By: Alicia Szostak
Western New England University
I have always wondered if there was a place on Earth where the views are so breathtaking that people actually stop talking for a moment to appreciate what nature has created, a place where the people are relaxed and welcoming, a place where laughter fills the air instead of the sound of ringing cellphones, and a place where it is encouraged to stop and take a moment to soak up the surroundings instead of rushing to the next event. This summer, I have discovered that the answer is yes, there is such a place, and that place is Sorrento, Italy.
While studying abroad for these past three weeks, not only have I learned a lot about the culture of Southern Italy, but I have learned even more about myself. Throughout our trips to Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Capri, and Rome and during our classroom activities, I have been able to develop myself as a traveler and improve my communication skills as a writer and a speaker, which is one of the General Education Requirements at Western New England University.
Our first two excursions were the RAI TV Studio and Il Mattino Newspaper Company in Naples, Italy. These site visits were extremely pertinent to our ILP topic of communication. At the RAI TV studio, when we watched a scene from a TV show being filmed, I was amazed at how many times they had to redo the scene, even though it looked perfect to me almost every time. This goes to show that every little detail about how someone speaks, dresses, and expresses their emotions does not go unnoticed.
While visiting Il Mattino, I noticed myself paying more attention to and giving more importance to the people that were well-dressed and who had the most confidence. Although I do not plan on working in the field of communications, I have realized that these skills are still crucial for any career. For example, if I work as a Physician Assistant in a hospital, almost every healthcare provider will be dressed in similar scrubs. In order to make myself stand out as a professional, I must pay attention to my posture and how I speak to coworkers and patients. If I do not carry myself as a confident and competent Physician Assistant, patients will not trust me as one of their healthcare providers. Just like in some of the ILP classroom activities we did, I will not always have a script in front of me. Patients will ask me questions on the spot that I will have to answer correctly and professionally, without sounding hesitant.
Initially, coming to Italy, I was most excited for the views, food, and quaint shops. Of course, Sorrento did not disappoint. Upon arrival, I was overwhelmed by the number of family-owned stores, gelato shops, and restaurants. The views, conversation, and menus, all reminded me of poetry. Everywhere I looked, I could picture that scene being put in a frame or on a post card. Even the rows of gelato mounds with sprinkled candies and fruits on the top were picture perfect. One restaurant, Acqua e Sale, has a pizza menu that says, “The water invited the four to dance and together with the salt, they have never stopped.” Throughout the entire trip, this was one of the favorite pieces of writing that I read because it captured both the art and the history of pizza-making.
At the same time, while I was enjoying the environment of Sorrento, I was hesitant about the technology. The Wi-Fi didn’t work well, there was no dryer for our clothes, and unless on an excursion, we had to get everywhere by walking. However, these same worries I had ended up being what made my Italian experience so unique and enlightening. By not always having Wi-Fi, I have become more social and have heard some fascinating life stories along the way. Instead of worrying about laundry and having a new outfit every day, I have spent more time exploring the town and learning about the culture. The details of Sorrento that would have become a blur if whizzing by in a car or vespa have stood out to me as I have walked each and every street. I have come to appreciate the people and rich history of Sorrento and the surrounding area, which is something I was not expecting. Seeing the magnificent churches, ancient monuments, and impressive architecture in Naples, Amalfi, Pompeii, and Rome, I have realized just how innovative people centuries before us had to be to get the results they did.
By immersing myself within the culture for three weeks, I became more of a resident than a tourist. Throughout this trip, my communication skills were challenged as I tried to get directions (many times), ask about products in shops, order food off of a menu, or get help in a pharmacy. The language barrier forced me to think twice about what I was saying and to get my point across is the simplest terms possible. I thought that this was good practice because often times, Americans complicate their writing and sentences just to sound fancier or more important. However, this method is not as effective in communications.
Each day here in Southern Italy was full of adventures and valuable lessons that I could not have gotten anywhere else in the world. Sorrento taught me to not focus on status or money, but to just do what you are most passionate about. I can only hope that one day, millions of tourists will look back on the lands of my time and be just as impressed by what we have created as I was with the ruins of Rome and Pompeii. Capri taught me to take the time to stop and enjoy the moment, laugh with friends, and appreciate the views, for these opportunities only come once in a lifetime. Just like the drive down Amalfi Drive, life can be scary at times. It can be hard to see exactly where you are headed, but it is important to enjoy the ride and not focus solely on the final destination point. As we depart from Sorrento, I will try to remember one of my favorite quotes: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Forever I will have fond memories of Southern Italy because this trip was truly something to write home about.