Almost ten years later, people ask me how I learned Italian, and I have to give them the often unattainable answer that I studied for four full years including a critical language immersion period in one region, reinforced by returning to another region for a semester, and reinforced again with 8 months of living and working in yet another region. By the time all that was over, I felt as though living in another country indefinitely was a real possibility for me. It was so much fun to watch my linguistic fluidity grow that I didn't realize I had worked for five years on it. What a rare opportunity I had.
It is clear how the high standards of the program are the reasons I became a competent, eventually fluent, Italian speaker. Just by building up an additional language stem in my brain and traveling to prove the existence of cultures different from my own, I was able to discover the enduring gift of the entire program: I can perceive of the enormity of the whole world. By stepping outside of the United States for reasons other than vacation travel, I became a citizen of the world instead of an American. That is something I cannot unlearn, no matter how rusty my subjunctive verb use may be.
Having perceived of the whole world, and as much as I strongly wish for vacations from the career I have been building, I can now bring this perspective to the work I do today. In the world of mental health counseling, it is so helpful in surmounting daily interpersonal challenges to know that my perspective is just one of billions. Learning languages is about so much more than grammar, vocabulary, and food.
I often wonder whether my additional language will be used in the future, and I hope it is. The most likely possibility at present is that I use it to learn Spanish so that I can serve more subgroups of our population. At the very least, it will help when I eventually escape for a proper pizza someday.