Experiencing “Authentic” Italy Through Study Abroad

I studied abroad this summer in a small town in Italy, south of Naples, called Pisciotta. I chose this specific location because I wanted an “authentic” Italian experience. While abroad I was posed with the question of what “authentic” actually means. This question, along with many discussions in my sociology class for the summer, made me think. I caught myself wondering why I really needed to buy so many souvenirs. Was it because everyone else did, so I felt pressured to do the same? Was it because I genuinely wanted these souvenirs, or because I wanted them for the memories? Or, simply because I wanted them to probe to my friends and family back home that I was there?Amanda O'Connor 1.jpg

After pondering these ideas, I realized that there was really no reason for all of these excessive material goods. This is why my favorite “souvenirs” were the ones that didn’t come from tacky gift shops. Instead, they came with memories that I cherish far more than any expensive Italian leather or Venetian glass I could have bought.

The first of these souvenirs was a journal that I kept during the course of my trip. For anyone anticipating on studying or traveling abroad I greatly recommend keeping a journal. I saved all my ticket stubs from museums and metro cards to tape into my journal along with flowers and leaves that I would press into it.

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As you can see the binding of my journal is about to burst because I filled the pages with so many additional things. The journal not only holds these physical things to remember train rides, museums, boat rides, gelaterias, restaurants and the local foliage but it also holds something even more valuable: my current feelings throughout the span of my trip. I would give up all the other souvenirs I bought for this one journal because it holds some very dear memories that I will look back on one day.

I have one other souvenir that holds a similar value to my journal. This souvenir was an unexpected gift from a woman that I befriended during my time in Pisciotta. Her name is Beatrice and she does not speak a word of English. Not only is my Italian not very good, but her Italian is a dialect. This caused complication when we tried to communicate. We first became friends because she liked my hat. I let her try it on and she insisted that we take a selfie together. She then took my phone to show all of her friends sitting nearby in the piazza. In practicing my Italian I was able to form short simple sentences to converse with her. I complimented the bracelet she was wearing. This was the wrong move because she instantly tried to give me her bracelet. I graciously declined and she accepted this until the next time we met where she would not take no for an answer as she put the bracelet on my wrist.

From then on, every time she saw me in the piazza she would came over to me right away, eager to talk. I had to constantly remind her to slow down because I couldn’t understand. Even though it was difficult to completely convey what I wanted to say, I greatly enjoyed the time I got to spend with Beatrice. I have worn her bracelet every day since she gave it to me.

Overall, my favorite souvenirs are the ones that have strong links to the things I have experienced. They were not obtained in haste because I was running out of time to buy something and they were not attained because I felt like I needed them. They were simply objects that I received by living my life and keeping my mind open to all the new experiences coming my way.

Amanda O’Connor, a Binghamton University undergraduate student in a Language Across Curriculum class

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