Learning to Make Mistakes

Not only has moving to Italy been a beautiful wonder, but it has also presented some of the most humbling experiences of my life. 

When I first moved to Florence, I was struck with intimidation as I walked through the streets, peering into shop windows with no intention of stepping in. I was curious as to what was inside but was too nervous to be caught in a language barrier. Trying to do everyday tasks can make you feel like a toddler- like practicing what to say when you buy bus tickets, having to signal through the glass at the bakery for what treat you want, and standing in a blank stare when a stranger tries to make conversation with you. 

It is normal to feel helpless and confused, but it is vital to lean into that vulnerability to learn some much-needed lessons.  

1. Santa Maria Novella Train Station

My very first steps in Florence were through Santa Maria Novella train station after catching my flight to Milan. So bright-eyed and filled with an energizing mix of delirium and curiosity after traveling for more than twenty-four hours, I was in quite a rush to get to my hotel. Without allowing myself to breathe, admire, and take it all in, I hurried out of the station in my socks and sandals (first mistake) carrying two heavy bags. I rushed past people, following the path I had already memorized on google maps, and put one foot in front of the other in the warm weather that I had not dressed properly for. 

At this point, I was so tired that I couldn’t even think, and before I knew it I was tripping on a loose cobblestone and breaking my fall with the backpack I carried on my chest. I looked up and realized that I was holding onto an elderly woman who most definitely caught the majority of my weight. I was devastatingly apologetic but her sweet “it’s okay! It’s okay!” made me feel a little bit better. I got up again and kept walking with a smile on my face, this time a bit slower.

2. Mercato Centrale

After a tour with my class to Mercato Centrale (“Central Market”), a one-stop shop for fresh foods, I began wandering around searching for 1. something I want to eat for lunch, and 2. an approachable stand where I could get by with a limited vocabulary of Italian.  

I set my eyes on a fresh-pasta booth, rang the bell to call for service, and confidently exclaimed my order:  

“venti grammi dei tortellini, per favore.” (“twenty grams of tortellini, please.” I start to panic as the server looks at me sideways, but she continues to reach for the correct pasta, picks up less than a handful and throws it on the scale. There were probably five mini pieces sitting there as she shook her head at me.  

“okay, cinquanta grammi” (“okay, fifty grams”) I suggest, trying to salvage this encounter. She picks up a few more, bringing the total amount of tortellini up to ten pieces. Great. I’m so embarrassed at this point that I just want to leave as soon as possible. She brings over the bag and tells me the total. Failing to understand what she said, I took out my debit card only to be met with more eye rolls and exclamations that it is not possible to pay with card. Panicking once again, I fish around in my bag for cash, coins, a prized possession- anything to end this interaction. I had hidden a 2-euro coin in my palm as I handed her a 10-euro bill, but she refused, so I handed her a 20, and then I handed her a 5, as she passionately suggested something that I couldn’t understand. She grabs my hand, takes the 2-euro coin, and finally starts to laugh as she hands me the receipt. It was 60 cents. 

Debating whether I should avoid that stand forever or go back just to prove how much better my Italian has gotten… 


Embarrassing myself, whether by accident or by intentionally taking a risk, has become a secret weapon in navigating a new city, culture, and life itself. These moments (and many more) were the first steps in learning something new, and once those couple minutes of shame passed, I was left with lessons that will stay with me forever. 

After falling at the train station, I was prompted to wonder why I was in such a rush. I had not yet shed my fast-paced habits and was trying to get nowhere fast. I learned to slow down and take deep breaths to appreciate the present moment. I realized that it is okay to get lost, be lost, and to have fun while doing it. I also came to terms with the fact that I may need to choose a shoe with more traction. 

My experience at the market taught me many things. I learned how heavy a kilogram is and that an average plate of pasta is 100-250 grams. I learned that I needed to practice numbers 1-100 in Italian. Also, I learned that it will be okay if I make mistakes and go into a situation not knowing exactly how it will play out. At the end of the day, I am trying my best to communicate, and some things are bound to get lost in translation. All you can do is laugh about it and move on.  

Gracen B. is a junior studying cultural and historic preservation with a minor in history and studying abroad in Florence, Italy with API. 

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