Of all the things I could’ve imagined, the last thing I would’ve told you was that I would be studying Italian alongside brilliant people over the age of 50.
Why was it so unexpected?
If you’ve never studied at a language school before, you might not know that there’s typically no age limitation; which is a beautiful thing. Adults and teenagers alike pack their bags to fully immerse themselves in different cultures by taking language classes abroad. The classroom setting is unlike any other you’ve experienced, usually mixed with nationalities, ages, gender, etc.
In Rome, for instance, I studied with a class of 13 students, no two people had the same age; giving you a huge range of life experience. I was always inspired by the adults who would travel to Cuba to take dance classes, or Italy to learn about food and wine, but when I got to Sorrento, that inspiration turned into AWE.
I spent an entire week, learning with and from a class of 50+ students, it happened to be one of the two times a year they host the program. These fellow students eventually became my buddies after our shared experience of learning Italian in Sorrento despite our massive age gap.
Why is it so impressive?
We tend to think that as we get older, our body shuts down as does our mind; which is true, if you let it.
Obviously, we can’t control several things: time doesn’t stop, gravity sags our supple skin, stains our faces, and creates pains in places the sun doesn’t shine.
It’s true that as we get older, we need to have more kindness towards our bodies, more awareness of what we eat, and overall more self-care.
What i’ve seen in my mentors, grandparents, and aunts, is that the more active we are, the more awake our body is to combat illness, stagnancy, and aging in the physical sense.
But that’s only the physical side of aging, what about the mental? After my week in Sorrento, I’m convinced that learning a language abroad over the age of 50 is just the trick to keep your mind sharp, and energy levels high.
Not only were they spitting out complex sentence structures that I hadn’t even learned yet, but my classmates were MORE ENERGETIC THAN ME. They would go on independent excursions almost every day after class, spend two hours dining at a seaside restaurant at night, and coordinate to hang out during the weekends. Shoot, while I was ready for my nap time, they were busy planning their day trip while on the train to Naples. It was absolutely impressive. Their ages were all 50+, but their spirits were younger than most 20-somethings I know.
At first, I have to admit, I was slightly shocked and confused. I had never seen so many older people in a school setting. I had also never been the youngest person in every class and activity, by at least 30 years. Of course, I felt my moments of loneliness; as if being a woman of color isn’t already differentiating enough, now I had thirty years of experience to divide me from the gang.
But we weren’t divided at all.
We all struggled with verb conjugations, and all of us lost focus after two hours of grammar class. We all marveled at the smoke coming out of Mount Vesuvius, and laughed at the windy roads it took to get to Positano.
There was absolutely no difference between any of us when we sat in the student’s seat. And that, my friends, is a marvelous concept that can be found in a language school.
There was a huge difference between them and most other 50+ adults I’ve met though; they grabbed life by the balls and didn’t let their age stop them from living. Some of them admitted to feeling afraid before they came alone. Much like anybody at any age, they too were nervous about not making friends. Meanwhile, they’re confessing this to me while sitting at a table surrounded by their new lifelong friends from all over the world during our goodbye lunch.
Most of them came alone, were grandparents, parents, and even retirees, and were all cooking homemade gnocchi with Italian instructions, and living with host families, or in shared apartments.
I want to congratulate them for taking a step out of their routines back home to create memories, not just by traveling and being a tourist, but by getting a fully immersed experience and learning a language.
So if you’re ever using age as a reason to stop you from traveling:
Learn from the amazing people I met in Sorrento that the human experience doesn’t end after 50. In fact, my new friends opened my mind that learning languages and traveling isn’t just a dream, it’s their reality, and will continue to be mine as well.