This past week was probably one of the busier weeks that I have had here so far. Schoolwork picked up a little bit more which was challenging, because I was trying to get myself back on track after spending my first full weekend away from Florence. Although I am busy, I would not trade it for anything and I am definitely enjoying my time here. For the assignment this week I decided to meet with Serena, who works in Student Services and is the Community Engagement Coordinator here at International Studies Institute. Serena is one of the women who picked up the Quinnipiac group at the airport the first day, and from that moment I knew that I liked her. She is a native Florentine, and she is incredibly kind and always willing to help all students. I knew that she would be the perfect person to ask to help me with this assignment.
Discussing cultural values while living in another country is incredibly important. Before doing this assignment, I was simply assuming things about Italian values, but I could not say anything for certain. It is unfair to look into another culture and make judgements without thoughtfully evaluating what is accurate and where cultural norms stem from. Also, as Hess touches on in chapter 5 of Studying Abroad/Learning Abroad, cultural learning allows an individual to refine his or her values. Hess says, “…by throwing light on your own values and bringing them to sharper focus, the intercultural experience offers you the opportunity to enhance, elaborate, and strengthen the value system you have inherited and developed over the course of your life” (53-54). I liked this quote because it recognizes that while community has a big influence on one’s ethics, it is up to the individual to learn and go further to develop a more informed moral code.
After I explained the purpose of the interview to Serena, we started talking about the list of ten values in the U.S. versus in Italy. Something interesting that Serena continued to bring up while we were talking about change versus tradition was her belief that values are disappearing, but are not being replaced in Italy. She said that values are changing because of globalization. She said that she saw this happen in the 1960s, but it was okay because the old values were replaced by new ones. She said that years ago if a politician was found guilty of a scandal or stealing money, he or she would be kicked out of government, but now it happens all of the time and there is no shame. If these public figures do not feel shame, why should the normal citizens? I think that this dangerous trend is something that we see in America too. Serena recognized that it is okay for values to change, but that we do need some set of values to keep us grounded.
Although values are changing, Italians also try to stick to tradition and, as Serena said, “to their roots.” Her friend’s daughter was offered a spot at a top university in Milan that would earn her an incredibly high paying job, but the young woman chose to stay in Florence because she wanted to stay where she was grounded. In many cases, material things do not outweigh the value of tradition in Italy. This is much different from how things are in America, where people are willing to uproot their families to follow a job.
Another value in Italy that is different from in America is the value placed on older people, especially in the workplace. In America, it is common that younger people are more valued for their brains, the skills, and their bodies. However, Serena told me that in Italy younger people are not really trusted when they come out of college. People see them as inexperienced and untrained, so they do not want to hire them. For this reason, many young people end up living with their family for a long time after college until they can work up to a high paying position. I knew that young people in Italy often live at home, but I was unsure why until talking to Serena. I always thought that they just all liked to be together, but I never considered where that tradition stemmed from. It was interesting to learn that it is not so much that these young people have a choice, and more that they have no other option.
One similarity that I found while talking to Serena was on the topic of equality. She said that in Italy they do not have many ethnic minorities, since there has not been much immigration to Italy in the past, so the equality struggle is between men and women. She said that in theory and by law men and women are equal, but in actuality they are not. This is pretty similar to the United States, where some jobs still pay men more to do the same job a woman would do, or where many people still believe that a woman in the White House would not be as effective as a man. I also noticed while talking to Serena that a lot of cultural values in Italy are moving closer to those in the United States as the country becomes more modern. Serena continues to trace this back to globalization, as with mass tourism and increased connection through the internet people are being exposed to much more.
One part of Quinnipiac culture that I have never gotten involved with is Greek life. I simply was never interested, and I did not think that it would be a good fit for me. I will admit that I do not know a lot about this culture, and that maybe talking to someone about it could be helpful. I would like to know more about sororities’ involvement in the community and what each organization stands for. Some of my roommates here in Florence are in sororities at Quinnipiac, so maybe this semester I’ll talk to them about their experiences.