Learning to joggle with languages and falling in love with mountains Blog dei volontari

19/01/2022 Fabiana Paoli

I started a university master’s programme in 2020 and like so many others; I felt the effects of long-dragging COVID-19 restrictions and a life “online”. I had attended an Italian language class thinking that at some point, I would like to go to Italy for a project (such as ESC). Then, the opportunity presented itself: volunteering in Bolzano. I applied for leave from university, packed my life into boxes, quit my student job, moved out of my dorm room, and found a suitcase and hiking shoes. February 2021, I departed for Northern Italy.

Languages were a key motivator for my volunteering and came to play a central role in my life here. I specifically applied for Alto Adige to get a chance to improve my German while also learning Italian. In terms of language, my daily life in Denmark consisted of Danish and English, which this year were almost completely substituted by German and Italian. Every day here, I have spoken and practiced a bit of one language and a bit of another and a bit of both at the same time. Oh, and do not get me started on the local German dialect (which is practically another language entirely). For anyone interested in languages, here is plenty of space to get confused – and of course to learn a lot.

Arriving with a university degree within cultural studies to a region of two languages and more, I found a land of milk and honey. There is plenty of cultural diversity and cultural complexity, and there are an abundant number of languages and variations of mother tongues. The history of this border region is full of friction and pluralism. Here, you are not simply in Italy, you are in South Tyrol.

I have never lived in a more beautiful place. I have fallen in love with mountains. For real. Both looking up from the valley and enjoying the view from the top. I have explored and enjoyed both the marvellous nature and the historic, picturesque villages of the region. I have strolled and hiked in spring and autumn, escaped for a swim in the boiling hot summer, and as the mountains got dressed in white, I hopped on a bus and went skiing. Apart from the nature and towns around here, South Tyrol is a perfect starting point to discover Italy (and potentially also the German-speaking realm) with train lines easily accessible.

On top of the mountain amaze and many sunny days, I have to admit that my year as a European Volunteer has probably been one of my most challenging yet. I have been tackled from all sorts of directions and sometimes for unexpected reasons. But! You do not travel to live in another country without expecting a challenge. And it is from challenges that you learn. Every single volunteer is different and will discover their own challenges and the growth that it can lead to. It takes curiosity and courage to go abroad, but it is always worth it to change your point of view and uncover new perspectives. Volunteering abroad expands your horizon.

Now my year as a volunteer has come to an end. I still have many experiences to reflect on, process, and understand. I have waved goodbye to the mountains (for now) and will be returning to my studies with refound motivation and a language in più. I am getting ready for new adventures and all the challenges, which they might contain. So to sum up, I have been confused and amazed. I have added a language to my vocabulary and become language confused and creative. I have struggled, learnt, and grown. I have been challenged in ways, which I had not expected. I have adored the sun, the nature, the mountains. And I will never forget this year of 2021 in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

Lea Thingmann