Katherine Dudley/Living in Viterbo: A Life-Changing Experience

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 Time is a funny thing. When I look back, I realize that I’ve been here in Viterbo for almost three months, but at the same time, it feels like I’ve lived here forever. I can hardly believe that in almost exactly a month, I’ll be packing up and going home to America. With my impending return to the United States drawing closer, I’ve had many of my friends from back home ask me if I’m excited to be coming back, what I miss from home, and if I’ve been homesick at all. However, surprisingly enough, when people would ask me about homesickness, I found myself thinking…. ‘What homesickness?’.

I suppose it wasn’t really something I’d thought about much, but I realized that the only things that I really miss about home are my family and friends. Aside from that… Well, Italy is hardly a third world country. Just about anything I had back home, I can find in some way, shape, or form here. Living in Italy has taken some getting used to, that’s for sure, but at the end of the day, it hasn’t been a struggle so much as a simple adjustment, a learning process of sorts.

When I came to Italy, I tried to come with an open mind, and the desire to learn and assimilate with the culture, rather than stubbornly try to hold on to whatever I was used to back home. While the first few weeks were a challenge, as I struggled with basic Italian, figuring out where everything was, and adjusting to an unfamiliar environment, I found myself welcoming this new adventure. It wasn’t long before the winding, cobblestoned streets of Viterbo began to feel like home, and I was dodging cars going at breakneck speeds around every corner like a pro.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that while yes, the culture of Italy is very different than the culture of the United States, and the end of the day, life itself hasn’t changed very much. For instance, every day, I do the same things I would have done back home. I get up, I study, I go to class, I hang out with friends, I shop for groceries, I pay rent….. I’m just in a different place. Granted, this is probably a bit of an oversimplification, but really, one of the big things that I’ve learned is that the core elements of life, no matter where you are, don’t change, and the only challenge is adapting those core elements of life to the new place you’re in.

I suppose this is just my long-winded way of saying that no, I haven’t been plagued by homesickness. Even I was surprised when I realized that I wasn’t missing anything specific from the United States (except maybe Starbucks coffee!), and that I didn’t wake up each day comparing Viterbo to my hometown of Seattle.

          That’s not to say that life is exactly the same. In a way, I feel as though living in Viterbo has made me take a step back from my complicated, busy life back in the States, and realize again what really matters. One of the major differences between Italy and America is the pace of life. In America, everything is very fast, and things seem so much more rushed. Everyone is always on their way somewhere, always in a hurry, always glued to cell phones or laptops, doing everything on the go. Here in Italy, things are more relaxed. Everything seems slower, more comfortable, and people do things at a more seemingly natural pace. For instance, the ‘Pausa pranzo’, or lunch break that many businesses take, or the fact that mealtimes are seem as much more relaxed affairs, and can take several hours. I remember comparing my experience in an Italian restaurant to restaurants in America. In America, the waiters are always hovering, ready to whisk away your plates, and ready to bring you the bill as soon as the last bite has been eaten, in a hurry to move you out so that they can fill your seats with more paying customers. Here in Italy, no one hovers, the mood is much more relaxed, and you have to ask for the bill when you’re ready to go. No one is trying to hurry you, which for me, was such a different experience than what I was used to.

          Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I feel as though here in Italy, I’ve had the chance to unplug a bit, and focus on what’s really important. I don’t have a cell phone plan here in Italy, and my apartment doesn’t have Wi-Fi, so rather than constantly being attached to technology, I’ve had more time to relax, to pick up a book or work on something else rather than being distracted by computers or phones. I’ve started writing a lot more, and I now have files of journal entries, and notebooks filled with rambling or song lyrics based on my experiences. I’ve spent hours just wandering around the streets of Viterbo, taking pictures of whatever catches my eye, and just thinking. The fact that I can’t communicate as easily with family and friends has filled me with a whole new appreciation for when I do communicate with people back home. They say that you never really know what you have until it’s gone, and while my family and friends are not gone, the fact that I can’t just call them 24/7 has made me realize just how much I valued their constant presence in my life.

          Not only has my time in Italy been a valuable cultural and learning experience, but it’s also been a wake up call of sorts as well. A ‘back to the basics’ of sorts, a step back from the hustle and bustle that I’m used to, and the chance to really re-connect and in a way re-discover myself. As cheesy as that might sound, it’s true, and I feel as though this experience truly has been life-changing. So thank you, Viterbo. And here’s to one more incredible month.

Katherine Dudley in a Student of USAC

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