My whole life I have always wanted to travel. I’ve always had a strong passion for the idea of traveling. It’s not something that my parents did a lot of. It didn’t mean that they didn’t want to, but it’s harder for them. Being a first generation Mexican-American made me strive for more in life. The summer of 2018, I got a job to save up for my Italy study abroad trip. Despite not having my ideal job, I kept reminding myself that it would be worth it in the end, and it was. Something that I realized is I’m someone who values individualism. There have been several moments that took place in Italy in which my own cultural values became apparent in a way that they hadn’t before.
It’s my first day in Rome and I sit within the outside seating area at a restaurant close to the Pantheon. Looking around, with cobblestones between us in the narrow street, there are people sitting outside at a different restaurant called, “La Scaletta,” on my right. A couple sitting directly across from me lock eyes and engage in conversation, paying no mind to their phones. When my attention goes back to the group of girls I’m with, I realize that they were asking the waiter for the wifi password. This is something that might be considered normal in the United States, but not in Italy—not by locals, at least from what I noticed so far.
In an attempt to shift their focus onto something else, I mumble, “Hey, look over there. Everyone is just talking to each other.”
The girls glance over for a moment to look at the couple I was talking about, but quickly go back on their phones, dismissing my observation. I’m not sure how else I can help them see things from my point of view. I gave them the chance to see individuals living without paying attention to their phones, and it didn’t seem to help them see the way I do. I don’t know why this custom is found in Italy and not in the U.S. Maybe Italians value respect at the table more than others, which is something that I really appreciate.
At this point, I feel determined to make friends with other people on this study abroad trip. I want to experience this beautiful country like those who live in it. I think being in Italy made me realize even more that I enjoy conversation and being in the moment. It’s the first time I am able to reflect, and I appreciate that I got the chance to be in Europe—a dream of mine since I can remember.
Sometimes, I stray away and try to take any photo opportunities that come my way. Taking pictures is a way for me to remember what I see, eat, hear, and feel. These photos are meant for me to cherish and look back on my study abroad experience because I know that I will miss it more than anything. I don’t want to leave with the regret of not taking pictures of something that I want to remember. I want to remember that this trip is one of my greatest accomplishments after I worked so hard to get here.
Time is something that no one can take back or get more of, and that’s why I value time. The world is so big that I won’t get the chance to see it all. I want to at least use my time wisely and gain whatever experiences I can from it because there are so many places in the world that are worth visiting. I love learning about different cultures and this time allows me to do so. No one knows when their last moment will be, so I believe that people have to take every second and make it count—make it worthwhile and special, and simply cherish the time we have because in a split second, the moment would have passed by and gone.
Once on social media, I saw a picture of a young girl with her much older grandfather sitting at a booth in a restaurant—perhaps a photo taken by a stranger (it was telling in the way it was a low-angle photo). The young girl was on her phone and sat across from her grandfather. He was giving her his attention, but she didn’t reciprocate his efforts. He appeared to be living in the moment by the way he focused on her, appreciating the time he had left with his granddaughter. Perhaps she hadn’t thought about the limited time she had with him. She’d probably regret that moment when she looks back—regret not being with him and not cherishing the small moments with a loved one. She would become saddened by the thoughts that would roam in her mind. The issue with younger generations is that they might not see the importance of sharing time with family because at a young age, they are introduced to and distracted by electronics. That’s something that people don’t think about. Technology has been advancing throughout the years, and people have learned to communicate through it, but something that has been lost is the significance of having in-person interaction.
That particular post reminded me of the times when I’d be at a restaurant or diner with my father. We are not as close as I wish we were. He would always be on his phone, never fully in the moment. Sometimes, I wondered whether or not it was too much to ask for. When I saw that he was preoccupied, I would resort to checking my own phone. It made me feel like I was the last thing he would worry about and I would question what I was doing there. I wanted quality time with my dad, but he wouldn’t always grant me that. I do remember bringing up my issue with the phone situation a few times and why I don’t like it. As a result, he would put his phone down, but quickly pick it up again. I don’t know what I could say or do to get through to him because in the past, nothing has been effective and it is as if what he is told goes into one ear and out the other. I don’t think this has affected my communication with others because for some reason, there are a lot of people like my father who don’t value the same things that I do. Whenever I let someone know about my perspective surrounding the issue and they remain glued to their phones after the fact, it tells me that they don’t care, so I quit trying at times.
I expect my cultural values to have a positive impact on my study abroad experience by allowing myself to be fully in the moment and to focus more on what I hope to gain from being in Italy, rather than follow people around in what they want to do. This also ties in with my aspirations of becoming a screenwriter because, if I allow myself to get out of my comfort zone, I will be able to take more away from the experience rather than if I stay on my phone during the entire trip. I want to enjoy what I am not able to enjoy from home. Italy is a different place and I admire its uniqueness very much—the basilicas, the artwork, the people, the language, the landscape, the food with its organic ingredients, and the country itself. This has inspired me to speak up about wanting more interaction and conversation. I can be the first to start this by limiting my own cell phone use and interacting more with the world around me.
Valeria is originally from New York City and studies Creative Writing at SUNY Geneseo. She’s in Delta Phi Epsilon and Alpha Phi Omega. She loves traveling and writing, and is deeply passionate about pursuing a career in screenwriting. Valeria participated in the Summer 2019 Humanities I Rome study abroad program where she mostly ate lasagna and gelato. Currently, she’s a senior, and at some point, she plans to move to California to work for a production company. Photo credit: Valeria Guarneros