Overall, I have/am greatly enjoyed my study abroad experience, and luckily I was able to stay in Italy for another week once the program ended with my family. Since, this was my first abroad experience I believe it was helpful to do a structured study abroad program, this way I could learn the ropes and get acclimated to living in another country with both a hands-on, and hands-off approach. The study part of study abroad can be a bummer sometimes, because when you are in a new, and beautiful country the last thing you want to do is sit in a classroom, five days a week for four hours and do real school work. I am appreciative though, because I took challenging classes and I would much rather take them in Italy for five weeks, then spend a whole semester in Norman taking those classes. It is hard sometimes, especially when you have class at eight-thirty in the morning, sometimes a girl just wants to sleep in. I feel like academically I have been challenged, but I have been engaged and have enjoyed learning. Outside of the classroom I feel like I have matured and have gained more knowledge about myself and others, as well as what makes a good and a bad tourist. I am eternally grateful that I was presented with the opportunity to study abroad with the Michael F. Price College of Business and I truly value this experience, I strive to retain what I have learned and apply what I can to my life back home. Grazie mille Italia!
The exchange rate from the euro to the dollar has fluctuated since its inception, the exchange rates for several years, per Statista, are as follows- 2002: .95, 2007: 1.37, and 2016: 1.11. I think the exchange rate does change how people perceive a country or its products, for instance if a country has a higher exchange rate it implies that they have a stronger, more profitable economy. The higher euro to dollar exchange rate did not change my perception in Italy, because I know that both the Italian government and economy are not the best in the EU, so needless to say I know they are not the one’s contributing to the higher exchange rate. If the exchange rate was lower, I think I might spend some more money in Italy, because my money would be worth more here instead of less, so while I do still shop and spend money I am more mindful about what I am spending, because I know the price I see on the price tag is not the actual price I am paying. I hate to say this, but in my opinion the price of alcohol is one of the biggest differences I have noticed between Italy and America, here in Italy you can buy a bottle of wine, or a six pack of Corona beer for under two euros, whereas in America even cheap wine costs about $8-10 dollars, and a pack of Corona is around $10-12 dollars. Also, eating out is relatively cheaper overall, obviously if you are in a tourist area you will encounter high prices, but you can find a lot of affordable meals in Italy, whereas in America, besides college towns you usually cannot eat for less than $7 and if you want a drink you are almost at $10. The other day when we were waiting for our train I got a sandwich and a fruit juice for 4.70 euro and my friend got a cappuccino and a croissant for 2 euro, that is quite unheard of in the states. I think food is a bit overpriced in America, but or average salary is higher than that of an Italian, so maybe it is all relative, that I would have to do more research one before giving a concrete statement.
We have seen McDonald’s at or near every train station we have visited so far in Italy, and I feel like it is both similar and different from America. They have a lot of similar products like you can get a Dr. Pepper at the McDonald’s and a Big Mac, even though they are more expensive here. However, the menu has adapted to fit the Italian culture you can get cappuccinos’ macaroons, donuts, and other bakery items which I have never seen at an American McDonald’s, I can’t tell you how the food compares taste wise because I stopped eating McDonalds’ a long time ago and I have no intentions of starting again now.
One thing I found very interesting, and like quite a bit is the social/nightlife aspect of Italian culture. When I talk about nightlife I do not mean the bar and club scene, I am referring to the casual and routine way Italians gather with their friends and families to fellowship at night. In America, nightlife is primarily saved for adults, and one weekends for teenagers when their parents give them permission. Here it is something natural, every night I am amazed at the number of young children I see out after 10 p.m. strolling around with their parents. This leads me into my next point which is their meals, in particular dinner, unlike America where we eat chat and leave, Italians usually engage in several courses and reacquaint themselves with everyone at the table during dinner. I personally do not want to sit down for dinner longer than an hour to an hour and a half, but I can appreciate the time to just be present in the moment with those around you. It calming to just sit around with friends over a good plate of food and check-in, and invest in the people around you. Another thing I have noticed is that Italians are very friendly, especially if you are polite and attempt to speak some Italian. During our long weekend, we had the misfortunate of getting locked out of our Airbnb (I won’t’ go into specifics I could write a book about this), but a sweet yet diligent Italian Nonna was persistent on helping us and within thirty minutes we were back in our apartment. She was under no obligation to help us, and when the problem was not readily resolved she did not shrug her shoulders and toss us off, instead she made it her personal mission to help us out until the issue was resolved. For what it was worth it was a pretty good learning experience for us, even though we were anxious in the moment, and this is not to say Americans are friendly because I think we are but I think it is important to point out the hospitality of Italians.
One thing about Italians that did not frustrate me, but I believe it would if I lived here for an extended period, is their overtly casual way of doing things. Granted in America we have a hyper-worked society where sitting down for five minutes means you are losing the winning edge in this game of live, or so we are taught and Italians are well, completely opposite. I went to go get a crepe one day at five o’clock, because the restaurant said it opened at four thirty, but when I got there they were still setting up and needed an additional fifteen minutes before they were, so essentially they were not actually open for business until forty-five minutes after they initially said they would be. There is a blatant lack of urgency, which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the U.S., but let’s just say I would never want to need a taxi in Italy because who knows how long it will take for them to reach you. I believe Americans could slow down and work a little less, and Italians could speed up, and work a little more.
Considering that Italy has been my first true international experience I have undergone a whirlwind of emotions while on this trip, and fortunately almost all of them have been positive. Some of my favorite moments have been the simple times, like when my friends and I went up to the park on the hill and I gazed out at the breathtaking view of the Arezzo countryside. It was so calming and I had a moment of “wow, you are really in Italy”, we all sat around drinking a glass of wine and just living in the moment. It was such a relaxed environment; we were surrounded by the sunset and everything in that moment was perfect. Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Pomaio winery, I felt very mature, and it was a unique experience to experience firsthand the business process of a winery. For example, I had no idea it takes around seven years for wine owners to start receiving any real revenue, I cannot imagine how financially backed, or secure you must be to go into the wine industry without defaulting. Also, we just got back from our long weekend yesterday and that was an incredible experience. We stayed at a semi-traditional Airbnb in Marola, a suburb of La Spezia. Thanks to the poor timing of the train strikes we ended up going down to Porto Venere for the day (it would have been too expensive to taxi to Cinque Terre) and went off to the little beach of Palmaria. In a way, the train strikes were a hidden blessing, for if they had never occurred we would not have visited the quaint and beautiful Porto Venere, or enjoyed the solitude of the rocky beaches of Palmaria. The water was crystal clear, I would love to go back and trek around the island, for Porto Venere has an old-world charm, with stunning views of the sea.
Cinque Terre was a literal dream and exceeded my already high expectations, we visited three of the five lands: Riomaggiore, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. I found a really pretty scenic route around the town of Riomaggiore so we saw everything we could, and even took some unnecessarily steep stairs to visit castle ruins. We headed down to the Marina like trip advisor advised and they were not kidding when they said you could get a postcard picture of the town. Next, we headed to Monterosso to enjoy the beaches, the water was warm and since we were not in the peak of the high season the beach was filled with people, but it was not too crowded where we could not have fun, and it also started to clear out around four thirty. Finally, we headed to Vernazza, we were tired by the time we got there so we kind of just looked around ate some delicious gelato, and then we preceded to head home.