So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, ciao

After an incredible summer, I am currently 3 days away from flying back to the US on my way back to university. I have been home for a little over a month now, so have had plenty of time to relax and reflect upon my time in Italy.

My goals for my time in Italy where to speak in Italian with my co-workers, learn about the region in which I was staying, ask questions about new cultural phenomena and vocabulary, all of which I can proudly say I accomplished. I spoke to all my co-workers in Italian, with the exception of translating a couple of words for them to learn the English or when they had very nuanced meanings and the literal translation was a figure of speech. I learnt a lot about my local area by visiting surrounding cities, trying local foods, experiencing the customs and reading about the history of the city. For example, pigeon and unsalted bread are delicacies in the area. I learnt about cultural phenomena, for example, I was given an explanation of the correct way to use a bidet; and finally, I asked about words that I was unsure of. My lab’s personal favorite was ‘sharks’ which translates to ‘squali’ in Italian.

If I could go back and redo the experience, the only thing I would change would be the amount of gelato I ate – I didn’t eat enough. I made great friends, explored beautifully, historical cities, ate incredible food and learnt lots about what it’s like to work in a lab. I challenged myself to go outside my comfort zone by asking questions and going on adventures and it definitely paid off – 10/10 experience! If there was one piece of advice that I could give to potential future recipients, it would be to say yes. Say yes to applying, say yes to going and say yes to all the adventures. There’s no point going if you’re just going to go to work and go home each day, you need to explore! Go into the cute shops, buy tickets to the museums, take yourself out on a (terrifying) solo dinner. Challenge yourself and you will have the most incredible time!

I have a tendency to overthink

Cultural tendencies are inclinations of different cultures to exhibit certain behaviors. Learning about the Hofstede dimensions of culture allows us to explore these cultural tendencies and how they compare and contrast between nations.

This concept seems pretty simple on the surface. For example, America: the land of the free, home to the American dream, where people love reaping the benefits of their hard work. It seems fairly safe to say that there is a greater focus on achievement than nurturance when compared to Italy: land of the coffee break and home to many a fine wine. However, this is not always the case. It was and is my experience attending a top 20 university in America where everyone was an overachiever in high school, compared to working in one research laboratory in rural Italy. But, university is often used as a steppingstone for the rest of life, a job basically is the rest of life. The comparison doesn’t seem fair.

Whilst it’s difficult to try to make things seem black and white when the reality is that there are many shades of grey in between, I appreciate the thinking that the cultural dimensions promotes. Do Italians act in a more collectivist or individualistic manner? Are they making decisions for what they want right now or thinking about the future? Do they show restraint, or do they indulge? The answers seem to always be somewhere in the middle, but it’s interesting to consider the differences between what I perceive is the motivation for their actions and their real intentions. However, something that I can comment on with a high degree of certainty is how I present each cultural dimension in different countries, and, therefore, how exposure to each culture has impacted me. I think I am…

In Italy: individualist, low power distance index, medium-low uncertainty avoidance, nurturance leaning, time orientated both short and long term, and indulgence leaning.

Compared to in America: halfway between individualist and collectivist, medium power distance index, low uncertainty avoidance, achievement leaning, long term time orientated, and slightly restraint leaning.

Ciao Bella

One thing that I’ve experienced almost daily in Italy is people, mostly older men, saying ‘ciao bella,’ at me as I walk past them in the street. My first thought is that my name isn’t Bella and that they must have me confused with someone else they know called Bella (kidding, bella means beautiful in Italian). No, at first, I found it pretty scary. When walking around by myself and a strange man tries to talk to me, a stranger danger alarm sounds in my head. When this happens in America, I speed up my walking pace and become ultra-aware of my surroundings for a couple of blocks until I’m sure that I’m in the clear. At first, that’s what I did here too. My brain interpreted their words as threatening and, to be fair, with statistics of female assaults in the US so high, with good reason. My cultural expectation is that a man catcalling me in the street is potentially a prelude to worse things.

After raising the incidents with colleagues and reflecting on these interactions, I don’t think I interpreted them correctly. I believe that their ‘ciao bella,’ is comparable to a friendly nod of the head – just the old Italian man equivalent. Aside from a couple of occasions where there was an additional ‘dove vai (where are you going),’ they simply say ‘ciao bella,’ then proceed with their day as they had been before, no following, no additional comments. Sometimes there’s staring, but I’ve found that to be a common occurrence with all Italians when I’m here. To clarify, I don’t think it’s because I’m an incredible beauty that they can’t get enough of. It’s more that I’m very pale, freckly, and slightly ginger, and there’s pretty few people who look like that in Italy.

Using the DIVE technique to evaluate this situations was very useful. Being female has given me a pretty strong awareness of how safe I feel in situations. This means that, whilst walking around Italy by myself with these interactions occurring, I was on high alert a lot of the time. Using the DIVE technique to evaluate these interactions has allowed me to feel safer and more relaxed. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be aware, but being able to be passively aware, rather than on-edge, creates a much nicer atmosphere for exploring a new country and, as a result, has allowed me to place more focus on appreciating my surroundings.

Me sitting in a cave in Bagnoregio where a priest used to live and make olive oil and where part of Pinocchio was filmed! Bagnoregio is the most gorgeous town on top of a hill that can only be accessed by a very steep bridge.

Americ-her? I hardly know her!

Over the course of my time in Orvieto, I’ve had many great conversations with a PhD student in my lab, Gabriele. We’ve exchanged questions about our lives, families, cultures, languages, and from these conversations I’ve learnt lots about him and Italy. When I asked him about his thoughts on Americans, he said that most of what he knew was from the news. He’d never been to America and hadn’t met that many Americans so was unsure of the stereotypes and thought it would be difficult to generalize – Americans were lots of different things. The few times he had interacted with Americans had been at university or on nights out, where he found them to be very sociable and fun.

When talking about similarities between Italy and America, he talked about music, technology and fashion trends. He thought lots of trends were shared between the two due to the internet and social media allowing information to pass between countries much faster. He noted that this was especially prominent amongst the younger generations, where social trends were changing quickly and spreading faster, fueled by platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

I found this conversation to be a little surprising as I had expected him to know more about what was going on in America, but I guess that’s because America is very America-centric, so all our news is about what’s going on in our country and I had assumed that other countries were equally as interested in us. However, this clearly isn’t the case.

This interaction gave me a greater appreciation for studying foreign languages and being able to have incredible experiences like this, where I can immerse myself in another culture and develop a global perspective. I would love to keep having conversations like this so that I can better understand other experiences and appreciate their perspectives; being able to speak with them in a language that they feel comfortable with is a great way to do so.

In short, thank you CSLC for this eye-opening experience!

Time for a coffee break!

It’s a Monday morning, I’ve just arrived at my new place of work where I will spend the next month studying how the enzyme activity of enzymes involved in the ascorbic acid cycle is affected by different growth conditions. I was told by my program advisor to arrive “9/10” – this should have been my first clue – so I arrived in the building at 9:30. I was given a tour of the building, where I was introduced to everyone in the office. We exchanged greetings then headed down to the kitchen for a morning coffee. Everyone chatted, catching up from over the weekend and talking about things, most of which I couldn’t understand because they spoke so fast!! Maybe half an hour later, we headed up to the lab and got to work.

The next day, I once again arrived at work at 9:30. I got situated and expected to start working, but I was told no, it was time for coffee. Like the day before, there was a mass exodus to the kitchen where the moka was already on the stove. Again, we talking about the evenings we had, the food we ate, the people we saw and what we were planning on having for lunch today – that was what I was able to take away, there was definitely more.

Everyday, this morning tradition of coffee and good conversations continues, taking the time to engage with our colleagues, getting to know each other and building relationships. At Notre Dame, when I get my morning trenta iced green tea, light ice, light water, it’s ordered from my phone as I get ready in my dorm room, picked up on the way to class, then drunk in class. I don’t stand around watching it made, I don’t sip it casually as I talk to friends, and I don’t let the conversation run it’s course after the drink is gone. This change of routine with my morning beverage was quite shocking to me at first. I was used to a great sense of urgency where every task is completed in order to move onto the next task, no stopping to take things in. Here, a greater pleasure is taken in everyday tasks and there is a sense of pride in being the one to make the coffee for everyone.

Taking a coffee break as if it were a Saturday morning catching up with an old friend at first made me feel deeply uncomfortable. I was itching to be done and start my work so that I could get even more done so that I wouldn’t be behind. Even though I did not have any work deadlines so there was no way I could be behind. After two weeks, I am now used to the routine, however, I still have to make an effort to suppress my near-jittery energy and have to remind myself that there is nothing else I need to be doing.

I think this reflects the cultural difference of Italians focusing on what they are doing juxtaposed with Americans focusing on how much they are doing which leads to a difference in pace. Perhaps it is because it is normal and therefore comfortable for me, but this experience has taught me that I enjoy a fast-paced work environment and I like challenging myself to see how much I can do.

Getting a coffee in Rome with some friends 🙂

Ciao from London

Hi there, I’m Tori and welcome to my blog! Right now, I’m at home in London, England, enjoying time with my family, friends and cats before I head off to Orvieto next week! A little bit about me: I was born in New York, to a South African dad and a British mum and, living in London, I have friends from all around and have met people from lots of different cultures.

Buckingham Palace earlier this week to celebrate achieving my Duke of Edinburgh Award

I began my journey with Italian last year as a freshman, when I decided to learn a new language rather than continuing with French or Spanish (both of which I have over 5 years experience of learning) and what a fun journey it’s been! I’ve moved from Beginning Italian 1, Fall 2021, to Modern Literature and Culture, this past semester. Last summer, I spent five weeks in Sorrento, studying abroad at the Sant’Anna Institute, which gave me an incredible opportunity to speak Italian everyday: going to the supermarket, exploring churches, eating out, and watching an opera in an arena. This summer, I’m hoping to take this even further by adding ‘speaking to co-workers’ to my list of opportunities for Italian development, whilst learning about a new, different region and its culture.

Thanks to my previous time in Italy, I feel generally comfortable with the idea of exploring Italy and navigating interactions with the locals. However, seeing as I will be working there instead of taking classes, I won’t have the security net of having the other college students there with me. With this in mind, I wanted to set myself goals to develop my intercultural competency to accomodate this new challenge whilst building upon the progress I made last summer. I hope to build more significant connections by pushing past any discomfort I might feel about asking questions about new cultural phenomena, as well as not being afraid to ask about any words I don’t know in conversation.

I am very excited about the research I’ll be doing whilst I’m there: working in a lab on research into how plants are affected by climate change. Before this summer, I have been in various science labs, but have never had to do science in Italian. This is another new challenge, but another one that I’m looking forward to take on as it will really help develop my vocabulary as well as give me an opportunity to speak Italian in a more formal environment than I have before. This will be great practice for later in life when I hope to work on an international scale, so will need to be able to speak Italian more formally.

With all these new experiences ahead of me, all that’s left is to pack and head to the airport!