On knowing your neighbors

“The door is always open!”

Italian+is+the+second+most-spoken+language+in+Italy%3B+the+first%2C+I+would+argue%2C+is+community.

Nicole Syku

Italian is the second most-spoken language in Italy; the first, I would argue, is community.

Nicole Syku, Senior Staff Writer

“Sei italiana?”

I was at a nearby Italian restaurant in Westlake Village when the waiter asked me if I spoke Italian. Seeing as I am an exchange student from Italy, this was of course the case. Maybe it was my conventionally-Italian hand movements or the way I pronounced “risotto” that gave it away, but nonetheless, we began to chat. We soon realized that we live in the same part of Italy — in fact, the same village! I was immediately reminded of home.

In Italy, there’s a different perception of relationships with people that live near you. I remember having frequent dinners with my neighbors and taking little trips with them to the sun-splashed lake or grassy mountains. Sometimes, they would ring the doorbell and deliver our family freshly-grown fruits and veggies from their garden. Other times, they would offer us cakes and cookies baked over the weekend. The elders would chat for hours about small-town gossip. The owner of the bakery next door would greet me by name. Harmony was born from community.

Community, however, is so often preached by my Oak Park peers and educators, but rarely practiced in the same sense it is back home. My neighbors here are strangers to me and had I attempted to deliver a bag full of vegetables to them, I’d likely be rejected through their Ring doorbell (and subsequently reported on Nextdoor). Experiencing a new lifestyle on the opposite side of the world is such a challenge, but the feeling of being here is indescribable and beyond worthwhile. I hope, therefore, to bring my understanding of neighborhood to this small town in California.

I returned my focus to the waiter. This feeling of connection was familiar and something I had dearly missed … Italian is the second most-spoken language in Italy; the first, I would argue, is community.