Grand Rapids Sister Cities, Perugia - Italy

Thank you from the 2013 Perugia scholarship recipient

January 2014

Sabrina Lee

Dear Grand Rapids Sister City Committee,

Thank you so very much for the Angela Andrews Ryan Scholarship.

I studied at the Università per Stranieri during August 2013, and now, several months later, I am still mulling over everything that I saw, learned, and did. That month in Perugia was beautiful and crazy, and I am so incredibly grateful to you for that amazing opportunity.

When I first arrived in Italy, I knew how to say “ciao,” “buongiorno,” “tiramisu,” and “grazie”— not even the basics—and I placed into the lowest level (A1) at the university. However, my knowledge of French helped me understand the Italian grammar much more quickly than most of my classmates, so during the second week I jumped up to the A2 level. By the end of the month, I was able to explain, in Italian, intransitive verbs to my classmates (who must have hated me) and hold 20-minute phone conversations completely in Italian. I had arrived in Perugia determined to gain a good grasp on the Italian language, but I had no idea that I would learn so much in such a short time.

The teachers at the Università per Stranieri were incredible. Every day I was impressed. Our lessons were completely in Italian, and even though English was the Lingua Franca among the students, no English was allowed. It was great. There were two main kinds of lessons: grammar lessons and conversation-based classes. Because I like grammar, I enjoyed the grammar lessons; the professor spoke very slowly and clearly, so it was easy to follow her. The conversation-based classes were quite dynamic, and I loved how the teachers could keep us talking for an hour or so using only a few worksheets. While I was there, I met a few American PhD students who have gone to Italy several times before to study. They said that the language programs at Perugia’s Università per Stranieri are the best in the country. I believe them.

Another thing also helped me learn Italian: conversation nights at the Ostello di Centro, which is located on Via Cartolari. Every Monday night, starting around 21.00 (more like 21.10), local Perugini organized conversation groups for foreigners studying in Perugia. It was very informal; we sat on the terrace overlooking the lights of the city and introduced ourselves and just talked to each other. There were people from all over: Hungary, Turkey, Gabon, Jordan, the UK, Romania, Spain, France, and Italy. Sometimes it’s difficult to meet Italians in Perugia because all of the students at the Università are foreigners; however, through the Ostello, I met “real” Italians who were kind and generous. For the next scholarship recipients, I would definitely recommend checking out this conversation group. It’s free and anyone can come—you do not have to be staying in the hostel to participate. Also, the group leaders sometimes organize tours of the city or little trips, which was how I was able to go to the beach in Tuscany one weekend.

Now, I am working as an English assistant in France. However, there is an Italian teacher at my school and when I don’t teach, I try to attend her classes. Because my schedule changes every week depending on which English teachers need me to help out with their classes, I can’t attend every Italian class, but when I moved here I made sure to take my Italian text book, phrase book, and English-Italian dictionary with me—I am determined not to lose what I’ve learned! I am also looking for ways to return to Italy and, especially, Perugia. I would love to return to that university, and with each month’s paycheck, I try to figure out how much I will need to save in order to attend another summer session!

Thank you again, so very much, for this opportunity.


Sabrina Lee