The Best and Worst Things About Italy (from the perspective of a study abroad student)
#1: THE FOOD.
I know this isn’t really the most unique statement, but it had to be listed. When I told everyone what I was doing for the summer, their immediate response was, “Oh my god! The food is going to be insane!” regardless of whether or not they had been before. Since this was my second time in the country, I was excited but I wasn’t coming in with overly high expectations. I ended up being pleasantly surprised. There was so much amazing food for prices unheard of in America, granted the portions were also pretty small. Fortunately, this time around, I had a whole summer and most dinners on my own instead of only a week and scheduled meals. My friends and I had some of the best meals of our lives as well as more gelato than we will probably ever think of consuming again. For the second half of our program, we had gelato almost every day because it was only two euro and we justified the calories with the 10 minute walk it took to get there. Some of the best things I tried were vodka risotto (which they made in a cheese wheel), pici cacio e pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper), and pork sandwich with honey balsamic, and bistecca tagliata (cut up steak) with rosemary potatoes, not to mention the countless other things I forgot/would make this list too long. Some of my best memories from this summer were the meals I had with good company.
(My pasta pictures didn’t come out that nicely, so I included a picture of my equally as good strawberry prosecco panna cotta)
#2: The Buildings
Again not exactly news, but I was amazed by buildings that weren’t just tourist destinations. Each city has its own unique style of architecture and I especially loved admiring balconies. Even buildings that were in the sketchier parts of town had charming balconies filled with flowers and vines spilling off the sides, making the area seem significantly more pleasant. Additionally, a lot of parts in Milan had very modern urban spaces that were very cutting edge.
#3: The Fashion
I would not say that the average person is any more fashionable than in America, but our group got to view some amazing accessories and outfits at a graduate fashion show and at a museum exhibit. It was really there that I got a sense of how amazing Italy is as a birthplace for fashion.
#4: The Shopping
I didn’t buy too much over the summer, but had I been trying to burn a few thousands, I would have gone crazy. I tried to buy some leather items but I was constantly paranoid that the good prices were attached to low quality items, since I couldn’t go by brand reputation. I, however, attribute this to my inability to find the right stores. Boutiques were really hit or miss, but I came across several cool items that weren’t designer or exorbitantly expensive and the summer sale was amazing.
#5: The Drinking Age
One thing I noticed this trip that I didn’t notice before was racism towards Asians. I was honestly appalled at my experience and the experiences of others. In addition to the “Ni Hao”s and “Cinese!”s yelled at me in passing, a girl from my program was spat at while minding her own business just because she was Asian. When I heard about the instance I couldn’t really fathom how anyone in this day and age, from a fairly educated country, could feel this way, much less act on upon such racism. Even in cities with a metropolitan population, people still thought it was permissible to stretch their eyes sideways and yell out whatever they could about the one Asian race they could recall. Aside from that, I observed more nuanced differences like the general preference to talk to someone white even if neither person knew Italian. In general, I tried not to let the racism ruin my time, but it definitely made me more grateful for the somewhat better culture we have in America.
#2: The Supermarkets
While it was fun going grocery shopping on our own, it was also extremely frustrating to look for items I heavily relied on. For instance, I spent a whole half day looking for Ziplock bags, or literally any bag that sealed, in Siena and ended up empty handed. It still baffles me how anyone can survive without Ziplock bags, especially since they’re such an obvious invention. I don’t mean to be extremely judgmental, but I can’t disassociate civilized society with Ziplock, but I suppose that’s just good marketing. One redeeming quality was the fact that most toiletries are much cheaper in Italy, which was nice because I spent all the money I saved trying all the different Kinder bars.
#3: The Bathrooms
Italy is not a place for the sleight of heart. My first encounter with the “hole in the ground” style of toilet was at an outdoor club. I was having such a fun time, thinking “Wow this place is so nice and cool,” until I had to squat over an actual pan with a hole. Funnily enough I heard that the boys restroom had proper toilets, so I was obviously thrilled for them. I additionally saw urinals and, most commonly, the toilet without a seat.
Don’t get me wrong: going out was fun a lot of the time, but in general people don’t dance. Many clubs played electronic music not great for dancing until 4 am and then started playing fun songs when we were about to leave. In general, no one really gets down. In fact, my group always seemed to be having the most fun, but primarily because we were making fun of the aggressive men. This was another aspect of the European club experience. The interested men would hover and follow you around the dance floor which was uncomfortable to say the least. If anything, it brought our group closer as we would constantly rotate to keep said aggressor at bay.
#5: The Technology
Specifically, the washers, dryers, and general access to very basic amenities. In both of the residences I stayed, the dryer was broken. When I sent my clothes out to be cleaned, they had the life beaten out of them. There was really no winning scenario and my clothes got very messed up over two months of line-drying.
All in all I had an amazing time in Italy and I am so satisfied with my study abroad experience. The best things more than outweighed the worst and I will definitely be back for more carbs.