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30 Ways to Say “Turtle” & Other Things You Might Learn While Studying in Bologna

The city of Bologna has taught me many things. Perhaps the most unexpected of these is the ability to say ‘turtle’ in over 30 languages! For each variation of ‘turtle’ I can remember who taught me, where I was, and what I was doing. I fondly recall mastering the Dutch ‘schildpad’ while savouring my first gelato, reciting the French ‘tortu’ while sipping espresso at a bar and tackling tricky Cantonese intonation during a Byron seminar.

I began to collect the word as a sort of linguistic diary of my encounters as an Erasmus student in Bologna. After only three months, I had gathered together over 30 languages – from Arabic to Swahili. This babel of ‘turtles’ is testament to Bologna as a vibrant hub for students from all over the world.

Through experiences at language schools, interactions at university and chance meetings with friends of friends, I developed a close knit circle of friends from Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey to name just a few.  Together with students from all over the world, our dinner parties were like a mini United Nations where we put the world to rights. In the end I came to the conclusion that the road to peace is paved with tortellini and tiramisu!

Language schools are a great way to meet new people when you’re a new arrival in Bologna. Not only will your new language skills allow you interact with the locals when you’re out and about but you’ll also encounter international students from all over the globe within the classroom itself.

There are two language schools in the historic Santo Stefano area which offer intensive Italian courses. ALCE offers an immersive experience and places emphasis on experiencing real Italian life and going out into the city rather than just studying grammar in a text book. For that reason, ALCE organises trips and events throughout the week, from visiting the wonderful museums dotted around the city to experiencing aperitivo, the highly social tradition of having a drink and a light bite in a bar or cafe before your main meal. This provides an opportunity for students to chat to locals and improve their speaking skills in a relaxed manner. The ARCA school also encourages immersion in the language and uses a communicative method of teaching whereby the students are taught by doing’ rather than simply ‘studying’ so that they are prepared for everyday situations and, accordingly, are able to ‘experience society directly as part of it, rather than as just an observer or tourist.

From my experiences with Bolognese people, I’ve found them to be incredibly open and friendly. You’ll find them more thanwilling to take you under their wing and give you insights into the nitty gritty of Italian life and politics. They take great delight in talking about traditional Bolognese food and how it should be eaten. It pains them to hear of Brits serving tomato sauce with spaghetti and calling it ragu and believe me, once you’ve tasted the real deal served with tagliatelle, you’ll never go back.

Attending a language school, not only enriched my knowledge of Italian culture, but also my awareness of other cultures as I discovered Bologna together with international students from all walks of life.  My experiences in Bologna took me from existing in a monolingual bubble to being able to make jokes in Italian, swear in German, sing in Finnish, and say ‘I love you’ in Turkish (in fact, I later married the young Turk I met in Bologna and the city is now my adopted home).  I can truly say that learning a language opens doors to opportunities that you might never have thought possible and you never know who, what or how many turtles you might discover along the way. It’s well worth the leap!

This is a guest post by the lovely Sarah (Sarita) from A Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy.  Sarah currently works as an expat English teacher in Bologna, Italy. She fell in love with Bologna when she studied there as part of the Erasmus programme. She followed the laws of fiction and fell in love while studying abroad and vowed to return so that she could marry her Turkish love. She describes herself as a postmodern Anglo-Muslim hybrid and writes on a variety of topics, including life in Italy, cultural observations, current issues relating to Islam, peculiarities of English and Italian, and Education. 

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