Travel Log 5: “Conversations” By Taylor Chelo. Perugia, Italy

This past Wednesday marked the second of many Tandems — social gatherings hosted by the Umbra Institute where American and Italian students get to meet new friends while practicing their second, non-native languages. What better place to get to know the values of the Italian culture than at an event like this, am I right? What made this interview experience more fulfilling was having the opportunity to hear the opinions of more than one Italian student regarding what values they hold true.

The two Italian students that I interviewed were Martina (on the left) and Valeria (on the right). Cross-cultural diversity expert, Sondra Thiederman, provides students like myself with forty-two value contrasts to analyze the differences between values of the U.S.

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Tandem #2 with Martina and Valeria – Lacio Drom Bar, Perugia, IT

culture versus those of another. This interview solely focused on the top ten cultural values. Although I interviewed Martina and Valeria separately, they both gave similar answers. Out of ten value pairs provided, the following were the four that educated me the most regarding the Italian culture:

  • Change vs. Tradition
  • Materialism vs. Spirituality
  • Independence vs. Dependence
  • Informality vs. Formality

For the first culture set, Martina and Valeria both believed that Italians stay true to tradition unless there is an absolute need for positive change. Valeria specifically said that the rich food culture of Italy is a prime example of this value. Although food traditions vary among the different regions of Italy, they have remained steadfast through many centuries. Martina provided the example of their strong religious beliefs and the Roman Catholic Church tradition — a tradition that I, too, identify with. This religious influence on tradition allowed me to understand why Italians hold spiritual growth higher than materialism. For example, during Sunday services, Catholics give money to the Church via weekly offerings to maintain their parish community and donate funds to those who need it most. This is how their religious tradition ties with their value of spirituality. Martina and Valeria answered these two value contrasts without hesitation or thought, nodding their heads in affirmation that tradition and religion go hand-in-hand in their Italian culture.

The “independence vs. dependence” value contrast stumped Valeria and Martina, especially when thinking through a personal and then general lens. The girls both believed that those of the Italian culture, overall, deem it proper to depend on others for support, especially on family and friends. Martina recalled the holidays and Holy Days of Obligation that she and her family celebrate together. Although Martina feels more independent now that she is finishing college, concluding her thesis research, and searching for full-time jobs, she knows that if she ever needs guidance, her family is always there when she needs it. I share this worldview, as well, even though the United States culture says otherwise. Valeria provided very similar reasons, but she also mentioned the major influence that the economic recession has on Italy’s value of dependence. Italians who are severely affected by this financial crisis may rely on government support programs so they can ensure economic stability for them and their families. Thus, from the general Italian culture worldview, the value of dependence is evident in their way of life. However, through Valeria and Martina’s eyes, they personally feel that they are embarking on their own as independent, educated women.

The last value contrast, “informality vs. formality,” was the one I found to be the most interesting. Like the previous one, Valeria and Martina were indecisive at first, in need of some time to ponder their answers further. Valeria believed that Italian culture is more formal, especially when it comes to influences like outer appearance and social behavior. My stroll down Corso Vannucci last week–also known as Perugia’s fashion runway–confirmed this. Everyone was dressed to the nines from the most famous boutiques, heralding both their top-of-the-line fashion sense and social class. Martina, on the other hand, believed that this value was split according to Italy’s northern and southern regions. Northern Italy is predominantly “new money” and is united by formality, viewing informality as intrusive and disrespectful. Southern Italy, on the other hand, is predominantly “old money” and is united by informality and equality. Thus, the geographical layout of Italy and each region’s economic status influences the value contrast of “informality vs. formality.”

I was pleasantly surprised with how well Valeria and Martina communicated their answers to me despite English being their second language. The two young women study international business and politics, hence why their answers were so well substantiated. I am so fortunate to have learned more about the values of the Italian culture, especially with their help. Now that I have increased my diversity awareness and sensitivity towards my host community, I am interested to test my open-mindedness when I return to the Quinnipiac University community back at home. I can do so by educating myself on a specific part of campus life that I am not familiar with. Although I am Catholic, one of the doctrines of the Church that I have a hard time agreeing with is that it does not support LGBT marriage rights. If God encourages us to love and respect one another, than why should one’s sexual orientation be a deciding factor in who we want to spend the rest of our lives with. Yes, I am Catholic, and yes, I am heterosexual, but my religious and sexual identity should not stop me from voicing what I personally believe is right: love — equal, universal love.

Quinnipiac’s Student Body Creed states, “I embrace the inclusion of all people.” This being said, if I were to sit down with a representative or friend that belongs to the LGBT community at school, it would not only allow me to become more educated on how I can help promote equal opportunities for all individuals to love one another, but it would also show other Catholics and other heterosexuals that it is okay to step out of your comfort zone and your identities to create a more inclusive environment for those struggling to express theirs, both within the Quinnipiac community and beyond.

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