Stop and Smell the Coffee

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.

Arrivederci!” I say, making eye contact and exchanging smiles with the friendly face behind the counter before stepping out onto the cobblestone streets and making my way to school through the winding streets of Viterbo. With its coffee bars, Fiats and Vespas on every corner, Viterbo is, in many ways, a quintessential Italian town. When I go out with my host family, we always run across people we know and stop and chat with them, asking after their children or their work, even inviting them over for an aperitivo. In New York, this is hardly ever the case, because people are always in such a rush and their only focus is getting to their destination, rather than enjoying the journey there. Until this year, ordering a coffee meant swinging into the nearest Starbucks, waiting in a queue of distracted people, grabbing a scalding to-go cup and exchanging brief formalities with the barista, before heading out on my way again. Here, it is quite the opposite. Each morning, I go to the same local bar (café), where I have a pleasant conversation with the owner. Whenever she sees me, she takes the time to ask how I am doing and, since my first day here, she has been nothing but understanding of my imperfect (yet steadily improving) Italian. I then sit at the counter and enjoy my drink, chatting with my friends, greeting the other ‘regulars’ and savoring every last sip, before paying and leaving.

This is just one aspect of my day that illustrates the ways in which the rhythm of life here is much more tranquil and people seem to be more present, rather than simply rushing from place to place with their earbuds in, tuning out the world around them. Here, teenagers come home and enjoy long, leisurely conversations with their parents and mealtimes are opportunities to bond and connect with one another, rather than brief affairs in between hours of homework and it feels as though every moment truly counts. There is a tight-knit community within the walls of this city — a foreign concept to me, given that I barely even know many of my own neighbors in New York — but it is a welcome change and I am beyond happy, as well as fortunate, to be having the opportunity to become part of it.

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