I spent 24 days in Italy through STEP. The first 2 weeks was in the region of Piemonte with the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), a foundation that takes students to Italy to help them learn more about their heritage and culture. Afterwards, I traveled the rest of Italy and visited where my family lives to put my learning into context and truly immerse myself in my roots. Before this trip, I had never spent time abroad. Going to Italy taught me so much about my family, my heritage, and myself. Although I had taken Italian classes before and dabbled in the cultu re, being in the country taught me so much so quickly about Italy.
While abroad I learned so much about Italy’s history and how it shaped their current culture. For example, the region I stayed in was extremely mountainous: most of the land was farms or vineyards rather than picturesque Italy where streets are narrow with shops and fountains everywhere. The land in the north creates a pathway for them to take extreme pride in their fresh, homegrown food. While I knew before the types of food Italians ate (which was delicious and amazing), I learned abroad just how high quality all of their products are and how strongly that differs from the United States’ quality and diet where fresh food is not as accessible or cheap.
My time in the NIAF program let me experience Italy in a way that I never would have been able to do on my own. We toured the Borsalino hat factory, the most prestigious and admirable hats in Italy since 1847 where they still use the same methods and machinery. We saw how rabbit fur, water, and steam made the nicest fedoras only made-to-order. At the end I bought a hat to bring home to my dad since he recently started loving fedora’s and looking like the same Italian man my grandpa used to be. Although it was just a hat, he loved it – that simple tour in a small Italian town let me bring a piece of his father and what he loved most about Italy back home. We toured royal palaces, churches, the Ferrero chocolate factory (home to Nutella, Kinder, Tic Tacs, and Ferrero Rocher), ate at farm-to-table restaurants, and even spent a day doing service with 100’s of kids in the city. Through these experiences I learned so much in a dynamic, fun way that I could not have found in a classroom.
The 10 days traveling after my program was extremely meaningful too and gave me so many different experiences in a short time. My most memorable visit was the three days I spent with my family in Southern Italy. My grandpa grew up in small town called San Mango D’Aquino – a small city built on a mountain. Although he immigrated to the US and passed away when I was in 8th grade, some of our relatives stayed. It is hard to imagine his life in another place, but I saw the church where he got married and took his wedding photo that has always sat on my dad’s dresser and even met some people in the town who knew my grandpa and attended his wedding. It is interesting learning more about someone’s life after they die, but seeing where I am from was a really memorable, inspiring experience.
In those extra days, exploring so many different parts of Italy was very transformational. The landscapes of the country are widely unique and accessible. I was able to hike in the mountains, swim in the ocean at a rock beach, take a waterbus around Venice, and visit some of the world’s oldest ruins all in ten days. I have never learned so much about history and religion in such a short time, but this trip emphasized how important family, history, and food are to Italy. Through all of these experiences I gained such a better perspective of the world and new, different ways that I want to live my life after returning (like eating more fresh foods).
What I did not realize before this trip is how important it is to look at other countries and their culture and history. I now have a newly found motivation and desire to travel to more countries around the world outside of Europe. I want to see their history and how their social justice issues play a role in their country and shape their current struggles or victories. I think that through that we can better understand ways to address the same struggles going on in the US and possibly find more innovative solutions. Academically and professionally, this trip put a lot of things into context and really educated me on many things that I was very ignorant to before (like Italy’s historical beef with the French, but mostly Napoleon). Personally, it has shown me so many ways to carry on my Italian heritage here in the US that I did not necessarily grow up with. I feel inspired, motivated, and excited to continue my life post-graduation, which in many ways was fueled by my time abroad. Had it not been for STEP, I would have never had the funds to go abroad and gain a new perspective on life.
A video of time spent in my family’s town San Mango