HI!! Recently I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Italy for the Maymester Intersession through the University of Arkansas. Maymester is basically the first set of summer classes you can take during the month of May. This is obviously optional and can be taken in your campus’ home state or abroad - I chose to get some credit and go to Italy. We studied for a few weeks primarily in Pompei, but we got to see and stay in a few other places as well. Besides Pompei, we traveled and stayed in Rome, Herculaneum, Naples, Sperlonga, Sorrento, and Capri. Before coming on the trip I had never gone anywhere further than Turks and Caicos or Mexico. I had been out of the country, but had never seen the raw, real deal of being immersed into a non-americanized culture. What I mean by this, is most islands (that are vacation spots) or places Americans travel to in Mexico or the Carribbean are geared towards tourists and lack a language barrier or a HUGE cultural difference. Of course there is a difference in the culture, but the way these places are run, are very similar to the way American’s live. Even if the culture is genuinely different, they seem to be coated with a layer of making things convenient, understandable, and overall catered completely towards Americans. Before traveling to Europe, I really had no idea what I was in for - my level of education was based off of pictures and pinterest posts lol. I kinda wanted to go into it blind sighted so I could fully embrace and learn about the culture and make my own opinions about it without interference of what other people say about it, ya dig? Of course I had ideas in my head of what I thought it would be like, how the people would act, etc., but never did in depth research. Ok, WHEW. Here we go.
What I learned school wise:
So you might ask, what exactly was I doing over there and what was I studying? Welllllll, I signed up for the trip knowing nothing about what the course was about, I really just wanted to get some hours for going to Italy. The trip name was called “virtual pompeii.” I got an honors college humanities credit for this. Essentially, the program is designed for students who are interested in gaming (yes this means playing, programming, designing, and creating video games - on all ends of the spectrum). I had no idea that I had signed up for a video gaming trip until right before I left for the trip... This was super interesting for me, considering the most gaming I've ever done is dance-dance revolution and mario kart on the wii… hahah yikes. Our trip was based out of Pompeii, this is where we stayed the majority of the time. We worked each day we were there on the ancient roman site of the preserved city of Pompeii. For those of you who don't know what Pompeii is, basically alonnngggg time ago, around 50 years after Christ, Mt. Vesuvius ( a volcano) erupted, covering the city of Pompeii in lava/ashes. Rather than destroying the city completely, the volcanic ash coated and preserved the city. Many years later, the ancient covered city was discovered. Fast forward to present day, a big portion of the ancient city has been preserved and rediscovered, but another large portion of the city was built on top of by what is now modern day Pompeii (which is actually right across the street from ancient Pompeii). Okay, I am veering off on the history aspect, so if you wanna learn more about it, I highly encourage you to research it because it is super interesting.
ANYWHOOOOO, back to what I did there. lol. geez. #addatitsfinest. I’m gonna try to explain this in the most simple way possible because it gets pretty confusing. I worked with 12 other students to create a virtual reality of the ancient city. After learning about the history of what our assigned portion of the city was used for and what it was, we used cameras to take pictures from all angles (hundreds upon hundreds), of a certain strip of the city, where commercial shops were ( we did both the interiors and exteriors). We didn't do the entire city because it’s so so big and we wanted to be thorough with our research and programming. After taking pictures of each shop, street, and house we needed to, we uploaded our photos into a gaming program system where it knit together the different angles of each photo that overlap to create a virtual representation of what we had photographed. We used VR (virtual reality) headsets to look at the animated ancient city after we had programmed and processed our photos. VR headsets are the masks that are sold in windows stores that you put on your face and basically look through a different set of lenses where it looks like you are in a totally different place. The virtual reality piece we created is used for video gaming and teaching others about what the ancient roman city looks like and how Romans way back when utilized their space. Luckily, this directly correlates with interior and architecturally designed spaces - boy were the Roman good at it. This is going to come in very handy in the future, because of the exposure to the weather, sun, nature, and lack of preservation the city has. There are so many beautiful fresco paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and beautiful pieces/ creations of design and architecture that are straight up exposed to the mediterranean heat each day, it isn;t definite they will be there for much longer before they are weathered completely away.
What I learned culturally:
As I mentioned earlier, our group traveled to several different places while we there, and like Texas (I am assuming you’re from Texas considerings that is the only state ;)), the state has a different feel in each city/town. This is the same in Italy. We first flew into Rome and stayed in an apartment there. The University of Arkansas is super cool because we have our own campus location in the middle of Rome, so we stayed in the University housing, which was actually very nice and in the middle of everything! I love Rome. Wow. It is busy, yet peaceful. Rome was the first place I really got to see the Italian culture. As soon as I got off the plane, it was like stepping into a different world. For so long, traveling to Europe had felt like a dream, or just a thought, never a reality. Rome was a good spot for me to start, because the majority of the people speak english (a lot of it is broken english, but is still very understandable). Rome is one gem of a city and one of the most charming places I have ever been. I have never seen so much beauty in one place. The buildings are so utterly ornate and elaborate, inside and out. Everything in Rome seemed to be so intentional. I have a high appreciation for good architecture and design and absolutely love anything that is old, but still used in modern societies. Yep, I was pretty much in heaven there. The streets were cobblestone (I broke the wheels on my suitcase on these the first day - yeet), the buildings were super tall and had nice big windows, most places had really high ceilings (nit-picky, but that is something I don’t like about America is our usage of low ceilings), and overall creativity, uniqueness, and beauty, in even the dirty places. Each restaurant had such a quaint feel, and felt nothing like eating in America.
Here’s the section of this post that was a life-changer: the food. oh. my. goodness. The first place I ate at in Rome was a cafe across the street from my apartment, this is where my taste was irrationally changed forever. I had a caprese salad (which is simply tomato, mozzarella, sometimes lettuce, and maybe a little oregano). BOY OH BOY. I have never been a super big fan of eating copious amounts of cheese or tomatoes - especially together, but this was different. It was light and refreshing. It didn’t make me feel sick to my stomach like most cheese does, or make me cringe because the tomato slices were sour. This was so natural. The tomato was sweet and perfectly ripe, the cheese was tasty, but not so strong that you can only eat a certain amount before you know you gonna have the runs. From that moment on, I continued to eat the best food of my life! I have always had an appreciation for non GMO products and eating raw, and this definitely enhanced this passion. I honestly never want to eat another fruit or vegetable or piece of cheese in the United States again. Something I noticed in every restaurant was that they put fruit in the dessert section on the menus. Ya know why? Because fruit is supposed to be sweet. HAHA. You’d think that would be a simple concept for America to understand, but obviously it is a lot more difficult for us to understand than it is for Italians. Now yes, we have lots of sweet fruit, I thought fruit was great… until I went to Italy, that’s when I learned what natural, non-chemically injected/fertilized fruit tasted like. THERE IS SUCH A DIFFERENCE. Oh my goodness gracious. The fruit in Italy was so sweet, fresh, perfect ripeness, and another one of those “little piece of heaven” moments I put in my mouth while I was over there. This also has to do with the fact that most people have gardens in which they grow their own fruit and veggies naturally. Each dish I had was incredible, the bread was soft and fluffy, the pasta (gnocchi is my new fav), was so perfectly created in a way where it was chewy, never grainy, and almost had a dumpling like texture, the gelato…I ate this almost everyday so I am going to wait out getting on the scale the next few weeks before I see the damage I have done to myself, all desserts were mouth-watering delicious pieces of goodness, the pizzas are cooked in huge stone ovens, similar to the way some italian restaurants do in America, the ingredients are just a lot more fresh. Okay hahaha, I am sitting on the airplane laughing at myself, wondering if anyone can see me type out my excessive thoughts and love for desserts…
Moving along, the next impact and realization I experienced was the people and the culture. This was a biggy for me, and honestly changed my heart. After staying in Rome for a bit, we headed out to Pompeii, where we stayed for the majority of the trip. Here, was where the authenticity of the culture was revealed to me. Although Rome had exceptional cuisine and the people were so sweet, helpful, and knew English, it was in a sense, Americanized, due to it being such a big city and tourist attraction. Living in Pompeii was a little overwhelming at first, but I quickly fell in love with the realness of the people there and living amongst locals. For many, Pompeii is a day trip, not a place people chose to stay while in Europe, just to visit. Besides the ancient site, modern day Pompeii doesn't compare to Rome in regards to entertainment or choices of what to see and do, so I was definitely given the opportunity to fully embrace the italian culture. The language barrier outside of the touristy part of Pompeii (which is really just a small portion right near the site that is for tourism), was huge. Almost everywhere we went, strictly Italian was spoken. This continued into all of the other smaller places that we traveled to. Luckily, one of our professors is fluent in Italian, so she was our translator. I had several different really funny encounters with Italian’s because I kept forgetting they don’t speak english. One in which, was pretty ridiculous. I was on the train, going from Pompeii to Naples, and I told a lady I liked her shorts (for those of you who don’t know, Italians do not wear shorts, so I got excited when I saw someone with shorts on who didn't look like a tourist). I pointed at her shorts and told her in English that they were super cute, not even thinking about the difference of language… she did not understand. From her perspective, all she knew was that I was pointing at her crotch, possibly saying something insulting or just being a weirdo. I am not sure, but I ended up having to act out what I was trying to say, we both stood there and laughed after she understood what I was trying to say. ahaaaa typical awkward-kailey situation. The people were so sweet and genuinely wanted to show us their culture. They welcomed us in like family despite the language barrier. Everything there was pretty simple through my eyes. Example, the men were simply beautiful. Dark hair, tan skin, light eyes, intriguing accent …. SHOOT. Okay just kidding, that’s not what I was trying to get at, that was just an additional bonus to the trip hehehe. I imagine that Jesus is italian... ok. done. The lifestyle is just different. The legal drinking age is 16, but kids under that can drink with their parents consent, they just cant buy it, and it is pretty normal for that to happen! For most American’s, this sounds like complete luxury, especially those under 21… In Italy, getting drunk isn't a common thing to do when going out like it is in America. Alcoholic beverages are just another choice on the menu to them. It isn’t seen as something for getting drunk and acting wild there, it’s to simply enjoy because it is tasty and naturally made there. The people are much more carefree and love each other for who each other are. It is so easy to fall into the typical American mindset of caring SOO much about what other people think about us. This could be caring what they think of us individually, or what they think of the people we surround ourselves with. The italians (not to say all, but a lot of them) radiate love to one another and that is something that I don't feel in America. I could go on and on with this post, and I may end up making a separate section specifically for this topic, but the simplicity of the way love is over there is so different than it is in the U.S. As cheesy as this is, Italy totally revealed to me a piece of my heart, and a love for other cultures that I never knew I had. If you want to see an over abundance of photos from my trip, feel free to look at my facebook page photo album! Thanks for reading :))