Embracing Challenges like an Italian

Perhaps the act of escapism is actually a certain method of confrontation. When I first decided to defer my graduation to study abroad, my family and friends told me how it is a form of escapism. I myself hold that view too; objectively, going abroad is a method of escaping reality.

However, I have learned that it is escaping *a* reality, and another harsh reality may await, even in a place as picturesque as Firenze. The same challenges of life remain. Challenges that I can’t escape – I have to confront. And beautifully, the same opportunities for progression and adaptation also remain.

Visiting Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Gallerie dell’Accademia.

My school, CAPA Florence, holds quite a different learning environment than the States. There is less pressure to learn by intense studying, and more of an emphasis on learning by experience and immersion. While I would consider most of my courses to be “easier” due to their experiential learning components, I am grateful for this lowered academic pressure because the reality of assimilating to Florentine living is challenging beyond anything I imagined.

CAPA allows a very limited number of absences. Almost all of my classes are once a week, and 3 hours long. This attendance policy was primarily created to ensure students have consistent check-ins with not just our academic learnings, but guidance on how to live in Florence. Advice can range from ordering food at the supermarket to finding the best shops for clothes, essentials, and more. I often find myself speaking to my professors for advice about food, healthcare, and leisurely activities.

One of the most challenging aspects of assimilating to Italian culture is the slow pace of physically and mentally living. I am used to the American way of focusing on productivity with my academic and personal life, being efficient with my work and the speed at which I do it, and desiring to chase more experiences and memories in little time to “live to the fullest.”

Unfortunately, the comfort of planning everything – my daily routines, academic work, Florence explorations, weekend trips – could not prevent frustrating challenges of simply living day to day. Just in these past 2 weekends, I have faced food poisoning, a deep chest cough, and a missing toenail.

Day trip to Cinque Terre, Italy. It is a coastline of five villages and part of Cinque Terre National Park. I had stubbed my foot before moving to Italy and visiting the beach had sped up some problems!

Dealing with these issues alone has forced me to confront the level of self-trust I have to take care of myself and my health, all the while adjusting to Florence’s health system and culture.

Ambiguity pesters my mind. As an American, the uncertainty of the Florence healthcare system is definitely enhanced by its different political and financial foundation. Do I go to the hospital or the pharmacy? How do I describe my situation to someone who does not speak English? Can I find the ability to walk there alone?

I am using the same communication and problem-solving skills that I have used in my finance and analytics internships to navigate Italian-speaking pharmacies. I use the same positive and action-oriented mindset that I use in my business classes to adapt to changes in my plans.

On a more personal level, I have learned patience from these cultural adaptations. My patience has definitely been tested in this slow-living culture, especially when waiting at the store to buy medications with intense nausea as the Italians before me casually conversed.

American culture of living efficiently and effectively contrasts greatly with the current Italian reality. Slow walkers. Slow talkers. Stores closed in the afternoon. 

This way of living does not fit into my vision of “living to the fullest” in my academic, professional, and personal life. But maybe I can take a lesson in learning that slowing down is a way to enjoy every moment. This present moment, this time right now, is truly the only reality we have.

It has been about a month since I first escaped to beautiful Italy. It has also been about a month since I have had to confront lessons about independence, communication, and adapting. I am so happy to have Pitt’s GBI Florence program to guide me now and all the lessons that PittBusiness has taught me.

Views of the Duomo and Florence during a CAPA-sponsored city walk to Piazza Michelangelo.

Although this blog is being written with an upset stomach, a cough, and 9 toenails, I can marvel at the problem-solving and adaptability that I have experienced so far. And, I can choose to be grateful.

It is difficult to be worried and grateful at the same time. It is difficult to be any negative emotion – fearful, homesick, frustrated – and grateful at the same time. I love choosing to be thankful for the setting I am in that enables personal progression.