Travel Log 5: “Conversations” by Samantha Prevot. Notting Hill, London, England.

Slimbach says at the beginning of Chapter 5 of Becoming World Wise, “Among the many benefits arising from the global movement of people across national borders is the unprecedented opportunity for face-to-face encounters with different cultures in our own backyard. International students at a local college or university; immigrant shop or restaurant owners; and congregants of local temples, mosques, or churches – each are potential aids, even mentors, for the adventure ahead.” Part of the reason why I wanted so badly to study abroad was to meet new people from not only London or England, but from all over the world. I am very active on social media, and over the years I have gotten to know people from many different countries and cultures. Studying abroad gives me the opportunity to do the same thing, but face-to-face as Slimbach describes. So far I have had the pleasure to meet not only other American students that are participating in my program, but also many British students at my university as well as other international students from places such as France and Italy. I also got to meet a friend of mine that I met on Twitter who is from Poland but is studying here in London at Middlesex University. I have always loved meeting new people and making new friends and so far I have done a lot of that in my short time here.

I think that meeting people from other cultures and getting to know them is beneficial for so many reasons. First, as Slimbach says, meeting people who live in your host culture and have different values can help aid you in integrating yourself into the culture during your study abroad experience. Secondly, and I think most importantly, learning about other people and their culture and values can help you become more open-minded and change your perspective on the world. If you live your whole life only knowing your home country’s culture, then you are limiting yourself in my opinion. Learning about how others live can make you a more understanding person and help you see the world more completely, instead of just looking at everything from an American perspective, an English perspective, etc. Meeting new and different people helps you see every side to every story.

The person I decided to do this week’s interview activity with is someone that I met at my university. His name is Laurie Cope, and he is from London. However, the reason why I thought he was a good choice for the interview was that despite living in London for most of his life he has also briefly lived in New York City and Tokyo, and he has traveled all over the world, which I think makes him able to compare different cultures and their values very well. We met over the weekend at a coffee shop and ended up talking for a few hours.

Culturally, England, especially London, and the United States are very similar. When we were talking, Laurie even jokingly referred to England as “America 2.0”. One of the values that we talked about in which England and the U.S. may differ though, is Change vs. Tradition. Despite their role not being as important in government, England still has a monarch and royal family. England has also recently voted to leave the European Union, which as become known as “Brexit”. Although this is a change for the country, it is based on more traditional and conservative beliefs, held by mostly older people in the country. Also, when talking about the values such as Boasting vs. Modesty, Direct vs. Indirect, and Confrontation vs. Avoidance, there was a similar theme and difference between England and the U.S. In England, people are known to be less confrontational and direct about their feelings. As we talked about this, I shared my personal experiences of often being stared, and possibly glared, at by other passengers on the Tube while riding with friends because of our loud and seemingly obnoxious American accents. However, I did also express my annoyance at the fact that upon learning that I’m American, the British people I’ve met are very curious about my feelings about Donald Trump and his presidency. I learned from Laurie that because British people see Americans as more outgoing and loud, they as a result seem more approachable and easy to talk to. So although British people may seem more closed-off, American people seem to break through those walls and get them to open up.

A specific part of home campus life that I do not participate in, and frankly have no desire to participate in, is Greek life. Fraternities and sororities never appealed to me and although I don’t hold a negative opinion of people who participate in those groups, I could never understand what the appeal of participating is. To me, and this is in no offense to anyone, it just seems like you’re paying to have a group of friends and get invited to more parties and things like that. Especially at a school like Quinnipiac where we are not allowed to have fraternity or sorority houses. I have many friends that are in sororities, and through them I have become very knowledgeable about things like the rushing process and what the main differences between different sororities and fraternities are. However, I do think I should be more open to letting them explain to me what being in their sororities means to them and why they choose to participate in something that has no value to me. Maybe then I would be more understanding and see Greek life in a better light. Especially since a large percentage of Quinnipiac students participate in Greek life and those groups do many activities to benefit the university community and also the communities of Hamden and New Haven.

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Travel Log 5 “Conversations.” Ryan Bonitz. Barcelona, Spain.

When I read that I needed to interview a Spanish native for this week I knew right away whom to ask. Toni Raja is my Professor for both my Case of Catalonia and Mediterranean Culture class. I knew that he would be an interesting person to interview because he is very funny but also has no boundaries. Oftentimes he comes off as offensive or inappropriate. Regardless, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind and I feel like I’ve learned a lot more about Spanish culture because of that. I met with Toni in the little café that is attached to the Autonomous University of Barcelona. One of the things that he is very vocal about in class is the failure of Spanish government. I usually do not enjoy talking about politics, but his comparison of what we think is bad with Trump to the state of Spain was very interesting. The amount of corruption and hostility that occurs on a daily basis here in Spain is something that I would never have known about because it is kept so quiet. In class the other day Toni made a joke about Americans and guns. I asked him to expand on that a bit during our conversation. He said that the stereotype is that all Americans have guns and that is how we “deal with our problems.” That was hard for me to hear because it is such a sad way to see our country.

When it came to other differences between Spain and the States, Toni said that the way we value the elderly is very different. He joked about how the elderly slow down the streets because they are literally everywhere. Spain has a rather high average life expectancy, so the elderly play an important role in everyday life. In Spain, the elderly are highly respected in comparison to the States. The way Toni referred to the way we just throw our elders in nursing homes and act as if they are a burden made me really sad. I know that my family respects and cares for my grandparents a great deal, but unfortunately this is not the case everywhere in the states. Next, Toni actually asked me a question. He asked how I felt about the party culture of Spain. I was honest in saying that it is fun, but can be overwhelming. Toni explained that this part of Catalonian culture specifically is very important, but is increasingly causing problems. Due to Spain’s location, it can act as a bridge between Africa, all of America, and Europe. This has allowed a great deal of drugs to easily be shipped into the country, which is something that is of great concern to Toni. Next we discussed religion in Spain. Toni explained that Spain is predominantly Christian. However, the numbers of people who attend church regularly are dropping, while numbers of people with no religion or alternative religion are growing. I think this is something that American people are experiencing as well. The younger generations are much less religious than the older generations, and there are numbers to prove it. When I asked for a few more general differences between Spain and the States, Toni said that Spaniards tend to be more relaxed. Toni has said a few times in class “a third of your life is spent sleeping, another third working. There’s one third free and you get to choose what you do with it.” They enjoy siesta (a nap during the day), as well as quality time with friends and family. Finally, we discussed materialism. He claims that Spaniards are not nearly as materialistic as Americans. They would rather spend their money on food or cultural activities than things. I personally think this is a great way to live life. To me, experiences will always be better than things. These are just a few of the many things I discussed with Toni. I really enjoyed this experience because I was able to gain a greater appreciation for both Spanish culture and my own host culture. Although we are different in many ways, we both have unique assets. “A first-time consideration of morality across cultures can be unsettling, even shocking (pg 47)” is definitely relevant after this discussion. I was not comfortable asking Toni for a photograph as this is the first time I had a full blown conversation with him alone.

I am not actively involved with are sports teams or intermural sports. My best friend Carly is the captain of our Women’s Basketball Team, but that’s as close as I have gotten. I could have actually played softball at Quinnipiac, but I passed up the opportunity due to my acceptance into the Physician Assistant Program. I don’t have negative feelings towards sports, but I haven’t gotten involved due to the intensity of my program. Now that I see the way Spaniards live, I want to make more time for fun activities. Intramural sports would be a great way to relieve stress while having fun with friends. A picture I chose to describe this experience is one of the Barcelonetta beach. It is where the locals go to relax on a daily basis. I hope to become more relaxed while I’m here and live more like a Spaniard.

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Works Cited

Hess, J. Daniel, and J. Daniel Hess. Studying abroad/learning abroad: an abridged edition of The whole world guide to culture learning. Yarmouth, Me., USA: Intercultural Press, 1997. Print.

 

Travel Log #5: “Conversations” Kathleen Flynn. Florence, Italy

As a cultural learning experience for my Italian class, we were also asked to interview locals. I learned that there were two types of people: those who were excited to interact and eager to help us learn as study abroad students, and those who couldn’t be bothered with young Americans. Because of this, I decided to interview my art professor who is always ready to teach me more about his culture and taking a little time out of his day to do so. Before coming to Florence I really wanted to take the opportunity of talking to a local who would be comfortable with sharing a piece of their personal life in order for me to understand the Italian culture better; it’s been harder than I imagined just approaching a random person at a café, especially because I know very little Italian. Not only do my professors speak English, but they’ve also lived in Italy their entire lives and teach American students abroad as a living. My art professor, Luciano, was of course happy to participate in this activity.

I began the interview by asking his opinion on informality versus formality and was amazed by how many more values surrounded and connected to just this one. The Italians, and more specifically Florentines, are very concerned with appearance in all aspects. Rolling out of bed, throwing on UGG slippers and some sweatpants and walking out to class will get you many disapproving stares. For the Italians, dressing appropriately and being conscious of your personal appearance is key to first impressions. For example, there is serious judgment given to a girl wearing tights with a rip down the side, or shoes that are dirty and muddy. I’ve even noticed this myself walking around the city. Many times I’ve underdressed for the given weather (no coat, wearing a dress, etc.), and felt so uncomfortable by the passing looks that I had to go home and change. This value of appearance and formality also relates to respecting the elders or superiors of Italians. Age is to be respected for the wisdom that can only come with years of living and not from reading a textbook. The respect given to elders even carries through the Italian language and using a “formal” rather than “informal” you, which cannot be found in the English language. For example, when asking an elder or superior how they are doing you say, “Come sta?” instead of, “Come stai?” My professor explained that this is extremely important to use with elders of your family, which incorporates one of the most important cultural values we discussed. “La famiglia” is the center of any Italian’s life. Restaurants and businesses are carried through generation after generation, and time outside of work is devoted to spending with the family. My professor explained that there is no difference between a first cousin or third, family is family and is treated the same.

While the interview may have put into perspective many of the contrasting cultural values that America has with Italy, it did not make me feel ashamed of my own values. It brought them “into sharper focus” and I think it has indeed given me “the opportunity to enhance, elaborate, and strengthen the value system” that I have developed and will continuing developing throughout my life (Guide 9, pg. 54). I realized that like Italians I also value my appearance, not for attention, but for the image I project of myself to others. At college this is not always the case because in America there is a value of not judging a person by their looks. Because of this many kids will go to class in the classic “just rolled out of bed” look without worrying about being criticized by others. By comparing these two opposing culture sets of Americans and Italians it shows that neither one is more right than the other and I see both values in myself. I think it is important not to judge a person based solely on their appearance, but it’s also important to respect yourself and project the appropriate image in any given occasion.

 

 

Travel Log 5 “Conversations” Athena Rine, Seville Spain

Two weeks ago I took a nasty fall while wearing heels and walking on cobblestone. It was not a fun experience at all and I was sure my ankle was broken so I went to the emergency room to get an x-ray. I was ecstatic to learn that my ankle wasn’t broken but just badly sprained. This left me hobbling around for several days with a multicolored, swollen foot in a city where walking is the main mode of transportation… not my best week. However, a few cool things came out of this day. One, I got to visit a hospital in Spain and see firsthand what the medical treatment was like. (For a nursing major that’s pretty exciting.) Also, I got to spend a few hours with my program coordinator, Marta, as she accompanied me during my visit and helped to translate my conversation with the doctor and nurses. We talked for a while about lots of different things, and I noticed she was very knowledgeable about Spain, specifically the differences between here and the United States. So when I read the assignment for this week’s travel log, I knew exactly whom I wanted to speak with.

Marta was born in Sevilla and has lived here all her life. She went to high school and college here and now lives with her husband and 8-month-old daughter. She knows a ton about the Spanish culture and even speaks four languages! During my time with Marta, she told me lots about values in Spain in general as well has her personal thoughts and feelings on each of the ten culture contrasts. There were a few cultural differences in particular that I found interesting. The “materialism versus spirituality” value was a big one. Marta explained that people in Spain don’t have that much money and that brand names and materialistic items aren’t of major importance. This is something I have picked up on during my time here so far. At home or at Quinnipiac I always see people walking around with designer bags, shoes, clothing and brand new, big-name cars to match. Here you rarely see brand names on anything, so much so that I’m not even sure what the big brands are because I haven’t seen anything too frequently. This isn’t to say that people here don’t look nice and put-together because they absolutely do, they just aren’t dripping in Tiffany, Michael Kors, Vineyard Vines, etc. The cars here are all very old looking and banged up. I initially got the feeling that people just don’t care to have them fixed, but I now have a better understanding of the fact that they either can’t afford to or their priorities are elsewhere. Marta also said that there are many families like hers who spend the money they do have on vacations and experiences rather than items, but just like in the United States, how you are raised plays a big role in how you choose to spend your money.

Another difference is the “youth versus age” value. Marta described how family is very high up on the priority list in Spain, especially elders. Parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are to be truly respected. Due to low incomes, grandparents also play a major role in helping to raise their grandchildren while parents are working. It is common to live with your entire family here whether it is in the same apartment or just a few blocks apart. We also spoke about “equality versus hierarchy and rank.” She mentioned that again due to lack of money, the country struggles with equality, specifically that of the disabled. Although this is not really a hierarchical issue, I found it alarming how little opportunity disabled people have living here compared to in the United States. Marta said that there are not laws put in place for disability access to public buildings such as ramps and elevators. Also, mentally disabled students do not receive special help in schools. If they can’t keep up with a mainstream class, then they cannot attend school and college is out of the question. It’s amazing how big of an impact this can have on someone’s life. I can’t even imagine having a major disability and not being able to receive assistance. It’s truly heartbreaking to hear about the struggles of these individuals.

One last cultural difference I thought was of significance was “direct versus indirect questioning.” Thiedemen claims that the United States is direct, however I think that the U.S. is either indirect, or Spain is a whole new level of direct. Marta wasn’t the first person to bring this to my attention. In Spain you are very free to speak your mind without a filter. People don’t take offense to much here. For example it is common to tell someone they don’t look nice today or that they should wear more makeup. It is even okay to refer to someone as fat or ugly because these are simply words of description and not meant to be hurtful or mean. This is quite an adjustment. I find it funny to listen to conversations like this because it is definitely not socially acceptable in the United States. It’s cultural differences like these that make day-to-day life in a new country so interesting. I think it was important to take the time to have this discussion with Marta because it’s definitely useful to know what people’s values are in order to better understand why they do the things they do. From country to country, values are going to differ, and while spending a large amount of time in a new country it is beneficial to understand other’s priorities in order to blend with the culture and take different points of view into consideration. This idea is explained in the quote “In a sense, a culture’s values provide the basic set of standards and assumptions that guide thought and action.” (Hess, 47) I truly believe this conversation helped me to become a more engaged and educated citizen of the global community.

IMG_2421If I had to choose a part of home campus life to learn more about it would probably be Greek life. I don’t know all that much about sororities or what they do but I never really wanted to be a part of one because of all the negative stereotypes that I have heard. I think if I were to sit down with a representative and have a similar conversation as the one I had with Marta I would be able to better understand the values and goals of the group, see things from a new perspective, and maybe even reverse some of the negative ideas I have about them. This would benefit me because I would leave more open-minded and understanding and also benefit my university community because a social barrier could be broken down, potentially leading to new friendships and fewer prejudgments.

Study Abroad/ Learning Abroad- J. Daniel Hess

 

Travel Log 5: “Conversations,” By: Erin Foley, Paris, France

As my semester in Paris progresses, I cannot help but notice the many cultural differences that exist between France and the United States. For this particular discussion, I chose to deliberate with a fellow American, D.A., (who wishes to remain anonymous). She is originally a native Californian, although she has lived in Paris for over eleven years. Although not necessarily a part of the communitas of students that are currently transitioning from American to French life, she has experienced many of the same circumstances that we must encounter everyday. Daniel Hess offered a unique insight into why individuals immersed in different cultures act in a way that may differ from our own. “An individual lives by a conscience that is shaped by the imprint of genetic make up, the idiosyncrasies of personality, the reinforcement of personal experience, and the consequence of personal choice.” However, even my informant admitted to reading the prompts and realizing that she had changed quite a bit since moving to France. Is Hess’ perception applicable to a single culture, or can we adjust our conscience to accommodate many at a time? The image I have included depicts the American and French flags interlocked, symbolically meshing cultures. This is a balance I hope to find by semester’s end, just like my informant has.

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Upon discussion, the three most shocking contrasts were:

  • Youth vs. Age
  • Equality vs. Hierarchy and Rank
  • Independence vs. Dependence

The French language is renowned for having two forms of “you:” tu and vous. The latter lends itself to a more formal situation in which you wish to show respect to someone, elderly or otherwise. Unfortunately, there does not exist such a linguistic device in English that denotes the respect a superior or elder deserves. Relating to the appropriate use of language for people of un certain âge, D.A. also described an urgency to appear young in the States, while the French accept that aging is a natural process. In an attempt to avoid the inevitable, Americans have idealized youth so much that we tend to disregard age as a negative aspect of life. Americans are much more disrespectful to elders and people of stature than are the French. We concluded, then, that France is more aligned with the contrast culture than with the U.S., in that age is to be respected.

Since the Middle Ages, France was organized under a hierarchy with class ranks. After the king, of course, there was the bourgeoisie class that can even be seen today. Neuilly and Versailles are examples of some of the more upscale suburbs that surround Paris where there is an outpouring of “old money.” Examples of modern rank may include the rapport between professor and student. If you receive a poor grade with which you do not agree, it is taboo to contest it. This action is seen as a slight to your highly educated professor and indicates that you believe your opinion matters just as equally. Being American, grade challenging is inherently a right that students possess. I cannot imagine receiving an unfair grade and not being able to at least express your disdain.

Lastly, the most prevalent contrast, for me, is independence vs. dependence. American college students are constantly pressured to graduate and move out of their parent’s house as fast as possible. They are also encouraged to pursue higher education as soon as the minimum amount of experience is reached in the workplace. French students, on the other hand, are urged to choose a concentration that suits them, even if that means changing it a couple of times or moving back home afterwards to save money. I will most likely need to move back home after undergraduate school, unfortunately with the stigma that I am either a failure or that I have not lived up to my potential.

As an involved member of Greek life in the Quinnipiac community, I am not familiar with many of the clubs and sports teams that we have on campus. After being a dancer for fifteen years, I considered auditioning for one of the dance teams. However, I have heard some comments about how they choose new members that have lent themselves to an overall negative opinion of this organization. Perhaps sitting down with a representative would allow me to understand their selection process and required experience levels. Maybe their intentions are misunderstood so that the university has a distorted perception. Interviewing the president would allow certain individuals to air their grievances and for the organization to explain their actions and perhaps why they may have been taken the wrong way in the first place.

Travel Log 5: “Conversations” by Brandon Lyons – Florence, Italy

For my travel log this week I decided that the best person to have a conversation with would be my Italian professor, Emanuela. Emanuela was born and raised in the city of Florence and is now living in Florence herself with her husband and young daughter. Speaking with my Italian professor on the topic of cultural comparisons was very interesting because we were able to apply the things we have been learning in class about the Italian language and culture to our discussion.

The first topic noted in the review guide for “Studying and Learning Abroad” is something that we discussed extensively: the idea of change. In America change is usually a good thing, a process that involves innovation and improvement for the advancement of our community. Here in Italy, however, people have quite the opposite view of change. In Italy change is, for the most part, resisted unless there is an obvious need for it. This is something that I have noticed very much in my every day life here in Florence. There are many aspects of the Italian lifestyle that seem outdated or old fashioned. For example, things such as fast food and ordering a coffee to-go are frowned upon and many technologies that we take for granted in America such as drying machines are almost non existent. We talked about some possible reasons for this, and what we concluded is that this has to do with the both the extensive history of Italy as well as the traditional lifestyle of the Italian people. The Italian people are a part of a culture that has been sustained for nearly thousands of years and therefore live by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” so to speak. The emphasis on living a traditional lifestyle deters the Italian people from change.

Another topic that we spent a lot of time talking about is the idea of independence versus dependence and how those concepts are viewed by our respective cultures. In America, independence at a young age is a sign of success and demonstrates good character. College-age students like myself and people in their early twenties tend to move out of their homes and become independent at a very early age. The Italian people, however, tend to depend on their parents until much later in life. The idea of moving out of the house to attend college at age 18 is very foreign and strange to the Italian people. Instead, people here usually live at home during their time at university and, in many cases, young men do not move out and live on their own until well into their thirties. This is actually a contemporary issue that we had previously discussed in my Italian class, and there is even a word for this type of person. “Un mammone” which basically means “mama’s boy” is a word created by the Italian people to refer to men who depend on their mother’s until much later in life. In America this would be viewed as a sign of weakness while in Italy this is the norm.

The topic of informality versus formality was interesting to talk about because it relates directly to our Italian language class. There is an entire part of the Italian language devoted solely to formal conversations, which reflects the emphasis on and positive view of formality. Whether you are in a classroom, entering a local business or shop, or writing a formal email there is such an emphasis formality. Speaking in formal language shows that you are a respectful and well-educated person. In America, on the other hand, there is more of an appeal to speaking and acting informally around others. This allows us as individuals to establish more of a connection with other individuals and to show equality. There is also a growing concept in the business world that “informal is formal” causing people to use less formal language even when in a formal setting. This is something that my Italian professor found very interesting.

Studying abroad is more than just a vacation. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to both live and immerse oneself in another culture. That is why it is important to take the times to speak with individuals who were born in raised in another culture. I was born and raised in America and Emanuela was born and raised in Italy, so we are both “experts” on our own cultures with unbiased, firsthand experience on the topic. As a result of our different backgrounds, our conversation quickly became an equal exchange of ideas and information from which we both benefitted greatly.

Travel Log 5 “Conversations” by Chris Wilner – London, England

In order to be fully oriented with a new area and to be fully integrated, it is important to develop a group that you can rely on. As Slimbach said in chapter seven of his book, “Getting orientated to an unknown community and regional culture requires considerable motivation and initiative, matched only by its potential reward.” (Slimbach, 200) By doing this exercise, I was able to demonstrate some of the values that are prominent in the United States as well as learning what I am to expect to see or understand while being a resident of the United Kingdom. Since I have been here in London for just about a month, I believe that I have started to build that group that I can rely on and for that reason I decided to ask my flat mate Johnny to help me in being my cultural informant as he is a local student hailing from Southamption, England. I thought it would be a proper lunch conversation to have so we had a nice discussion while enjoying a meal. Johnny has duel citizenship in the United Kingdom as well as the United States so it was actually an informative experience for the two of us as he has been to the United States, but only to spend time with family so there was not much cultural absorption.

I thought it was important to take the time to share cultures with each other because it allowed us to better understand each other as well as the cultures that we come from. By better understanding one another, it will allow for less problems to ever happen because we have taken the time to know what is and is not appropriate in a given situation. It will also help me if I were to go out on my own and act in the appropriate manner.

We had fun with this experience because we were given the opportunity to laugh and joke about the things that people might consider to be a little ridiculous or to demonstrate what might “set someone off” in the right context. When talking about the culture of the United Kingdom and England specifically, Johnny was able to enlighten my on the fact that tradition is valued over culture and that was somewhat of a surprise to me as I would have thought that in such a metropolitan area culture would be more important. He reminded me that there are a lot of old traditions that people adhere to and being from southern England, Johnny was speaking from somewhat of a different standpoint, but with the same understanding. Sticking with the idea of tradition, age is to be respected instead of set to the side like they are in the United States. Also family is a very important aspect of life here in England, which is something that I really admire. Independence is okay to have, but dependence on the family is completely natural. Another aspect that we talked about was boasting because although people may go out with their friends and have a good time, it is not a good idea to talk yourself up because people will just think that you’re an arrogant person and then the respect that you might have been looking for from boasting your achievements was instantly lost.

In thinking about a culture at home that I would not participate and I can honestly say that I find the club as an annoyance is the anime club. They have good intentions, but I feel that they go about it in the wrong was and I am just put off by how weird they present themselves to be. That being said, in order to have a successful conversation with this group, I think the most important aspect to have would be knowledge of the topic and culture that they are attempting to uphold. The value that would be given from sitting down and having a conversation with a representative of the group would be that of sheer understanding. This might allow for me to understand the intentions that they have toward the Quinnipiac community as well as me being able to help them to understand how people see them. From the sense of the community, I believe they hold fundraisers in order to keep their club afloat as well as making donations to a foundation that they identify with. They have never done anything wrong, but it seems as if people avoid the group as if it were a plague and by sitting down with a representative I might find that I enjoy being in their company, but one cannot say for sure until they actually acted on the endeavor set forth.

 

My flat mate didn’t want to take a picture so unfortunately I don’t have anything to show in that respect.

Travel Log “Conversations” by Lauren Kantrovitz, Florence Italy 

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.

Travel Log 5: “Conversations” by Kait Shortell. Paris, France

I decided to talk with my home stay Madame for this assignment, she’s in her sixties and has a very “left-wing” view, which she wanted to make sure I mentioned in my post right from the beginning. I chose to speak with her because I thought she would have very firm, and informed opinions, after living in France for so many years, and also I felt comfortable asking her these types of questions about the French. I believe it is important to take the time to discuss the aspects of our host-cultures because we are living here after all, and understanding their way of life while living here is part of the challenge of studying abroad. If not recognized, and if we don’t take the time to acknowledge the differences, we would be missing out on a very large part of this experience.

The most prevalent mindset that continued to resurface during our conversation, whether it be directly or indirectly, was the French’s value of individualism. It turns out that not only is this France’s greatest quality, but their also their most profound fault. This mindset actually goes back into the history of this country many, many years ago,  and has been a common underlying thread, holding together an extremely fragile web ever since. The conversation we had was very complex, but I will do my best to give examples of certain situations we talked about to show how their way of thinking and acting works.

A current event happening in France right now is the possible change in the way they teach in schools. Right now, it is a very basic system, where the teacher lectures and the students listen. Now, as France sees other countries, especially the U.S. evolving towards different more interactive ways of learning, specifically the utilization of group work, they are looking to incorporate this into their school systems as well. The French teachers are actually against this change. The reason being, the system as it is now works in their favor, and they don’t want it to change for fear of what effect it might have on them, without regard for their students. Another school in France, Ena, a very old and extremely prestigious political school here, has the same individualistic driven system. The students there are presented with, and taught, to compete from day one for their own personal gain. Working together wouldn’t be working toward their own benefit. Mind you, the students who graduate from this school are France’s political figures. So, this individualistic mind-set is prominent on a very “high” level of French society, you can see how this trickles down and becomes the same mind-set of its public.

Now, the individualistic mind-set that France has, created a very introverted society, which is very different from how American’s are, in the French’s opinion. Because the French spend so much time on their own, they spend a lot of time reflecting on themselves, their life, and much more on a very deep level. Most French view the Americans as lacking this quality, that they hold to a very high regard, which creates the cliche notion that the French are not fond of Americans.

But, interestingly enough, this mind-set has also created a silent tension between the French, themselves. The wealthiest French have decided today that they will not pay taxes, simply because they do not want too, and this has created an extreme burden on the middle class, causing them to slowly become poorer and poorer, as well as more resentful. There are also several other scenarios that explain similar relationships that cause friction between generations, but too much to explain in a short blog post.

In the reading Slimbach wrote, “Today we can all be grateful for the opportunity to travel more widely  than ever before. But our real frontier lies elsewhere, in traveling more wisely…” (150). I am not sure if I read this a month ago when I left home, that I would have given it more thought then merely reading over it. But, it now has a much greater meaning. All and all I learned the society I am taking part in for this very short period of time, differs from ours more than I originally knew. I am glad I took the time to talk with my Madame about it, it gave me a deeper appreciation for Paris, and the culture I get to take part in while I am here. It also made me start thinking about how I will ever possibly reincorporate this new lifestyle I am learning to just absolutely adore, into my old life back at home. A group on campus at home that I have never really given much thought to is Student Government. I don’t know at all why, but as a whole if i knew half of what they were responsible for I think i would have a greater appreciation for the time and effort they spend in that sub-community of Quinnipiac.

 

TL5 “Conversations”. By Alexandra Borges. Cardiff, Wales.

I can’t seem to get my head around it but,  I’ve now been in Wales for just about 4 weeks. I have been here for a month! That’s crazy, it doesn’t even feel like that long and the days are already flying by. Anyways, I have now had my sit down talk with a local of Wales. I had a lovely talk with a friend I’ve made seen coming to Wales, her name is Martha. We spoke about and shared stories about the differences in culture and values. I chose to interview Martha because she’s helped me thus far in becoming accustomed to life here in Wales and has been very helpful in answering any of the questions I’ve had and helping me with local lingo.

I think that it’s very important to take the time to really discuss and understand personal and cultural viewpoints as well as mindsets of the people from whatever country you may be studying in. It not only expresses your willingness to listen and learn about the people and communities around you, but also shows that you’re open accepting new things. For example, change isn’t really as welcome as it is back home. A lot of the places (cities and villages) in Wales, have been standing for a long time and people really like to keep to their traditions. I’m not saying that they are stuck in their ways because for the most part they aren’t, they are more of traditionalists, but for the sake of preserving their country’s rich history.

This also goes hand in hand with their view of the elderly versus the younger generation. The Welsh value their elderly and hold the utmost respect for them in contrast to their youth. From what I gathered, from what Martha and I spoke about, it has a lot to do with preserving history and keeping of tradition. A lot of these folks were born, raised, and now live in their parents homes, especially in the villages ( some are small towns). In saying as much the Welsh are very friendly towards newcomers, but are more accepted by those who live in the cities rather than the villages. The villages from what Martha spoke to me about seem to be a little less friendly toward newcomers just because of that sense of change and wanting to keep to tradition as much as possible. This also is due to the fact that a lot more elderly folk live in the villages. Martha actually lives in one of these towns called Narberth, about an hour and half from Cardiff.  On a personal level she’s very open to change, but as she explained this isn’t so for everybody living in Wales. She also described that closeness of the community, kind of like one of those “everybody knows everybody” towns. In the U.S. we have these types of communities, but not in as much of abundance as in Wales, especially because it’s a big farming country, a lot of green compared to back home. So they have more towns/villages out in the countryside, not too mention the castles and their history.

  Another example of different cultural value sets than the U.S., is the way the Welsh deal with confrontation. It’s kind of funny actually because I kind of already noticed it, but didn’t want to say anything. So apparently the Welsh along with the British don’t like confrontation to the point where they’ll avoid it as much as possible. Martha told me that if there is a problem between two persons they’ll just talk around the issue and avoid bringing it up. It’s almost like the “it will eventually resolve itself” type of thinking. They’re usually very happy people and I guess I can kind of see why, but to many Americans, I can see them questioning why people would assume the avoidance position. Being both American, which faces issues head first, and Portuguese, which takes on a similar approach as the Welsh and British, I can understand both. I feel depending on the situation, it’s best to decide on which method is the best. However, Martha explained to me that in terms of the Welsh and British it’s more acceptable to keep things to yourself than to share with others, especially if it involves a topic which could cause an issue between people. Also, it has a lot to do with the respect,which is owed to each person. Laughing matter aside Martha, even said that sometimes this avoidance can go for 2 months even. That might seem rude or even disrespectful in the U.S. is fairly common in terms of dealing with conflict in the Welsh and British culture.

I think back home at Quinnipiac, one of the things  on campus that I really don’t participate in is the student government. It’s not that I don’t like that scene on campus, I just don’t particularly share this pressing need to be constantly at odds with the politics of the school. Admittedly, I will only participate in it if I agree with the issue that is raised, but usually I stay out of the student government scene. I wouldn’t be averse to sitting down with a representative of the student government group at all. If I can learn more about how they want to and accomplish the goals they set, then that’s great. I’m always open to expanding my knowledge about things I may not be well versed in or that I hadn’t quite taken an interest in but want to understand. I think that the student government kind of gets a bad rep, not from what it does or doesn’t do, but rather from the way they push too hard in selling their points. I can’t speak for the quinnipiac student body, but for me I feel like they are always worried about selling their ideas to the rest of the student body to the point where its overwhelm or bothersome. I feel if the student body knew more about their plans and had it explained to them thoroughly, or even if we knew more about how the student government wanted to accomplish these “ideas” and maybe in what ways the rest of the student body could do to help. I think if the student body including myself understood the process of how the student government worked, we could see a lot more things happening on campus.

Ultimately, I think that whether it be back on campus or being immersed in a different culture in a different country it comes down to the individual. As Hess said, “an individual  lives by a conscience that is shaped by the imprint of genetic makeup, the idiosyncrasies of personality, the reinforcement of personal experiences, and consequences of personal choice” (Hess, p.53). In order to understand a different culture and its values you must be willing to learn and listen and the other person must also be willing to teach and listen as well. It’s a two way street.

Me and Martha

Me and Martha

Had Martha not been willing to speak with me or help me in getting accustomed to the differences, no matter how small, this whole process would have been useless. Both parties have to be willing and I think that is what I really took from this experience. Martha was really helpful and cheerful about the whole thing and that made asking these questions and having a conversation a lot smoother and more natural. That said I feel that I have settled into my new status as a person I have crossed over the liminal stage in which I was kind of hanging out in for the last couple of weeks. After my walk and now my talk I feel like I have finally fully transitioned to this new status where I have a more definitive idea of who I am slowly becoming. It’s also made me aware of the “baggage”  I’ve let go, which certainly makes me happy. Even seeing the smallest changes in the way I act, think, or conduct myself is momentous to me because I means that I’m already making progress towards my goal no matter how small. I really happy that I have had this experience and that I got to speak with Martha. I’ve learned more about her and the culture around me, as well as myself!