You know it’s Thursday when I’m on the bus heading somewhere new, while reflecting on my week, writing my journal entry for QU301. This past week, oddly enough, my Italian class was scheduled to have young local Italians visit our class to get us more acquainted with Italian culture by providing us the opportunity to converse with local Italians for an hours time, and of course, test my ‘near perfect’ (I wish!! But I am getting there much faster than expected!) Italian. His name was Paolo (how much more Italian can you get? Plus I of course knew the name thanks to the Lizzie McGuire movie!) and he was a 24 year old college student finishing his senior year up to go into political affairs. I was extremely lucky to have had the chance to talk to such a mature, driven, and interesting person that was very willing to talk about his culture and his thoughts on mine.
I always find it so comical how Americans often dream of traveling Europe, possibly planning to put time aside, maybe even months, to pursue their dream of backpacking Europe. Yet, so many Americans, including myself, has not traveled to half of the famous cities and monuments in the United States. Conversely, Europeans often dream of putting aside time to travel the United States. I find it humorous, and a bit sad, that by the end of my study abroad experience, I will have traveled to more cities than I have in the United States, my home country! Is it really that Europe provides much more permissible travel, or that Europeans find more importance in being well cultured? Paolo himself plans to set aside three months of his life to travel the United States. However, by the age of 24 he had been to countless European countries including Spain, eight times! I do believe Europe provides cheap and easy access to traveling however the sad truth is Americans do have much more of a cultural ignorance as compared to the rest of the world. In Europe, most people can speak three plus languages. In the United States, if one can speak more than three languages, people will look at them like they are a genius! Why is it that Americans can travel to Italy and expect that the locals will know English, as they often to, and not even try to learn Italian as they don’t have to put energy into learning a new language. It’s due to cultural ignorance of which I see almost everyday! I asked Paolo how he came to know English so well as he spoke near perfect English. I asked if it was due to the high volume of tourists in Florence. For some, he said that may be the case as it is required now a days for many jobs due to tourism. However he himself is fluent in five languages due to his dream to work at an embassy one day. He said people in Europe are taught at young ages but taught to keep up with the languages they have learned unlike Americans, who many, don’t even remember how to write cursive better yet a language.
I don’t mean to put Americans down at all if anything I am reflecting on my own habits and what I hope to change based on some differences in values that I have found between Italy and the United States.
Independence versus dependence towards family is of upmost importance in Italy. For Italians, family tends to be their anchor and it is socially acceptable for them to live with their parents or have their mother cook for them until they are engaged or married. This is very contrastive towards Americans as it is a sign of stability, growth, and adulthood to be on ones own. It can also come off as selfish sometimes in America to live off of one’s parents for too long, especially until that of marriage. Success is a topic that is welcome to be spoken about as it implies security for oneself and family and is something to take much pride in. Formality is also of upmost importance in Italy. Italians tend to dress very well, making it rare to find many dressed in athletic clothes and sneakers even during the day like that of Americans. It is very important for Italians to be impressionable when meeting someone for the first time which includes if one looks sloppy or not.
It was very helpful that I spoke to Paolo as there is no way that I would have known how much they valued what they do and what they don’t find as important unless I spoke to him. One can presume a lot by watching people’s everyday actions but as people are always told, one cannot judge people solely on appearance and one’s actions as there is always a reason behind everything.
One aspect of campus life that I wish I participated in or was able to learn more about would be student government. I have friends that partake in this organization and spend an unbelievable amount of time and effort on the organization that clearly means so much to them. I am someone who loves to speak my mind and defend my opinion so I think that it would be very opportunistic for me to sit down with them and learn the values that they hold that could very well be similar to mine. However to be in student government I can only imagine an open mind is needed as one must be able to accept and consider opinions other than their own. I would love to hone in on the values that stand behind a person like that as it would be beneficial for myself and the community as a whole as the world should always be accepting to people who will readily accept others.
All in all, I find Italy to be very similar in terms of values as compared to Americans which I find a bit surprising as our cultures still seem to appear so different. Each day, I am learning more and more about Italian culture and the ability to sit down and speak to an Italian myself was a fantastic learning experience that I can only hope I can do again soon.