There is a stereotype about how Americans assume people from all around the world can and should speak English since it is the universal language. As an American myself studying abroad in Italy, I would have to say I fit that stereotype. I personally do not believe that people from other countries should automatically know how to speak English nor do I expect them to, but it is the fact that I did not try to learn any Italian prior to coming to Italy.
Before arriving in Italy, I was not concerned that language would be a great barrier to overcome, simply because I figured I could carry around an Italian phrase book and that all would be good. And yes, I am still alive and have been able to travel around with minimal problems, so language was not a large issue of survival, but in terms of being able to grasp the full experience, knowing the language is crucial.
Many times, I would be in a museum or at a famous landmark and not know the significance or the history behind the beautiful artifacts and sculptures. This is because many attractions are written out only in Italian, and I found this to be frustrating because buildings and sculptures all start to look the same if knowledge about that object is unknown. However, I had no one to blame but myself. Also, language is essential to any culture and because I did not know any Italian, I already missed out on great opportunities to explore new places, restaurants, and people.
Although not knowing a language is frustrating, I would have to say it was not all bad experiences. Learning a language along the way is much more fun than learning it through books and classrooms. Also, picking up the local language while abroad has helped me improve my problem-solving skills and non-verbal communication skills, and now I have more confidence in my ability to overcome barriers.
At least for next time, I know that before I travel somewhere for an extended period of time, I must learn the basics of the local language in order to maximize my experience abroad.