, I was thrilled at the thought of showing her one of my favorite restaurants, Osteria da Fortunata, and the best gelato shop in the city, La Romana. While at Osteria da Fortunata, a restaurant where two Italian grandmothers still make homemade pasta with a secret recipe, there was a rush to try and translate things back and forth from Korean to Italian, an effect from my two exchanges I never expected. The look on my partner’s face when my friend abruptly reached her fork into my plate without asking was priceless, and the explanation was even more amusing. It was a quintessential example of the difference between the Western and Eastern worlds’ concept of sharing, the latter characterized by a much more communal culture.

After having this experience during my winter vacation, I came to welcome the idea that while we do form separate lives abroad, if we embrace the fact that they may eventually intermingle, even in the most unpredictable of ways, the aforementioned Venn diagram can begin to merge together. The circles on each side will slide downward and slightly overlap, making for a more harmonious and complete feeling of our life experiences.