5 Random Lessons that I Learned in Italy
In case you didn’t know about it, Fuller and the Brehm Center have taken students to Italy for a study-abroad program for the last two summers, in order to have the opportunity to study medieval art and theology, and to experience these things in the culture from which they originated. I was lucky enough to be a part of the most recent trip. Of course, Italy has changed substantially over the past few centuries and so we students shared in the richness of the Italian culture, and its proud mixture of the past and the present.
Whenever we are displaced into a new setting, learning is bound to occur. Sometimes those lessons are pleasant experiences; other times… well, many of you all are aware of the “difficulties” that can occur when attempting to travel abroad. In light of my recent experience, I thought it to be my communal duty to share a few short lessons that I learned (perhaps a few at the end that might save you some traveling nightmares).
1. Europe is not the U.S. I know, shocker. Yet you would be surprised how easy it is to forget this. Lisa (my traveling buddy, who works for the SEMI) has made the point that we are more flexible and open to new experiences as American travelers when enter a culture far removed from our own (e.g. East Africa or India), since we expect cultural clashes to occur, and so we accept them more readily. We may go to Europe, however, expecting our typical comforts that we take for granted (e.g. wide assortments of foods, quick service, all-night convenience stores) to be available everywhere in Europe. When we discover that this is not the case (it isn’t), we might be prone to a worse “culture shock” than if we were to travel to non-Western locales.
2. Getting out of L.A. is nice. Yes, going to Rome and Paris (some of our side travels) is frenzied and littered with cars and smog and the like (although their cities manage to maintain their attractiveness anyway…the ties to the past that L.A. lacks help a lot in this department). But the quaint, cobblestoned city of Orvieto, where our classes primarily met, which crowns a lone Umbrian hill among rolling vineyards, which has a coffee shop or restaurant on every corner where conversations can leisurely take place over a glass of Classico… it was a breath of fresh air in comparison to L.A. I mean that quite literally. If you haven’t been on the “outside” for a while, you owe it to yourself.
3. Old is the new “new.” Another aspect of our “New World” lifestyle is our propensity to invent, create, develop, or refine; whenever we can find a way to be more efficient, we take it. While this has led to much wonderful innovation, it also leads to a numbing discontent, and a lack of respect for “older” ways of doing things. This sentiment has pretty much immersed the majority of American spirituality and religion as well. Thankfully, many of us have begun to attempt to reclaim our past and our traditions, recognizing our Christian experiences as the continuation of a story that has actually been told for quite some time before we came around. Going to a place where the past is still revered helped me in my quest to understand my past better.
4. Mega-churches are not a new phenomenon. This is something of a side note, but we saw cathedrals, even in the small Italian towns, that would make Bill Hybels salivate. Sure, medieval Catholics didn’t have Powerpoint; they only had masterpiece frescoes painted on the walls and ceilings that surrounded them with the story of God’s love. They didn’t have wireless mics, only massive vaults extending to heaven that helped immerse the sanctuary with sound. Creating accessible space for people to experience the divine en masse, filling the senses with sight and sound during worship… these are nothing new to Christianity.
5. My fifth lesson is actually a hodgepodge of lessons learned while traveling; to thee who hath eyes, read and taketh to heart.
-Don’t fly American. British Airways is far superior.
-Unless you want to develop a spiritual discipline of relinquishing your possessions, hold on to your bags at all times, in Rome especially. Wear a money belt.
-In Italy, try the grappa… just not in your espresso.
-Go to Venice. Anyone who tells you that it’s dirty and sinking and not worth the trip is a liar.
-Bring an alarm clock or cell phone, and keep them safe.
-Invest in a large pack you can wear on your back, if traveling frequently.
-Eat gelato every chance that you get.
-Be VERY early to the airport when flying out of Charles De Gaulle.
-And finally, Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, smile at anyone in Paris you don’t know. (If you need an explanation, ask me on campus sometime.)