Monthly Archives: September 2015

Week 4: Feminism and Being Abroad

     So before I left I had a lot of people tell me that I was going to have to learn how to loosen up and be more lax- especially in regards to my feminist ideals. Now if you know me at all, you probably know I’m a major kill joy feminist- meaning I’m quick to call out and address problematic behavior and to be constantly critiquing the world around me- especially when it comes to gender power dynamics and sexual harassment.
     So coming to Italy, I was very much aware that I was going to possibly have to abandon my hyper feminist ways to better blend with the culture. And I was aware that I was going to have to constantly face catcalls and aggressive “suitors” for a lack of better wording. However, after a couple weeks of really trying to be lax about the harassment I’ve faced, I’ve learned that there are parts of you that you just can’t reject or compartmentalize.
     My first weeks I found myself constantly uncomfortable when I tried to justify the behavior of aggressive and persistent men- especially in a clubbing or street setting. As I anticipated, I had people get handsy and invade my personal space. I’ve had people flat out stare at me while I am just studying at the train-station or at a cafe. And well, I honestly can say I tried really hard to be cool with it. I tried really hard to chock up their behavior to a cultural difference that I have yet to quite understand. But I realized, I was trying to excuse behavior that was “culturally the norm” at the expense of my comfort and my peace of mind.
     This got me asking, at what point is it okay to stop making sacrifices, and maintain my cultural difference? At what point am I allowed to say that I don’t understand nor appreciate this aspect of a culture in relation to my own life? Am I ever allowed to, or am I just enforcing my particularly left-wing, radical, social-justice oriented views on a culture that never asked for my thoughts? Am I disrespecting a culture by critiquing it and questioning aspects of it? Am I being patronizing?
     In short, I had a long mental debate about this before I finally decided that I wanted to be able to maintain my feminist ideals. And the moment I decided to stay critical and prioritize my agency and comfort was the moment I felt like I had come into my own here. And I honestly do believe I struck the right balance of maintaining a very prominent part of my identity, while also learning to accept that some things are just different here. It’s not my job to impose my beliefs on another culture, but it is also not my duty to sacrifice my ideals in order to respect a culture.
     So, though I still am holding myself back from being a feminist killjoy 24/7 I realized- some sacrifices aren’t wroth making. And that’s fine. Being abroad is about growing, and though it has tested me by pushing my limits and encouraging me to morph to the culture around me, it has also shown me that some things are constant about my identity and that I’m better off embracing that than ignoring it.

Week 3: Homesickness


     So it finally happened. I feel homesick. It’s been about two weeks of non-stop exploring or classes and this is the first moment where I’ve had a pause from the hectic nature of my everyday life here. And well, on this rainy and grey Sunday, I find myself desperately pining for any attention from my peers and family. I made the mistake of going through instagram to check up on them and I found countless cheery photos of friends from Whitman. And of course I’m happy for them, but I also can’t deny that I feel left out. And on a day like today, you can’t help but crave curling up in your own bed, with Netflix (which by the way isn’t allowed here yet) with that cup of vanilla chai that you go out of your way to buy at the supermarket. It’s hard too because you’re not really sure how to cope with it. When I reach out to my friends it warms my heart but then I’m left missing them more, but when I try and distract myself I feel like I’m not actually “fixing” anything. 

I think what I’ve learned is that I just need to acknowledge that I do miss my Whitman life a lot. I miss my parents and my siblings too, but that feels more normal at this point.  I can’t tell you how much I miss my friends though. And I miss my Theta sisters dearly, especially watching them prep for recruitment. I wish I could offer them my help and support, I wish I could gush over how much I love my sorority and make new connections with the first year PNMs. I miss my a cappella group, and getting to sing on a regular basis or the rush of being on stage. I miss my academic advisers strangely. I miss being an active feminist voice on campus. And I sometimes look up to the sky and think about those Walla Walla sunsets that I’d see while walking across Ankeny barefoot during the summer. And god, I really really miss the Taqueria- I’d probably kill for a decent burrito at this point.

But even though I am longing for these people and the comforts of home, it doesn’t take away from my experience here at all. I still feel excited to travel and inspired to explore and make art. It just makes my time here more complex. The feelings of happiness and excitement can coexist with nostalgia and melancholy, and that’s okay. I think that’s something important to recognize.


Week 2: Adjustments


So, by the end of my second week here I can already feel myself adjusting to the culture here. I now walk with a straight spine, can stroll into the street fearlessly, and now own a good couple pair of boyfriend jeans- so I’m already feeling a tad bit more European. Its interesting, the changes you thought were going to be challenging aren’t at all, but the small things, the ones that are so subtle that you would never think of them- those are the real challenges.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my homestay, in specific if its hard living with a new family or if the language barrier is a challenge. And honestly, I love my homestay. I like the fact that I get to experience what it means to be a person who lives and grows up in Italy. I love having Italian food home cooked for me, and I love watching my Italian improve as I talk more and more with the family. They’re particularly sweet; at the table, my roomate and I partake in an alphabet game where we all name words we know in Italian that start with the letter of the day- its a very smart game to play. It totally breaks the ice and I feel like I learn something every night. Overall, the “hard parts” like the language and the living is totally manageable.

The small things though, that’s where you have to consciously make changes. Because people eat dinner here at 8:00 and serve two courses a night, I find that I have to ration myself during the day, so my body’s metabolism has changed. I also find myself being hyper conscious of water use and dry cleaning. And you have to respect the routine the family asks you to follow. I also found that customs like not going back to your first course, pouring others drinks if you pour yourself one, or even using a piece of bread to wipe your plate clean are small things I never would have imagined, which is why I have to make such a conscious effort to follow through with them.

Other changes I’ve had to face include walking about 2 to 4 miles a day just to get to art class. And because its my first time living in the heart of a city, I’ve had to adjust to the congested streets and learn how to weave seamlessly through crowds. I already feel less like a tourist. Obviously I can’t shake off that American vibe I give, especially when I walk into a cafe with my broken Italian and ask for a cappuccino at 4:00 in the afternoon (PSA: don’t order a cappuccino past 12:00, its kind of odd). But overall, its fun to watch myself acclimate to my new home, and to see which parts of myself I maintain intact and which parts I have a little room to adjust. All in all, I really feel Europe is growing on me.