A Family Like No Other

Isabel M. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Avenues: The World School in New York.

Everybody has their own assumptions about people, whether or not they are aware of them. When I arrived in Italy, I tried to have as open a mind as possible, so that I could be receptive to my new environment, culture, family, friends and home. I did not know exactly (or even at all, in truth) what I was expecting from the Italian ways of life, but, as is inevitable, I had some typical stereotypes about Italians in the back of my mind and upon arriving here, was intrigued to learn whether or not they would prove to be true.

Just like in the movies, I expected people to be extremely passionate and gesture constantly, putting emotion into every word and making me think they were angry when they were not – and this was not a misconception. I have experienced this on numerous occasions, whether through heated dinner table conversations or the ways in which I overhear people chatting on the street, where often their hands do more speaking than their lips. Many of my preconceived beliefs about Italians have proven to be, in some ways, fairly reflective of the truth — such the frequent utterance of phrases such as “O Madonna!” and ”Mamma Mia!” the universal adoration of pizza and the cafe culture that can be found in every town. Yes, I am part of a big, loud Italian family with a love for salami and Italian music, but there is so much more to this culture (as with any) that the movies and the stereotypes just do not even begin to describe and moreover, so much more depth to every person than just the label of “Italian” captures. The value of family here is like nothing I have ever seen nor imagined in my life. Parents, children, grandparents and cousins have so much closer relationships than I have ever seen and no matter what happens, family is always first. They always look out for one another to a greater extent than I am used to and they spend every Sunday together, usually just relaxing and enjoying one another’s company. Mealtime, instead of a brief, rushed affair is an opportunity to bond and talk about the day and often, everyone remains at the table, just talking and laughing together, hours after all of the plates are cleared and the last sips of post-meal coffee have disappeared. This is something I am not entirely used to, because in America (and specifically, New York) the culture surrounding family is simply so different. All these years, I thought that I was very “close” with my family in America, but since being here in Italy, I have learned that I truly had no idea what that meant.

However, just because this is new does not mean I do not love it. It has been amazing for me to be exposed to all of these cultural differences, among countless other things and right now, it is hard for me to imagine living without this wonderful, loving and united family — crazy to think that family is the first thing you know in life, but if you don’t try to learn and understand, it is possible to go an entire lifetime without knowing anything about the true essence and significance of the word.

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