A cultural exploration of home and history

Lauren Hamilton, Campus Life Editor

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During spring break of 2015, I had the amazing opportunity to take my first study abroad trip to Italy. The journey took me through Rome, the capital of Italy; Bologna, the home of the oldest university in the Western world; Ferrara, a small metropolis with its own castle; and Venice, the famous city of water.

It has always been a dream of mine to visit the home country that my mother and her family immigrated from 45 years ago. Their Italian culture has been an integral aspect of my life, so to return their roots and engage with native Italians was an eye-opening experience.

The trip and communications class  were  led by Mark Noe, professor of communication, focused on the research method of ethnography –  a technique that involves the researcher to immerse themselves in the culture of whomever they’re studying to have a broader understanding of who they are as a people.

In this study, we immersed ourselves in the culture of Italy. Ten days in a different culture may not seem like a long time, but there is a myriad of new experiences to have and many new perspectives to learn from even in such a short time.

An integral part of understanding more of the Italian culture happened when we spent one of our days in Bologna interviewing native Italians. Our group met up with a class of Italian college students for two hours to discuss the differences, similarities and perceptions of each other’s cultures.

It was eye-opening to hear about my country from an outsider’s perspective. Most Americans don’t know what is going on in other countries in terms of politics, social justice or even entertainment. Surprisingly, the students I talked with knew all about our president, our current issues and especially our musicians and actors.

Being a Park University student, where international communications is emphasized and practiced every day, has made me become more aware of the importance of being a citizen of not only my country, but of the entire world.

The conversations I had with these students further broadened my awareness to how much more I could be doing to understand the world outside  America.

Another realization I had during in my time in Italy is how young America is as a country and the impact that has on our culture. Though the Italian Republic was only founded in 1861, Rome was founded in 735 BC. Kingdoms and kings have conquered there; empires and emperors have fallen; the foundations of what we know as Western culture all began in this one country.

To me and the other students in my group, it was mind-boggling to walk in the footsteps of legends and in the shadows of history. To Italians, that is everyday life.

We live fast-paced lives that always keep us Americans on the go. In a country where time equals money, we can’t afford to always stop and smell the roses. In Italy, however, the quality and enjoyment of life is their focus.

So much more of their time is dedicated to having fun and making time for friends and family in order to not let stress rule their lives – something I think Americans could use.

In Italy, a majority of businesses close from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. everyday so  shopkeepers and workers can have their main course of the day – lunch – with friends and family. As a tourist, it was at first an annoyance because we couldn’t shop or eat at the time we were used to.

But as the trip progressed, I began to understand that because so many people participated in these closings, everyone shared more time with loved ones.

These periods of time also gave me more time to explore the cities and truly appreciate my surroundings in a way I might not have achieved if I was indoors shopping the whole time.

Wandering these foreign streets in a country where I barely understood the basics of the language was my favorite part of my study abroad experience.

There is nothing like waking up in the morning and realizing that all of Venice, with its beautiful canals laden with gondolas and winding alleys bustling with Venetians, was a boat ride away from being discovered.

Immersing yourself in a culture, even for a day, without being with people who speak your language; without a phone that can guide you home; without any links to everything that makes life in the United States so convenient is an experience that I would suggest to anyone as part of their study abroad journey.

Anyone who has the opportunity to travel outside of the country should take it and run. Embrace it.

The memories, friendships and self-discoveries you make in your travels are priceless.


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