One might think that they are about to read an article about the young culture in Italy, but one must not take the title “Children of Italy” at face-value. Throughout my experiences in Italy thus far, I continually find illustrations of an analogy made in class. This analogy compared philosophical thinking to the perspective of a new born infant entering the world (which would be an unfamiliar place). The infant may wander about and explore its surroundings while being completely subjective. While we, as new study abroad students, curiously wander in the same way, but with subjectivity due to our past experiences. How can we justify this analogy and how can we use philosophical thinking to preserve the authenticity that the rich Italian culture has to offer us?
Throughout my experiences not just in Italy, but in life, I find that each event that occurs adds a certain skill or a certain bit of knowledge to my tool kit. But in order to be a part of these events, one must constantly question, wonder about, observe, and explore surroundings, behaviors, and unfamiliarities just as a baby will walk up to an object they have never seen before and put it in their mouth or throw it. This analogous situation can be related to foreigners visiting a country. In a way, we as study abroad students are “children of Italy.” Just as the newborn, we must not be subjective in order to be completely immersed in this unfamiliar place. We are seeing everything with fresh eyes and are constantly questioning our own behavior due to our new surroundings. Generally, we are approaching Italian culture including etiquette, cuisine, and language just as the newborn infant is approaching an unfamiliar item; with curious and questioning minds, but also with the motivation to pick the item up, observe it, and explore it in a way that will ultimately open up our minds to the aspects of the world that have been unknown to us in the past.
One advantage that we as “children of Italy” have over newborns is comparison. As a foreigner, I am constantly comparing everything that I see in Italy to my homeland. This can be helpful but also destructive. I am now attempting to reject comparisons to the United States because it does not fully allow me to experience the authenticity of this country. Authenticity is something that does not exist to most Americans because as Americans, we are used to preconceived views of certain cuisines and cultures. If we were to experience Italian culture authentically, we would have to erase these preconceptions to experience the full potential and take in the very essence of the food and the behavior. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to reject these conceptions due to our familiarities with certain foods which we relate to names and titles. For example, we know what pizza “should” taste like because someone in America decided to prepare it a certain way. In this way, and in some senses, subjective experience destroys true authenticity.
Americanization is a powerful development within society that challenges what we can understand as being truly authentic. Once we enter a different country, we begin to try to understand the differences between the actual culture in that place and the American version of this culture. This realization can be stressful and frustrating to us because it is uncomfortable and unsettling. When we are not used to our surroundings this stress will persist until we accept the reality that it is how people live every day. It is hard to remove ourselves from the idea that we are not in America anymore. I have heard the phrase “I can’t believe I’m here” countless times since I have been around other Americans in Italy. This disbelief is related to the fact that it is difficult for us to understand why a certain culture is different from our own. It is hard for one to believe that an entire population has spent their entire life span living a different way than our population has. We must move past this to understand that cultures are not based off of a comparison to our own. Italian culture should be analyzed for what it is, not what it is not. Although we have the tendency to analyze our own culture in this way, I believe that all cultures should be analyzed without comparison. We must not let these comparisons distract us from the fact that certain cultures are not built off of one model, but were simply invented through time, place, and development of a specific identity.
As a child, new to Italy, I will continue to question and explore everything in addition to attempting to reject preconceptions that have been instilled in my American mind since birth. As my new experiences persist, I will attempt to resist familiarities to truly live through the native Italians around me. By immersing myself in a distinct culture, I will continuously add to my palette of tastes and tools, but also will open up curiosities and questions that have never been explored before.