Looking over the sun setting behind layers of green hillsides and golden fields from my dorm room balcony, I feel as though I’ve made quantum leaps on both personal and professional levels since arriving in Urbino several weeks ago. Reflecting over my one-month jaunt immersed in a completely different culture it’s hard to imagine how my life will ever revert to the same state I left in June.
Beginning with Dove il Gimnasio? I could recognize the challenges my own personality and cultural upbringing would present in a society that prioritizes a more deliberate pace of life. “As I was running, I began to realize there was no bumper-to-bumper traffic, no angry businesspeople rushing to catch their trains, and no worries about New Jersey Transit breaking down for the fourth time in one week.”
Italian culture literally forces visitors to stop and re-evaluate their course of action during a day. Everything stops for three hours during the workday and almost all stores are closed on Sundays. Shopkeepers and supermarkets don’t stay open 24 hours a day and precious moments are treasured. This journey has allowed me to delve into personal changes because of this slower pace: “Meeting the shadow calls for slowing the pace of life, listening to the body’s cues, and allowing ourselves time to be alone in order to digest the cryptic messages from the hidden world” (Abrams and Zeig).
Language barriers also force this meeting of the shadow: “the personal shadow contains undeveloped, unexpected potentials of all kinds. It is the part of the unconscious that is complementary to the ego and represents those characteristics that the conscious personality does not wish to acknowledge and therefore neglects, forgets, and buries, only to discover them in uncomfortable confrontations with others.” In Mistaken Identity, I wrangled with the concept of confronting my shadow where I found insecurity, fear of failure, and shyness in my exchanges with native speakers. Comfort was found in a groups – sharing an uncomfortable situation with Amy allowed us to work together through our discomfort and confusion to find a solution. “The officer gently smiled as Amy stumbled over her script and responded with simple words we could understand, by the end of our 20 minute exchange Amy had secured an interview date and legal documents.” To meet the shadow a participants must make “a 180-degree turn. This calls for breaking old habits and cultivating dormant talents.” Usually shy in large groups, I realized I needed to push myself to speak up in a foreign language with whatever other tools necessary (sign language, pictionary, “spanglish”) to voice my opinions.
This brings our journey into the acceptance and comfort found in our own cultural identities. Twenty-four of us sharing a similar cultural identity were immersed in a country far different from America. In Déjà vu the comraderie found in the familiar is one of the most underrated concepts in your home country. However sitting that night with four new friends who had been strangers merely days ago, brought a sense of familiarity to a foreign country. In “Voicing Identities”, Lucila Luna contemplates the importance of accepting our own cultural identity: “An identity is characteristic of the individual. It is feelings about self. An identity is created through the words we choose to label ourselves and others…Identity is something held by a group of people, which in turn, bonds the group together.”
These fleeting moments of Déjà vu could be found in Cloud 15, something like a rich experience that cannot be explained accurately in words – just something felt in the pit of your soul. “Most people when they are happy, they are on Cloud 9, Shari you go to Cloud 15,” Bianca explained to Shari weeks ago. These rich moments are enhanced by a cultural consciousness – the awareness that what you are experiencing is quite separate and distinct from any experience you have had in your normal environment.
This whirlwind experience has brought a rich moment into my life every day, but the best are usually not ones experienced alone. Witnessing or sharing a rich moment with those around me is far more rewarding. Luna describes our identity in relation to groups: “By accepting our culture, we create a definition that emphasizes those aspects central to our identity. Our identity allows us to create with those who share it, a community that gives us a sense of belonging which is often missing from our lives when we move…”
1:1 Ratios; Lessons in an Italian Kitchen, is an attempt to verbalize the cultural collision that is unavoidable upon my return to America. Realizing that somehow I’ve missed the point so far in life; that my Italian heritage isn’t as in line as I would like it to be is something I’ll grapple with at home. Without the three hour pausa during a day, I will have to work to maintain a sense of balance and continue to find time to investigate my “shadow” and personal identity in relation to my environment. Taking time to enjoy simple things will take precedence in my life and I am resolving to live a little slower in order to fully process and appreciate the details and direction I am headed.