Posted by Juan Cajigas Jimenez November 4, 2013 06:00 PM
This is the latest in our series of interviews with international students here in Boston.
By Carolyn Bick, Globe Correspondent
Claire GiangravŤ is a journalism graduate student at Boston University. She is originally from Bologna, Italy. Her family now lives in Rome, Italy.
Carolyn Bick: Did you know what to expect before you came [to the U.S.]?
Claire GiangravŤ: Yeah. The reason I can speak English is because I would come to see my grandparents here in Boston every summer. And, so, I was expecting to be spending a year with my grandparents, but my grandfather died [October 3rd], so, you know, itís a little different from what I expected.
I knew what Boston was like, but I knew it as a little kid who spent time in Newton and was amazed by how people stood in precise lines when they were waiting for the bus, or how efficient and clean and big things were. But, definitely now, I feel that I know Boston in the sense that I talk to Bostonians, I go out, I know places to go, where to eat, and Iíve just been immersing myself in Boston much more.
CB: Thatís a good transition, because Iíve been wondering how youíve been getting along with your American peers.
CG: Wonderfully. Generally, Americans are very interesting and capable people, and they tend to be very kind, Iíve noticed. But what I think is very hard for students who come from other countries here to Boston University is that we just really feel like we Ö weíre so alone, weíre like orphans here, and weíre desperately looking for something to grab onto, to relate to, and to say, ĎI can call this person to hang out,í and not just completely and utterly lost in the huge island that is the United States.
American students obviously are more at home, and they generally tend to be a little more individualistic, normally. So, youíd go to class, and theyíd get up after class and each go off on their own little way, and they wouldnít even make a little group of Americans, so itís not like theyíre excluding you. Theyíre just very Ö independent. They donít need to relate to anyone. But the foreign students do, and thatís why the foreign students Ö click together. The first people who spoke to me were the foreign students, because weíre all in this together, and we donít know anyone. If we have to complain about something that seems so foreign to us, we can understand why this is foreign.
The Americans later opened up. It just took them longer, because they didnít have the urgency of, ĎIím so alone,í or, ĎIím so lost,í or ĎI donít know anything,í or, ĎHow do I do this?í Thatís such a huge question the first couple weeks. If I have to do this thing, how do I do it? Where do I find a phone number? Professor Daly made us do [this] in his class. If I were in Rome, I would know what to do. I would look for the White Pages, we call them. But here, how do you do this in America? This kind of example relates to a hundred different things, small things. ĎHow do you do this here?í
CB: Have there been any significant personal challenges you can think of?
CG: Here, okay, huge challenge: Iíve always been very jealous of my own opinions. So, I donít like to Ö I wonít speak up, unless the situation calls for it. In a lot of American classrooms Ö tiny classrooms. My Italian classrooms, the last one I was in had 800 students in it. So, youíre just, like, 15 people, and itís crazy, and you just have to lift up your hand and talk, all the time. And professors are looking at you to see if youíre going to talk. And I read the syllabus, they take that very seriously. And Iím not accustomed to speaking in public. Thatís why I like journalism, because you can write down stuff in your own little room, and you donít have to go out there. That was really hard for me. It created huge amounts of self-doubt and angst, and was scared to go into the classroom, because I would Ö I was just so afraid of making a fool of myself, and speaking in public, and saying things in English that were wrong, grammatically or any other point of view, or that would be weird.
Also, another challenge was Ö there are some students that are kind of harsh, and a little bit aggressive with me. Itís a question of tone, and theyíre just Ö when it comes to expressing their opinion, whereas I am a very diplomatic person, other people arenít, especially when it comes down to comparing your writing. I think Americans tend to be more candid, whereas Italians, weíre taught to be very, go around it, see how close you can get, because you donít want to hurt anyoneís feelings. But thatís not something you do here, and that involves students and professors, so you have to go there with a shield, prepared to defend everything that you think, and thatís very challenging for me. Iím not used to it, not in this fashion. Iím always used to people giving me criticism, and everything else, but having people telling me, ĎYou should write about something else,í or, ĎThis isnít okay,í Ö thatís hard.
CB: What about challenges outside of school? With friends, or anything else thatís been difficult for you.
CG: Interpersonally. You Americans Ö Americans have fun in a very different way from the way Italians enjoy themselves. So, in Italy, I would go out with my friends, and we would Ö have a place that we would always go to, smoke a ridiculous amount of cigarettes, and drink a ridiculous amount of wine, and just talk about the most disparate things, and all sorts of conversations, and thatís the kind of evening you would have. If you went dancing, you would have Eurotrash music, but that would be for a younger crowd Ö 14 to 18, thatís when they would go dancing.
Here, dancing is still part of the culture of being a graduate student. I guess itís because of the ridiculous drinking age thing that you have here in the United States. I say that itís ridiculous, because itís my firm belief that every time you frustrate someone into not being able to do something, you create a series of anxieties and issues that just resolve into being obnoxious.
Kids get much more drunk here. For me, that was a culture shock. Because, never, ever, in 20 years living in Italy, have I seen people drinking the way they drink here. Just to the point of Ö itís disturbing to you, because itís like watching a car wreck. You just notice that there must be such a deep unhappiness there, chugging down these huge barrels of beer. Conversation dies at the point. Iím talking about men, mostly. So, Iíve been grabbed by guys. Iím walking, and guys will grab my wrist, and push me towards them.
So, I have this complete stranger telling me nonsense in my ear after he grabbed me off the side, and thatís a very uncomfortable position for me. And you have to understand that itís not them, because they just drank to a point where they donít understand anything else. And on the T, itís so sad. You get on the T, and there are these girls sprawled out all over the thing, throwing up. You get on the T after a certain hour, and itís just covered with all sorts of bodily fluids. Itís just disgusting.
Iím no stranger to the nightlife. I stay out Ďtil 4 AM in Rome. But never have I seen people do that, because I had my first glass of wine when I was 11. I would drink with my parents, and watch them, and see how they behaved and related to wine, and I understood fairly early where I couldnít go over, and the point at what was nice and I could enjoy myself. Iím a total wine nerd and expert, so I even enjoy drinking wine, the experience, whereas here, I feel the taste is completely indifferent. The purpose is to not enjoy the drink, and that will loosen up conversation, and make things more enjoyable and jovial. For [these Americans], itís just about getting totally wasted. That was very hard for me. The nightlife is very alien to me here.
CB: Is there something you want to do here that you havenít done yet?
CG: Itís funny you should say that. I was thinking about it on the T -- I really want to go to Texas!
I feel like Texas is a very stereotyped place, and I want to see it for myself. I love to travel. Itís one of my biggest passions. I consider myself a very well-traveled person. And the United States Ö people tell me, ĎOh, youíve seen the United States!í No, I havenít! I havenít moved. Iíve been in one city. I think the other two cities Iíve seen were Washington, D.C., and New York. Thatís just a little tidbit of what America is. And so, Texas is the image that Italians will always say, ĎYou have cowboys, and cows, and hamburgers, right?í Iím not sure thatís true, but itís something I -- I would love to travel more around the United States, because I want to be well-informed.
Another thing I would love to do is I would really like to go and see some of the museums here. I have gone to the MFA a really long time ago. I took art classes there.
You have so many cool people coming to Boston all the time. Already, Iíve been here, and Iíve met so many interesting people. I really want to keep doing that, and just make an effort to remind myself that I should take the opportunity to see as many of these people who come to Boston. I met [New York Times writer] David Carr!