The first time that I sat down to write this post, I thought I had this all figured out—I’ve traveled before and written before, I can pack light with the best of them and I come from a long line of women who worship the gospel of Rick Steves. However, I had not yet fully internalized the gravity that comes with leaving behind my home country for a semester. And what was the catalyst for this, you may ask? Well, actually, it all starts with a cup of coffee.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and go to school right outside of Boston, and thus split my time between two very bustling—and caffeinated—areas of the United States. Small craft coffee shops nestle themselves between the almost oligopolistic Starbucks, Peet’s, and Dunkin Donuts.
The need to drink coffee is a shout to the world, “I’m busy, and important, look at how much I do every day!” Time-strapped professionals dash around subway stations and financial districts, expertly keeping their to-go cups of lattes, steamers, and flat whites level while dodging rush hour foot traffic. Bleary-eyed college students clutch glasses of iced coffee at every café on the red line of the MBTA. Suburban mothers clutch Contigo mugs of Keurig coffee at the school drop-off zone. Coffee in the states is a habit so integral to our lives that we have perfected the art of attaching it to all other aspects of our lives, making it ubiquitous and unobtrusive.
Italy, on the other hand, approaches coffee a little bit differently. Coffee is just as essential for the Italians as it is the Americans, but that is not why I’m taking up this space today on the internet. Italians make a deliberate, practiced stop at a bar every morning for a coffee and a cornetto. And it truly is a stop—a ritual where you drink out of a real cup and take a moment (or many) before continuing on with your day.
Moving from an area of the world where mobile orders and a dizzying array of constantly evolving sizes, drinks, and payment methods are easy to come by, to a country where un cappuccino o un espresso doppio have been, and will be, the only choices will be different and, at times, challenging. Not challenging in the sense of where “will I find my next venti cotton candy Frappuccino” because that’s a ridiculous display of American excess and I prefer a minimalistic approach to coffee, but challenging in a cultural sense.
I have always been fortunate to blend into with the locals while traveling in Europe. Not completely, of course—my clothes have an American sensibility that you won’t see in Spain, my hair is too dark for Scandinavia and too light for Italy, and I certainly don’t have a drop of French mystique.
All the same, I come from a place of privilege to be able to travel through Europe and not be targeted for my race, sexual presentation, religion, or political ideology. I study at a University where diversity of all shapes and sizes is celebrated and encouraged. And I am leaving that little bubble of diversity to live and travel in an area of the world where that is not always the case. Much like the states, Europe is at a sociopolitical crossroads of race, immigration, and cultural acceptance. (If you have not recently been to a small liberal arts school in New England, bear with me, I’m almost done and thank you for making it this far.)
I don’t expect to see the differences between the states and Italy in ways that are drastic or absolute—cultural variations between the two countries are often nuanced and not easily seen in numbers and data. Like any form of exploration or travel, this semester will be all about understanding and internalizing those nuanced differences in work-life balance, leisure time, white cis-heteronormative dominant behaviors (again, almost done!), political structure, interpersonal relationships, diversity, and countless other aspects of daily life.
I hope for myself, as an American transplant in Milan, that these differences will not go unnoticed, and that they will be just as important as the excitement of learning and experiencing Italian language, food, and culture.
Arrivederci e ci vediamo presto,
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<p>Kinsey is a Biochemistry major and Italian minor from Tufts University near Boston, MA studying in Milan for Fall 2016. Everything she does is to learn more about food; catch her studying cheese microbes by day and reading cookbooks by night. She caught the travel bug the minute she tasted her first crepe in Paris way back in 2006, and hasn't looked back since.</p>